Sunday, 25 May 2014

Pinecone Fish

Image: Tomarin
It's a fish covered in plates of bright yellow armour! Some day, all children will have to wear something like this before they're allowed to play outside.

Pinecone Fish are 4 species of extremely safety-conscious fish which belong to the Monocentridae family.

Image: Richard Ling
Pineapplefish (Cleidopus gloriamaris)
The biggest one is the Pineapplefish (Cleidopus gloriamaris), which reaches 20 cm (8 in) long and lives all around Australia. The rest are a little smaller and belong to the genus Monocentris, including the Japanese Pinecone Fish (M. japonica), which is the most widespread as it ranges from Japan to Australia to India and Africa.

Monocentris means "one spine", which is odd because it makes it sound as if they have, oh, I don't know... one spine. Maybe it's supposed to mean "one spine" per big, yellow bit?

Image: Amada44
Japanese Pinecone Fish (Monocentris japonica)
You see, the thing about Pinecone Fish is they've sacrificed their ability to swim around nimble and quick for an ability to break teeth. They're encased in thick, bony scutes, each one armed with a backward-pointing spine. Each scute is yellow with a black border, so you can see just how big they are.

Only the tail is free of this armour, leaving it flexible enough to be used for swimming.

Image: Takayama Sora
Spikes. Lots and lots of spikes
But it doesn't end there! Pineconefish have two dorsal fins, a normal one for swimming and another which is a whole rack of spines. There are five to seven of them, and they alternate between pointing to the left and pointing to the right. You got to love the barbarity of asymmetry!

But wait, there's more! On the underside, each pelvic fin comes complete with an enormous spine! This thing is about as long as the Pinecone's head and can be locked into an erect position. Basically it can cut throats from the inside, and that's unappetising. I can't even tolerate those tiny bones you get in salmon.

Video: dssnappers

They call it Health & Safety, but sometimes one's safety necessitates a complete disregard for the health of others.

With all these spikes and spines you might think that the Pinecone Fish is closely related to those bristling pin cushions known as pufferfish. You'd be wrong! They actually belong to the order Beryciformes, along with the likes of the Flashlight Fish (the torch-bearer) and the Fangtooth (the werewolf).

Video: Mal Barry

Like other Beryciforms, Pinecone Fish are at home in darkness. They spend the day sheltering under rocky ledges or in caves, often in small groups. At night they become active at depths ranging from the surface all the way down to 200 metres (650 ft).

Pinecone Fish even have a pair of small, light-emitting photophores on their lower jaw. They're nothing like the blazing torches of the Flashlight Fish, but they're thought to attract small prey right to their mouth. These lights are green in young whipper-snappers but become red as the fish ages and approaches the Big Stop Light of Death.

And then of course there's the mucus. Pinecone Fish have mucus-filled pits in their head. Apparently it serves as a peculiar kind of lateral line, allowing them to feel vibrations in the dark water. It's also something they share with Fangtooths and other Beryciforms like the horribly but accurately named Slimeheads.

Image: John Turnbull
It's a shame the same thing doesn't happen when we get flu. Our own mucus-filled sinuses seems to do nothing but turn every heartbeat into a throb of head pain. Imagine if we were more like Pinecone Fish!

"I can't see a thing!"

"Don't worry. I'll get us out of here using my terrible, terrible flu-like symptoms."

That's probably the worst superhero ever.

Although, now I think about it... Pinecone, Flashlight, Fangtooth and Slimehead... Who's for Teenage Mutant Ninja Beryciforms?


TexWisGirl said...

well, they started out really cute, but with the spines and mucous...not so much!

Joseph Jameson-Gould said...

The devil is in the details!

Porakiya Draekojin said...

Who here knows what I'm talking about when I say that this fish reminds me of Anguirus? It also reminds me of all the other spiky creature sin the world, namely the horny devil

Lear's Fool said...

Am I an awful person because I wondered if they'd make good decorative lanterns if hollowed out?

Joseph Jameson-Gould said...

@Porakiya Draekojin: Well, I had to look up Anguirus but I think spiky creatures gotta stick together whether real or imagined!

@Lear's Fool: Haha! I think you are, yes. But I also think they would.

Crunchy said...

I wonder why the lights turn red as they age. It was my understanding that most sea critters can't see red light very well. Not too effective as a lure, eh?

Maybe it's to attract other Pinecone Fish to gather around so the elderly fish can tell them stories of how things used to be, and criticize their taste in music. It all sounds like banging and noise to Grandpa Pinecone Fish.

Joseph Jameson-Gould said...

The red thing is really odd. I don't know how effective it is as a lure - the problem for that colour gets worse and worse the deeper you go but perhaps it's not as bad at the Pinecone's depth.

Gathering round for a red-light-side chat sounds lovely though!

Lear's Fool said...

We may have a bit of an answer to the question of redness!

Joseph Jameson-Gould said...

Oooo! Interesting! Someone needs to do some experiments

Lear's Fool said...

My lantern idea was horrible AND prescient!

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