Behavior, Color Change and Time for Sexual Inversion in the Protogynous Grouper (Epinephelus adscensionis)
by Richard J. Kline, Izhar A. Khan, G. Joan Holt
Hermaphroditism, associated with territoriality and dominance behavior, is common in the marine environment. While male sex-specific coloration patterns have been documented in groupers, particularly during the spawning season, few data regarding social structure and the context for these color displays are available. In the present study, we define the social structure and male typical behavior of rock hind (Epinephelus adscensionis) in the wild. In addition, we detail the captive conditions and time period necessary to induce the onset of the sex-specific coloration and sexual change. At six oil production platform locations in the Gulf of Mexico, rock hind social group size and typical male rock hind social behavior were documented. We observed a rapid temporary color display in rock hind that could be turned on and off within three seconds and was used for confronting territory intruders and displays of aggression towards females. The male-specific “tuxedo” pattern consists of a bright yellow tail, a body with alternating dark brown and white patches and a dark bar extending from the upper mandible to the operculum. Identification and size ranges of male, female and intersex fish collected from oil platforms were determined in conjunction with gonadal histology. Rock hind social order is haremic with one dominant male defending a territory and a linear dominance hierarchy among individuals. In five captive experiments, the largest remaining female rock hind displayed the male specific color pattern within 32d after dominant male removal from the social group. To our knowledge, this is the first evidence in a grouper species of color patterning used to display territoriality and dominance outside of spawning aggregations. The behavioral paradigm described here is a key advance that will enable mechanistic studies of this complex sex change process.
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