The remora is Nature’s Annoying Friend. A fish in the order Echeneidae (trans. ‘Freeload McGee’), the remora spends its days mooching off other animals in order to avoid real work. Within Echeneidae there are eight species in four genera, though all the species are pretty much the same deal: they have a sucker in place of their first dorsal fin, which they use to suction cup themselves onto the skin of larger marine animals, hitch a free ride, and commence mooching. Though they can swim well on their own, remoras hold fast to the motto ‘Work smarter, not harder,’1 which is why they are best known to most people for dangling off sharks on the Discovery Channel.
Contrary to the popular notion (see Discovery Channel, above) that remoras specifically latch onto terrifying sharks in a show of jocular élan, remoras can be found stuck to whales, manta rays, turtles, tuna, and marlin. Remoras are equal opportunity suckers, and have been known to attach themselves to scuba divers’ legs and even boats.2 In short, anything large with enough work ethic to move through water is apt to find itself being imposed upon by a remora.
‘We sort of helped ourselves to that leftover pizza in your fridge. We’ll totally get you back though.’
A remora’s relations with its host are what as know as commensalism, which means that one party (the remora) in the relationship benefits while they other (the animal with the actual job) gains nothing and loses little. Specifically, the remora gets a free ride, protection, and leftover food from the host, whether in the form of leftover fragments or feces, though both are the remora’s ‘favorite price.’
Indeed, we all have a friend who never really does anything for us and often bums us out but never hesitates to call us for ‘help with something.’ Sure, every so often you resolve to stop answering the phone, but then guilt kicks in and next thing you know you’re spending Saturday night showing Joe the Remora how to file his late taxes.
Some scientists believe that remoras actually do sharks et al a solid by removing bacteria and other waste from their skin. Even if this turns out to be the case, it’s probably done to play on everyone’s sympathies and make them forget what massive soul suckers they are.
When it comes to grading, there is obviously little to recommend the remora, just as there’s little to recommend your buddy with the late taxes. They both attach themselves to you and hang on for the ride. Yet, even though we suspect deep down that this kind of behavior is ultimately as destructive to the sucker as it is to suck-ee and we think it’d be best for all involved to just fail them, yet again guilt again takes over and we end up doing something that we can’t fully explain.
1In private, remoras like to joke that their motto is actually ‘Work smarter, suck harder,’ but only say it to each other in the nearly-impenetrable Remora language. Another variation on this joke is ‘Suck harder, work ardor,’ but it only makes sense if you speak Remora and are extremely drunk.
2 In ancient mythology, the remora was believed capable of stopping a ship from sailing (indeed, the name ‘remora’ comes from the Latin word mora, meaning ‘delay’ or ‘hold up’ or ‘totally annoy’). Also, as a normative aside, this particular belief, even by the standards of people who believed that there were only four elements, is beyond stupid. But that didn’t stop Pliny the Younger for blaming remoras for Mark Antony’s defeat at Actium. Pliny the Younger was a massive disappointment to Pliny the Elder.