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The (Fish) Eyes Have It

Fish with humanlike eyes might be a new species

By Gail Hennessey | April 25 , 2008
Photo: ©Rod Klein<br />
Photo: ©Rod Klein

Near a small island in Indonesia, divers have found a very unusual fish. Instead of swimming around like other fish, this one prefers to crawl into crevices in coral beds. And it has humanlike eyes that point forward on its very flat face!

The fish was originally spotted by the Maluku Divers Company about 15 years ago in waters around 15 feet deep. Since then, divers have been searching for the strange-looking fish so they could photograph it. They also hoped to spot others just like it.

A couple of months ago, they saw the fish along with what looked like a baby version of the fish. And then, in early April, they found a female near an egg mass of about 30 babies.

"When I first saw photographs of the unusual fish, I was amazed," ichthyologist (fish expert) Ted Pietsch of the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington told Scholastic News Online. "I have been studying these kinds of fish for 40 years, and I've never seen anything like this one!"

The fish is about the size of a human fist, has a frowning face, and has very soft skin. Pietsch says that the flat face with eyes directed forward is highly unusual. Most fish have eyes on the side of their head. This fish has humanlike binocular vision that perhaps gives it better depth perception.

Pietsch says there's a good chance the pink-and-tan striped fish may be related to the anglerfish (also called frogfishes and toadfishes). "It is definitely a kind of anglerfish, a group of about 320 species that have a thin spine on the tip of their snout that they use to wiggle and attract prey," Pietsch says.

Frogfish with human-like eyes.
Photo: ©Mark Snyder/www.starknakedfish.com


The human-eyed fish species also shares other similarities with the anglerfish, such as its armlike fins. The recently discovered mass of eggs of the new fish also looks similar to the eggs of anglerfish.

But there are enough differences between the new fish and anglerfish that it might also be a new species. The only way to know for sure is to get a DNA sample from the fish, Pietsch explained.

One of his graduate students traveled to Indonesia recently and was able to catch one of the fish. Scientists will soon be performing the necessary DNA tests to determine more about the fish.

In the meantime, Pietsch is going to publish a paper on the strange fish. "I think I will call it the 'Maluku Frogfish,' " he says.

About the Author

Gail Hennessey recently retired from teaching 6th grade social studies in Harpursville, New York. For more information and activity ideas, visit her Web site at http://www.gailhennessey.com/

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