Three separate fish are actually the same
Mystery solved by Scientists: Three separate fish are actually the same Cetomimid Whalefish!
January 22nd, 2009 By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, AP Science Writer in General Science / Biology
This composite image (please click to enlarge) from the Biology Letters of the Royal Society shows, from top,
*Tapetail post larval stage of cetomimid whalefish off Cozumel, Mexico;
*Adult male of cetomimid whalefish from the Gulf of Mexico;
*Juvenile female of cetomimid whalefish from the eastern North Pacific.
Researchers believe they have solved the puzzle of three seemingly different fish, one all males, one all females and on all juveniles. They are the same fish, and undergo remarkable changes as they mature. (AP Photo/Biology Letters of the Royal Society) Top image: Photo/Donald Hughes Middle image: Photo/G. David Johnson Bottom image: Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Bruce Robison
"And it tells you how little we know about the deep sea", Johnson said in a telephone interview.
Cetomimidae, a type of whalefish, had been known since the 19th century, but only females had been found.
Seemingly related species called Mirapinnidae, or tapetails, and Megalomycteridae, or bignose fish, were identified in the 1950s and 1960s. Tapetails were only found as juveniles and bignoses only as males.
"Although their skeletons indicated the three were related, there were so many differences no one could believe they were the same fish at different sexes or stages in life", Johnson said.
But it turns out that is the case, Johnson and colleagues report this week in Biology Letters, a journal of Britain's Royal Society.
"All three will now be classified as Cetomimidae", he said.
Johnson said the researchers were able to link the fish through comparative anatomical study and, once they obtained fresh samples, by their DNA.
These Whalefish live in the sparsely populated deep water thousands of feet below the surface, though as youngsters they rise to shallower levels where there is more to eat. Living at extreme depths generally void of light, Whalefish have developed an exceptional, highly sensitive lateral line system (their eyes are very small & often useless). Their system of sensory pores that run the length of the Whalefish body help the Whalefish to accurately perceive its surroundings by detecting vibrations.
The larvae are called tapetails because they grow long streamers, he said. The purpose of the streamer remains unknown, but several fish larvae develop similar appendages, so it must have some value, he said. They reside within 600 feet of the surface, a region well stocked with food.
As adults, however, these fish descend thousands of feet down into the dark ocean.
There is scarce food there and the females cope by developing a large mouth - a common trait among fish living in the deepest waters - and they even develop teeth in their gill area that can serve as an additional mouth. Whalefish are known to feed primarily on small crustaceans such as copepods, euphausiids, and decapods.
Even stranger, males who reach adulthood don't eat at all. Having gorged as larvae, their jaw fuses and they develop a vestigial gut that only stores shells from previous meals. That's an advantage, Johnson said, because in the deep ocean "there's not a lot of food, you're better off taking your lunch with you." The males gorge as larvae and grow a giant liver, storing energy there to live on.
The males also develop a large nose to sense smells in the dark water.
Meanwhile, researchers had noted that females have some unusual tissue, separate from the skin, on their body. It's not luminous, so Johnson speculated that this tissue may produce a pheromone that the big-nosed male can home in on.
*John R. Paxton of the Australian Museum, Sydney;
*Tracey T. Sutton of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science,
*Takashi P. Satoh and Mutsumi Nishida of the University of Tokyo
*Tetsuya Sado and Masaki Miya of the Natural History Museum, Chiba, Japan.
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