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Playing hide and seek

Pez trompeta

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There are few animals at the bottom of the ocean as charming as the trumpetfish. Curious about divers, it cautiously approaches them, moving its body with timid motions. But behind that harmless appearance lies a relentless predator of small fish.

Lacking an efficient defensive arsenal, the trumpetfish has learned to hide. Its body takes on the color of the elongated branches of soft corals on the reef, perfectly mimicking them. When it doesn’t want to be seen, it sticks to them, upside down, suspended in the water, and it takes a keen eye to discover the deception, as seen in the lower photo.

It’s not a bad defense mechanism, but the position of its body practically disables it from hunting. If we observe the size of its tail, which is the basis of its propulsion, we’ll notice that the trumpetfish is not a fast swimmer. Moreover, the vivid colors it must display to camouflage itself make it highly visible to its prey, which flee in terror even before it can see them. It must rely on cunning to earn its daily sustenance.

When it’s time to eat, the trumpetfish sets out to explore the reef in search of small fish. To avoid being seen, it rides on the back of another fish, actually positioning itself on top of the other fish without touching it at any time, and mimics each of its movements as if it were its own shadow. It doesn’t choose just any fish, but rather attaches itself to a fish that is hunting for prey different from what it’s seeking. In the upper photo, we see it mounted on a pufferfish, which feeds on coral and small crustaceans, so the company of the trumpetfish doesn’t affect it at all.

The small fish of the reef, whose shyness keeps them clinging to the coral, see a pufferfish approaching from below. Since it’s not their usual predator, they don’t distrust it and don’t flee. As the trumpetfish passes by them, it quickly dismounts from its “transport” and attacks the small fish, catching them completely off guard. Its elongated mouth doesn’t give them many options for escape, as it works like a small suction pump: within milliseconds, the small fish finds itself trapped inside the tube and can no longer escape.

When nature doesn’t provide them with tools to survive, animals must resort to ingenuity and cunning. The game of life is unforgiving, the table is set every day, and if you don’t eat today, tomorrow you’ll be weaker in your pursuit of prey. It’s all about not failing, eating, and returning to hide alongside the branch of a soft coral, displaying that innocent air that characterizes only the cleverest predators. After all… nothing has happened here.

“You cannot defend what you do not love, and you cannot love what you do not know.”