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Researchers get a handle on barreleye fish (and its transparent head)

The craziest fish we've ever seen?  Perhaps. (The lanternfish is also a front-runner for that dubious honor.)

Meet Macropinna microstoma, commonly known as the "barreleye" or "spookfish."  (Or as the kids might call it: "see-through head fish.")  The funky fish with the transparent head was first described in 1939, but only now do researchers understand the complexities of their distinctive tubular eyes. 

A recent paper by Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute researchers Bruce Robison and Kim Reisenbichler explains that the fish's eyes aren't fixed in place, as marine biologists had previously thought. Instead, they can rotate behind the transparent shield on the barreleye's head -- a nice adaptation for a deep-sea fish that must navigate with very little light.

The institute's website offers an explanation of how the research was conducted:

Robison and Reisenbichler used video from MBARI's remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to study barreleyes in the deep waters just offshore of Central California. At depths of 600 to 800 meters (2,000 to 2,600 feet) below the surface, the ROV cameras typically showed these fish hanging motionless in the water, their eyes glowing a vivid green in the ROV's bright lights. The ROV video also revealed a previously undescribed feature of these fish--its eyes are surrounded by a transparent, fluid-filled shield that covers the top of the fish's head.

Beyond their most obvious feature, barreleyes also have large, flat fins that allow them to remain almost motionless in the water. The researchers speculated that the fish captures prey by staying horizontal and still with its eyes looking upward until it spots an animal like a jelly overhead. When something tasty swims above it, it rotates its eyes forward and turns to swim up and catch it. 

-- Lindsay Barnett

Video: MBARIvideo via YouTube

Comments () | Archives (11)

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Agghhhh! M. microstoma is so ugly, its beautiful. Why are the nostrils in the exact position that eyes would be if it wasn't so ugly?

I've got a Master's degree in molecular biology, and know that evolution is true (sorry people, it stopped being a 'theory' 150 years ago), but tell me one thing people. How did this Dali-esque, 'fluid filled shield', evolve? It's almost Lamarckian.

It's " distinctive " not " distintive " tubular eyes.

Coolest fish i've ever seen.

Thanks for pointing out the typo, Syl!

Why do you report something as true and then ask such a profound question about it? Maybe you should look at all the questions about evolution, man with a masters, before you confirm something as true when it could very well be false.
Try this one- How did "mother nature" create such a thing as the human eye which nothing man made can ever come anything close to, with the brilliant intelect we have, and mother nature being as dumb as a tree?
It doesnt take long to realize that mother nature didn't do it, unless getting a master's is easier than I thought.

@Dave: I think the writer you are responding to is actually "spookedbythefish" rather than Kevin.

@spookedbythefish: More objectively, can you direct us to the event or evidence which caused (macro- or micro-; please clarify) evolution to transition from theory to fact?

yes dave, human eyes are sooo amazingly flawless that they must have been intelligently designed. now where did i put my glasses.......

@Lil: Amusing, but the argument for intelligent design, accurately stated, claims neither that the human eye is flawless, nor that it doesn't age.

"evolution is true" is not how I would have phrased it. I would have said something like evolution is the main scientific theory explaining the origin of the diversity of life on earth. It is unusual in being not so much a falsifiable hypothesis as it is the only possible scientific hypothesis. Reject evolution and you eventually have to turn to supernatural intervention. But science is confined to the study natural phenomena, and that is as it should be. Supernatural intervention is outside its scope. Real science and real religion do not conflict because they do not overlap.

@Dave. Of course evolution is true, how else would you explain the neck of the giraffe? Or why there has been several species of human throughout the existence of man? In fact, when our species of human was EVOLVED, there were other species of human on earth. Or the fact that all dogs derived from wolves? How did dogs come to earth? They EVOLVED from wolves....
@Lil- Great point.


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