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This striking fish gets its name from its vertical black stripes, which resemble a prisoner’s uniform. The convict tang also belongs to the family of surgeonfishes, owing to dangerously sharp blades by its tailfin.
But these blades aren’t often used for defense. Instead, the convict tang projects power in numbers, traveling in schools of thousands. When a predator approaches, they scatter wildly, confusing the bigger fish. They also use this trick to distract competing fish and steal their preferred meal of algae covering the bottom of coral reefs.
The convict tang lives in tropical coral reefs—a living oasis where spectacular sea life thrives. This beauty and bounty provides food and shelter for those who live nearby, including fishes.
While the bright colors of coral reefs are a sign that they’re healthy, warmer ocean waters are killing some corals, leaving only bleached-white skeletons. Corals build rocky skeletons from calcium and carbonate, chemicals found naturally in the ocean. But oceans are absorbing enormous amounts of carbon pollution, making them more acidic, which soaks up loose carbonate. Without that critical building block, it's much harder for corals to form a reef.
If we slow down ocean changes now, we can give the whole community a chance to survive.
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This surgeonfish’s “blade” is hidden in a sheath of skin on its caudal peduncle, the narrow part of its body at the base of the tail. While it doesn’t often use this scalpel aggressively, it can cause a nasty cut if the fish is treated roughly by a predator or a human.
During spawning, it releases clouds of eggs and sperm, which are preyed upon by other fish.