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Let's Be Unreasonable Here: Nature cures urge with gender-neutral animals

It’s blue for boys. It’s pink for girls. It’s green for gender-neutral environments. And now, it’s orange for choose-the-gender-that-you-need-for-dominance. 

Well, that is, it’s the new color for clown fish, at any rate.

We’re all perfectly familiar with clown fish. Who could forget them after seeing Finding Nemo? (I, for one, am part of the Finding Nemo worshipping cult.)

Yes, yes, there’s our dear amnesiac Dory, but we can’t forget that the main stars of the show are Marlin and Nemo himself.

Although they make for familiar cartoon characters, not many of us know that Marlin should have changed into a mommy before setting off to rescue his son.

Yes, that’s right. Clown fish change genders. Frequently.

All clown fish, in fact, are initially born as males and live in a group together. However, once these clown fish reach sexual maturity, the dominant male clown fish morphs itself into the only breeding female of the group and then chooses his — I mean her — partner.

Thus forms the hierarchy: The female clown fish at the top; the breeding male next; and then, at the bottom of the clown fish chain, a group of non-breeding males.

If and when the female clown fish dies, the breeding male clown fish morphs itself into the new breeding female. At the same time, he — she — will choose another male to be her partner.

Think of it as multiple rounds in The Bachelorette being linked together into a really messed up and really fishy drama. (Haha. Punny.)

But the clown fish isn’t the only species that switches gender. For some other organisms, the line between male and female is even fuzzier.

Take, for example, the anglerfish, the famous deep-sea-dweller commonly known for the glowing light bulb hanging from its head with which it catches prey. (The anglerfish is also a character in Finding Nemo — you know, the fish with the pointy teeth that tries to gobble up Marlin and Dory.)

It’s easy to tell a female anglerfish from a male anglerfish. While male anglerfish are only about 4 to 6 inches long, females are comparative mammoths, reaching up to 36 inches in length.

However, because it is difficult for females and males to find each other in the dark recesses of their habitat, Mother Nature has cooked up another way for mates to stay together as lifelong buddies.

Males are born without digestive tracts and swim around looking for females. Once a male anglerfish finds a female anglerfish, the male swims into the female’s stomach and latches onto the side of the female stomach with his teeth. He then begins to secrete an enzyme into the female’s body to make the female accept him. Talk about aggressive dating tactics.

Once the female and the male have accepted each other, the male basically becomes entirely dependent on the female and turns into a lump locked onto the inside of the female anglerfish’s stomach.

All of the male’s nutrition is leeched from the female anglerfish, and in return, the male anglerfish allows the female anglerfish to give birth to other baby anglerfish. (How’s that for a lazy husband?)

Females carry up to six latched males in their bellies (isn’t she lucky?), and they become essentially one organism.

That, my friends, genuinely means, “’Til death do us part.”

And it’s also a fascinating example of a creature that loses its gender with maturity. The female anglerfish is no longer “a girl.” There are six guys latched onto the inside of her belly.

And the lesson learned from these absorbing revelations? Fish aren’t that boring. And also, if there were a prize for “Most gender-changing animals in the cast,” Finding Nemo would win.

Kevin Hwang is a junior at Athens High School enrolled in classes at Ohio University and a columnist for The Post. Email him about other gender-confused animals at kh319910@ohiou.edu

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