The Discus Fish Nurses Its Young

discus fish

The discus fish doesn't have mammary glands, but the parents secrete mucous and allow their young to eat it:

Jonathan Buckley from the University of Plymouth, UK, explains that discus fish young feed on the mucus that their parents secrete over their bodies until they are big enough to forage. [...]

During the first 3 days after hatching, the fry remained attached to the cone where the parents laid their eggs, absorbing the yolk and gaining strength until all of the fry were able to swim independently. Then they left the cone en masse and began feeding on their parents' mucus, feeding for up to 10 min by biting at the parent's side until the parent expertly ‘flicked’ the shoal over to its partner to continue feeding. The parents diligently fed their young intensely for 2 weeks. However, 3 weeks after hatching the parents' behaviour began to change as they started swimming away from their young for brief periods. At the same time the fry began biting their parents less and investigating other food sources. By the fourth week the parents were actively swimming away from their brood for the majority of the time and the fry barely bit them at all.

The mucous, like a mammal's milk, is highly nutritious and just what a young discus fish needs:

Monitoring the composition of the parents' mucus before they spawned and through to the end of their parental responsibilities, Buckley found a huge increase in the mucus's antibody and protein levels when the parents laid their eggs, similar to the changes seen in mammalian milk around the time of birth. The protein and antibody levels remained high until the third week and returned to pre-spawning levels during the fourth week after hatching. Buckley suspects that the sudden increase in protein levels at spawning is hormonally regulated, much like the changes in mammalian milk, and is keen to find out more about the hormones that regulate the fish's mucus supply as they care for their young.

Link -via TYWKIWDBI

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