Lepidophagy is a specialised feeding behaviour in fish that involves eating of scales of other fish. Lepidophagy is widespread, having been independently evolved in at least five freshwater families and seven marine families.
Lepidophagy has been reported in a range of fish including: Chanda nama (family Ambassidae), Plagiotremus (family Blenniidae), Terapon jarbua (family Terapontidae), a few Ariopsis and Neoarius species (family Ariidae), several pencil catfish (family Trichomycteridae), some piranha, Exodon paradoxus, Probolodus, Roeboides and Roeboexodon species (order Characiformes), along with both Perissodus species, all four Plecodus species, Xenochromis, Haplochromis welcommei, Docimodus, Corematodus and Genyochromis mento (family Cichlidae from the African Great Lakes).
Fish scales are a surprisingly nutritional food source, containing layers of keratin and enamel, as well as a dermal portion and a layer of protein-rich mucus. They are a rich source of calcium phosphate. However, the energy expended to make a strike versus the amount of scales consumed per strike puts a limit on the size of the lepidophage; such fish seldom exceed 20 cm (8 in) and most are under 12 cm (5 in). There are a number of advantages to consuming scales: scales are common, covering the body of most fish species, can be regrown relatively quickly by "prey" fish, are abundant and seasonally reliable, and their removal requires specific behaviors or morphological structures.
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