The vivid colours of coral reef fishes represent a language that dates back at least 50 million years but is still baffling to humans in many respects, a leading fish expert concedes today.
Colour in fish is probably a highly developed form of communication, some of which we can interpret, but much of which remains cryptic, admits Professor David Bellwood of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University, Queensland.
Fossil specimens of reef fish from Monte Bolca, Italy, studied by Prof. Bellwood reveal that even as far back as 50 million years ago fish were spotted, striped and probably highly coloured also.
Fish colour appears to communicate both information – useful for contemplating existence and for solving the life puzzle together with others – and disinformation, intended to mislead bad leaders and bullies. But there is no easy explanation for the rainbow displays of the most spectacularly brilliant reef fish, he says.