More down under beasties from Down Under

It’s weird fish time again, folks! Let’s kick off the new website by catching up with long-time Eternal Recurrence friend Mark McGrouther, Fish Collection Manager at the Australian Museum.

First on the list is the Humpback Blackdevil. This guy looks like Mr. Blobby’s evil brother (actually sister, the males of the species are tiny), a floating liver with teeth, or perhaps a video game villain I can’t quite place right now.

Next is the Black Snoek, definitely one of the least attractive creatures we’ve highlighted here.

This larval basslet is “only a piddly little fish,” but it’s interesting for its remarkably long dorsal spines. Their purpose is still under debate:

Larval Liopropoma have extremely long ornate second and third dorsal fin spines. These spines have balloon-like structures which are held above the fish. The Smithsonian’s ‘Expedition to Galapagos‘ website states that “We don’t know the precise function of these structures, but they look very much like a type of colonial jellyfish known as a siphonophore. Perhaps they look enough like them to deter certain potential predators.” Baldwin et al (1991) state that “The elongate filaments could play a role in energy storage by providing space for the assimilation of excess food; however, long, trailing filaments seem an unlikely place for energy storage because they probably are quite vulnerable to predation. In fact, pigmented swellings or other variations in the shape of the filaments could attract predators, distracting them from the body of the larva. The elongate filaments also might function in predator deception by increasing the apparent size of the lava.”

You may have read about the tongue biters on BoingBoing. These are parasitic crustaceans that clamp onto fishes’ tongues, eventually letting them whither away and permanently taking their place. The museum has some great photos and an article on these buggers right here. Don’t miss the oarfish, which I blogged about here back in February.

Finally, after all this time of posting about fish we at last get to see Mark himself in action. Here [wmv, mov] a strong wind and a dark night conspire to make sorting the catch a difficult endeavor. Oh yeah, that’s grace under pressure! Lots more movies on this page.

So concludes this month’s visit to the deep. More to come, as always, in this feature that ensures Nikki will always keep my blog demoted from “the political” to the “delightfully uncategorizable” (which is exactly where I want it to be).


Hootie and the Blowfish, McGrouther and the Gelatinous Blindfish

And we’re back. After a long near-two weeks on the road, I’m back in Arlington, where I can finally get down to the important business of updating my blog, hanging out at Murky, reading books, and maybe even writing some things that people will pay me for. I was accompanied by a few friends for the drive from Nashville to here, which made the drive a lot more fun but also stretched it out quite a bit with things like a 45 minute breakfast at Hardee’s, a stop for me to pick up a magic performance table in Lebanon, TN, and night-time frisbee toss at a highway rest stop to try out a new light-up frisbee. The drive was capped off with me getting pulled over on I-66 in Fairfax and me getting out of the ticket for, I suspect, giving the officer such a ridiculous explanation for what why we were on a road trip.

Officer who has pulled me over for following another car too closely: So are you guys in a hurry to get somewhere?

Me: No sir, it’s just been a long day of driving. We’re coming home from a trip to Nashville.

Officer: Ah, what we’re you doing in Nashville?

Me, saying the first reason to come to mind: We went to a Hootie and the Blowfish concert.

Officer, laughing incredulously: You drove all the way to Nashville for a Hootie and the Blowfish concert?

As he laughed I ineffectually began to explain that there were other reasons, but by that time he was heading off to run my license and another car had pulled up. Soon another officer walked over and asked me to step out of the car. At this point I was expecting the worst, but his interrogation was pretty light. “So I hear you guys drove all the way to Nashville to see Hootie and the Blowfish?” He was laughing, so I agreed that this was a silly thing to do. He then asked if I had any explosives in the car (I didn’t) and sent a bomb-sniffing dog around it. The first officer came back, gave me a friendly warning instead of a ticket, and we were on our way.

I can’t know for sure, but my guess is that I owe my break to Hootie. Four guys traveling more than 10 hours for a Hootie concert, no girls in the car, and driving, of all things, a Pontiac Aztek, was probably enough strikes against us to make the officer decide that we had enough problems and that a ticket wasn’t necessary. So thank you, Darius Rucker. I’ll eat a Tendercrisp Bacon Cheddar Ranch burger in your honor.

McGrouther and the Gelatinous Blindfish is not the name of a band, but it certainly should be. No, the gelatinous blindfish is a new addition to the Australian Museum Fish Site and another specimen from the NORFANZ expedition. Mark McGrouther sent me the link to this one while I was on the road, noting that a Mr. Blobby fan like me would like this one’s floppy jelly-like body and tiny eyes. Check it out here.


“A pretty amazing little beastie”

I made the previous fish entry a week too soon. Mark emailed me last night to let me know about Haplophryne mollis, an odd little fish he just posted to the museum site. This one is notable for both its strange appearance and unusual mating behavior:

Mature males are usually seen permanently attached to females. When a free-living male encounters a female, it bites the female and the skin of his mouth eventually fuses with that of the female. The male then becomes parasitic on the female.

I missed my best shot at such a relationship when I left Vanderbilt without having married a wealthy Tri-Delt (can’t say I regret that too much). Despite the endless possibilities, this fish doesn’t have a common name yet. It surely deserves something more creative than H. mollis.


Another dip into the deep

I noticed that the Australian Museum Fish Site, home of Eternal Recurrence favorite Mr. Blobby, have been popping up a few times in the news recently. The first was in the form of a rapidly spreading hoax email sent after the tsunami disaster. The email included photos of many very unusual creatures and claimed they had washed up during the flood. In fact, they were lifted from the NORFANZ deep sea expedition site without permission. The NORFANZ site has many more photos and details about these amazing fish.

More recently, BoingBoing linked to this story about a ribbon oarfish found on an Australian beach. The oarfish is the longest known bony fish, by some reports growing up to 17 m in length. It prefers the deep but occasionally appears on the surface; some surmise that it’s behind sea serpent legends appearing in marine lore. Once again, the Australian Fish Museum Site has a good page dedicated to it.

Finally, since it’s been a while since I did an odd fish update here, I once again checked in with Mark McGrouther (thanks, Mark!) to see if he’s put up anything new at the Australian Museum. He noted that there hadn’t been any recent toothy fishes of the sort that tend to capture people’s attention, but pointed me to the newest update, the ribbon barracudina. The Museum’s complete listing is here and is also fun to browse.

Bonus fish: the museum’s page on the famous Coelacanth.

[Note 2/23/05: Links corrected.]


Return to the Deep

Remember Mr. Blobby, the lovable genus psychrolutes who graced this page back in March? While that entry has been pushed back deeper and deeper into the archives, people have continued to stumble upon it. Here’s a comment left by a recent visitor:

Dear Mark McGrouther,

I’m a huge fan of Mr.Blobby. Working for a Japanese documentary film making firm I am always on the look out for the wonderful, and thus very interested to see what else you turn up. Please do keep me updated with all your discoveries.

Fiona Dickson
Programme Development
NHK Enterprises
London, UK

Mark McGrouther manages the Fish Collection at the Australian Museum and was on the NORFANZ expedition that discovered Mr. Blobby in the Tasman Sea. Knowing he’d probably never come across that comment, I emailed him to let him know it was there. Since then he’s alerted me to a couple of additions to the collection.

The first is a new look at the fangtooth, a particularly nasty looking creature that thankfully only grows up to 17 cm. As mentioned in the original entry, this fish’s fangs are so long that it has evolved sheaths for them in its head to prevent it from impaling itself. Mark’s new photo shows these pockets in action and very close up.

The second is the Longray Spiderfish, a bottom dweller that lives down to 5000 m below the surface. Mark says to “check out the length of the pectoral fins.”

At this point you may be wondering why I’m suddenly posting about unusual fishes. Mainly I do it because I think they’re cool and it’s worth being reminded of the countless weird and wonderful creatures that surround us, so many yet to be discovered.

I also do it because this is what I love about the Internet. Just three days ago I posted about the supposed Balkanization of the World Wide Web, noting that there are very few sites outside the U. S. that I visit. Though that is true (and not necessarily a bad thing and certainly better than I do with non-Internet media), it’s amazing how communications technology has made such an unlikely thing as my recent email exchanges possible, even commonplace. What are the odds in any other generation that some guy in Virginia would find himself facilitating the introduction of an ichthyologist in Australia and a woman from a Japanese documentary firm working in London? Just about zero, I’d say.

So here’s your deep thought of the day: the Internet and the ocean are both full of some really neat stuff.

Thanks to Mark McGrouther for the updates.


Mr. Blobby

Everyone say hello to Mr. Blobby. Isn’t he cute? He sort of reminds me of an unhappy Ziggy — unhappy because he’s just been decapitated.

I found Mr. Blobby when I was searching for pictures of a fangtooth, a deep sea fish with fangs so big they’d impale its own brain if it didn’t have special head sheaths for them. The kind of fangs you don’t mess with. The kind you’d use to catch a Ziggy fish. Scary, huh?

Why the sudden interest in fangtooths? (Or is it fangteeth?) Because a friend sent me this article about deep sea creatures newly discovered in the Tasman Sea. The article describes the very strange sexual practices of a certain angler fish, even stranger than the orgasm faking trout. We’re really into the sexuality of fish, my friend and I. It’s a thing we have.

More denizens of the Tasman Sea can be viewed here.