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These tiny, 2-inch long fish look like they are dressed to go to the next Broncos game with their bright orange and blue coloring. However, the most amazing thing about them is that they are capable of changing sex -- apparently at will. Matthew Grober of Georgia State University has received a grant from the National Science Foundation to how and why.
Already he can detect the change within a very short time as the behavior of the fish begins to change. It takes a week or two for the change to take full effect. Females that become males start making zigzag movements associated with male courtship and become less submissive.
In their natural environment each male will have a "harem" of four to five females. If the male dies the dominant female takes command and then makes the transformation.
In laboratory experiments Grober and his team created primarily male environments to test whether or not males would become female. They did make the change. The reason for the fish being able to change appears to be based in evolutionary biology. The ability to maintain the proper gender balance helps to guarantee the survival of the species.
Social hierarchy seems to play a role in who will be the one to change. The strong, dominant personality will be the one to take on or remain in the male role.
Sex change in nature is very rare, though not unknown. Other creatures that are capable of making the change include the clownfish and the limpet snail.
Laurie Kay Olson
Animal News Blogger