What Fish Stick to Sharks?

Sharks are a part of a family of highly evolved fish that lead fast-paced lives. You may have seen a certain type of fish stick themselves to sharks at the aquarium or out in the ocean. 

These fish are known as Remora. They use a special suction cup-like organ to attach themselves to the shark’s underside or belly. 

In this guide we will go over the symbiotic relationship Remora has with sharks. We will also discuss how to distinguish between Remora and other fish that stay close to sharks.

What are Remora?

The term “Remora” refers to a large family of ray-finned fish. “Ray-finned” means they have thin fins that consist of skin layers over flexible spines. 

There are approximately 475 known Remora species out there. Most of these species are between one and three feet in length.

Remora are popular sports fishes and are frequently used as bait for larger fish. Some people also catch Remora for their meat. However, many consider them too small to eat.

Remora stand out from other fish because they possess a unique type of dorsal fin. Like most fish with dorsal fins, this fin is located on the creature’s back. 

The Remora’s dorsal fin is special because it is oval shaped and possesses slats. The fish can open and close these slats at will to create a suctioning effect.

Remora frequently use this suctioning organ to grip surfaces underwater. Therefore, they are commonly seen gripping the underside of other aquatic creatures such as sharks.

Why Do Remora Stick to Sharks?

Many people are surprised to see Remora sticking to sharks in aquariums and in the ocean. After all, one would expect these small fish to steer clear of predators.

While sharks do occasionally eat Remora, these fish receive many benefits by sticking to these predators. This includes:

Easy Food

The first reason why Remora stick to sharks is to get food easily. Sharks are aggressive creatures and they often thrash about while catching and consuming other fish.

This is a messy process, so it’s not uncommon for small chunks of meat that the shark has torn off to fall below.

Remora that are attached to the shark’s belly or underside see this food falling and quickly uncouple themselves. They then go after these falling scraps and eat them for sustenance.

Remora that choose to stick to sharks can end up with a seemingly endless supply of food. They prefer this arrangement over scavenging the open ocean for scraps.

Protection from Predators

The second reason why Remora stick to sharks is to get protection from predators. Remora are relatively small fish, and they are on the menu for numerous aquatic creatures.

These fish do not have any defensive mechanisms. Therefore, any Remora that comes face to face with a predator is likely to become fish food very quickly.

Remora can make themselves harder to catch by staying close to sharks. This is because other marine creatures tend to avoid sharks at all costs.

Few fish are willing to get near a shark for the sake of catching a Remora. For this reason, Remora receive endless protection by sticking close to sharks.

Getting to Travel Easily

Remora also benefit from getting to travel quickly, and without expending energy, by attaching themselves to sharks. This is an advantage because sharks can swim dozens of miles per day.

This means the Remora get to travel long distances without having to put in much effort. These fish essentially get a free ride that includes protection and plenty of food in this arrangement.

Some Remora will also attach themselves to sharks to travel long distances and find a suitable mate. These fish will then uncouple themselves from the shark once they find one.

Do Sharks Like Having Remora Stay Close to Them?

It’s difficult to tell whether sharks enjoy having Remora stick to them. These small fish don’t hurt the shark by attaching themselves to their body. So they aren’t considered pests.

At the same time, it’s not uncommon for sharks to eat Remora that get too close to their mouth. This means their symbiotic relationship can come to an end very quickly.

The Shark-Remora relationship doesn’t benefit only the Remora. Sharks also enjoy special perks by allowing Remora to be close to them. 

This includes the fact that Remora eat parasites that stick to the shark’s body. These parasites don’t pose a great threat to the shark. However, they can be a nuisance.

Sharks typically lack a means to get rid of these parasites without Remora’s help. Marine biologists have also observed Remora swimming into sharks’ mouths and eating parasites.

Such Remora usually escape unharmed in these situations. For this reason, it is believed that sharks do acknowledge and welcome the relationship they have with Remora.

Do All Sharks Have Symbiotic Relationships With Remora?

It is common to see Remora attached to most shark species in the ocean. However, not all sharks have symbiotic relationships with Remora.

For example, Lemon sharks and Sandbar sharks are notorious for attacking and eating any Remora that get close to them.

Other shark species that normally tolerate Remora may also turn on them. However, this typically happens only if the shark is starving and is unable to catch other food nearby.

Do Remora Stick to Other Marine Life?

Remora are often associated with sharks due to the symbiotic relationship they have with these predators. However, these fish also attach themselves to other types of marine life.

This includes whales, manta rays, dugongs, and turtles. Smaller Remora have also been observed attaching themselves to large fish such as Swordfish and Tuna. 

Do Other Types of Fish Attach to Sharks?

The Remora’s dorsal fin is responsible for its unique suctioning ability. Other fish do not possess such dorsal with this special ability.

For this reason, no other fish species have been observed attaching themselves to sharks in the way that Remora do. However, some fish species stay close to sharks in other ways.

For example, Pilot fish are frequently observed swimming very close to sharks. These are carnivorous striped fish that belong to the Jackfish family.

The Pilot fish’s carnivorous nature means they are always hunting other fish. So these creatures can get plenty of fresh meat by staying close to sharks.

In some cases, Pilot fish may even swim up to the shark’s mouth and eat bits of food caught in the predator’s teeth.

Do Remora Stay With Sharks Forever?

Remora get many benefits by sticking to sharks. For this reason, one might assume these fish stay with sharks until the end of their life. However, this isn’t true.

The average Remora will stay with a shark for a few days before moving on. However, some Remora have been observed staying with a single shark for up to three months.

A Remora may leave their shark for numerous reasons. For example, a Remora may depart to breed with other fish of the same species.

A Remora could also leave if the shark is swimming to a part of the ocean they do not wish to go to. After leaving, the Remora may swim about freely or find another shark to attach to.

How To Tell the Difference Between a Remora and a Pilot Fish

As mentioned earlier, both Remora and Pilot fish stay close to sharks. If you see a fish close to a shark in an aquarium or an ocean, you might be wondering how to identify it.

If you see that the fish has attached itself to the shark through its dorsal fin, it is likely a Remora. If you see the fish swimming alongside the shark, it is likely a Pilot fish.

You can also distinguish between a Remora and Pilot fish using their appearance. These fish grow to approximately the same length, so you can use their color to tell which is which.

Remora come in many different colors. However, they lack the distinct vertical stripes that Pilot fish have. So if you see a striped fish near a shark, it is likely a Pilot fish.

Can You Eat Remora?

Remora are believed to be safe to eat. However, these fish generally do not provide much meat. So if you decide to go Remora fishing, you will need to catch several for a single meal.

Remora have firm white meat with a mild flavor and no aftertaste. While there is no danger to eating Remora meat, these fish are better suited to being used as bait for larger fish.

The Remora’s firm skin makes them excellent bait for hooks. Many fishermen use chunks of Remora meat as bait for catching turtles and other larger aquatic predators.

The Wonderful Symbiotic Relationship Between Remora and Sharks

As you can see, Remora and Sharks have a wonderful symbiotic relationship. This pair is just one of the many amazing symbiotic relationships that exist between creatures in nature.

Consider visiting our blog to learn more marine life facts and about symbiotic relationships between other animals.

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