A cleaning station is a location where aquatic life congregate to be cleaned by smaller creatures. Such stations exist in both freshwater and marine environments, and are used by animals including fish, sea turtles and hippos.
The cleaning process includes the removal of parasites from the animal's body (both externally and internally), and is performed by various smaller animals including cleaner shrimp and numerous species of cleaner fish, especially wrasses and gobies (Elacatinus spp.).
When the animal approaches a cleaning station, it will open its mouth wide or position its body in such a way as to signal that it needs to be cleaned. The cleaner fish will then remove and eat the parasites from the skin, even swimming into the mouth and gills of any fish being cleaned. This is a form of cleaning symbiosis.
Cleaning stations may be associated with coral reefs, located either on top of a coral head or in a slot between two outcroppings. Other cleaning stations may be located under large clumps of floating seaweed or at an accepted point in a river or lagoon.
Stenopus hispidus banded cleaner shrimp on a Xestospongia muta barrel sponge: The shrimp wait to remove external parasites and dead skin from visiting fish clients.
An orangespine unicornfish being cleaned by a Hawaiian cleaner wrasse
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