Sarah Keartes is a science blogger studying marine biology and journalism at the University of Oregon. A self-proclaimed Attenborough wannabe, and all-around shark junkie, she is dedicated to exploring new tools to promote ocean outreach through science communication.
Second string. Almost famous. Runner up. We’ve all been there—bowed out gracefully and stuffed down the BAMF within. I’m talking the missed, the forgotten, the less-than-top dogs (or in this case, fish). Such was the fate of these ten water-dwellers, left looking up at the podium of last month’s “Top Ten Weirdest Fish in the World” list.
Just keep swimming my finned-friends, I’ve got you covered. They may not be the blobbiest, the toothiest, or the most menacing—but for these creatures, weird comes naturally. In their honor, it’s time for round two: the top ten weirder than the weirdest fish in the world list.
Halloween, in a lot of ways, is a celebration of fear. We dress like ghosts, goblins, and movie serial killers to give ourselves a sense of control over the things we’re afraid of. It’s also a good time of year to indulge in horror movies, where we can watch ghosts, goblins, and serial killers terrorize other people from the apparent safety of our own homes.
From an ecological standpoint, we have it pretty good. We’ve more or less tamed most environments on land and only make short forays into the oceans under conditions where we still have quite a few advantages. Most of the time we have more in common with Jason than his hapless victims. Imagine being a member of a school of menhaden or a seal that has to make daily trips through Shark Alley. It would be like spending your whole life as a camp counselor at Crystal Lake, constantly looking over your shoulder and getting picked off the second you let your guard down. If mortal terror was a regular part of your life, you’d better believe it would affect your daily habits. And if every member of your species lived with that same fear, there would be places no one in their right mind would go and choices between death by starvation and possible death by being eaten. After all, fish are always eating other fish. Let’s take a journey through the low end of the food web and see what horror can teach us about marine ecology.
This week we learned that several blue footed boobies were sighted along the California coast, a rare, but not unprecedented occurrence. The news reports flooding in reminded me of my own experience with blue footed boobies in the Galapagos, so I decided to dig out my old photo album (yes, this predates the age of digital cameras) and pull out the booby photographs. Here, for your Friday enjoyment, are a bunch of pictures of Blue Footed Boobies.
Photo by Andrew David Thaler.
Neil Aschliman is an Assistant Professor of Biology at St. Ambrose University by day, a freelance artist by night. He earned his PhD in Biology from FSU by recovering the “Tree of Life” for rays, skates and their relatives, and is broadly trained in vertebrate biology and evolution. His personal website can be found at www.iceandshadows.com.
So mantas aren’t a thing anymore… – paraphrase, David Shiffman’s liveblog of my talk at the recent meeting of the American Elasmobranch Society.
Wow, is that going to require some explanation! Did I steal these guys away under cover of night? Did they pull a “so long, and thanks for all the fish” on us? No, this is a story about the power of naming, and one that may have serious implications for the conservation of these amazing animals and their close relatives.
Human beings love to name things. We do it vigorously and redundantly: a single fish species may be christened with a dozen or more common names by people in different geographic areas, times, or even marketing departments! It helps to have an international-standard system of naming animals to give this enterprise some consistency. It doesn’t matter if you know it as Chilean Sea Bass or the Patagonian Toothfish, people worldwide will be happy to confirm for you that Dissostichus eleginoides is indeed one ugly customer.
This system of precise identification in which scientists apply a formal code to name organisms is called binominal nomenclature (“two-part name”). This is often incorrectly called “binomial” nomenclature (“two number,” a mathematical expression), even by professionals! The first part of the name is the genus, which can apply to between one and many species that are closely related and resemble each other. The second part of the name is the specific epithet, which applies to one and only one species. These names are usually derived from Greek and Latin. For example, Batrachognathus volans translates as “flying frog-jawed” one, an apt appellation for an odd pterosaur from the Late Jurassic.