Recent studies on cleaning behaviour suggest that there are conflicts between cleaners and their clients over what cleaners eat. The diet of cleaners usually contains ectoparasites and some client tissue. It is unclear, however, whether cleaners prefer client tissue over ectoparasites or whether they include client tissue in their diet only when searching for parasites alone is not profitable. To distinguish between these two hypotheses, we trained cleaner fish Labroides dimidiatus to feed from plates and offered them client mucus from the parrotfish Chlorurus sordidus, parasitic monogenean flatworms, parasitic gnathiid isopods and boiled flour glue as a control. We found that cleaners ate more mucus and monogeneans than gnathiids, with gnathiids eaten slightly more often than the control substance. Because gnathiids are the most abundant ectoparasites, our results suggest a potential for conflict between cleaners and clients over what the cleaner should eat, and support studies emphasizing the importance of partner control in keeping cleaning interactions mutualistic.
↵* Author for correspondence ( ).