Stable and persistent male-like behavior during male-to-female sex change in the common clownfish Amphiprion ocellaris

Coltan G. Parker, Joanne S. Lee, Abigail R. Histed, Sarah E. Craig, Justin S. Rhodes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many fish species exhibit natural sex change as part of their life, providing unique opportunities to study sexually-differentiated social behaviors and their plasticity. Past research has shown that behavioral sex change in the female-to-male (protogynous) direction occurs rapidly and well before gonadal sex change. However, little is known about the timecourse of behavioral sex change in male-to-female (protandrous) sex-changing species, limiting our ability to compare patterns of behavioral sex change across species and identify conserved or divergent underlying mechanisms. Using the protandrous sex changing anemonefish Amphiprion ocellaris, we assessed behavior (aggression and parental care) and hormones (estradiol and 11-ketotestosterone) in fish over six months of sex change, and compared those fish against their non-changing partners as well as control males and females. Contrary to expectations, we found that sex-changing fish displayed behavior that was persistently male-like, and that their behavior did not become progressively female-like as sex change progressed. Hormones shifted to an intermediate profile between males and females and remained stable until gonads changed. These results support a new perspective that the timecourse for protandrous sex change in anemonefish is completely distinct from other well-established models, such that behavioral sex change does not occur until after gonadal sex change is complete, and that sex-changing fish have a stable and unique behavioral and hormonal phenotype that is distinct from a male-typical or female-typical phenotype. The results also identify aspects of sex change that may fundamentally differ between protandrous and protogynous modes, motivating further research into these remarkable examples of phenotypic plasticity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105239
JournalHormones and Behavior
StatePublished - Sep 2022


  • 11-Ketotestosterone
  • Aggression
  • Anemonefish
  • Estradiol
  • Parenting
  • Sex change
  • Sexual differentiation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Endocrinology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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