The transcendent battle between predator and prey has shaped the evolution of animals both on the land and in the sea. An insect blending in with its leafy background to hide from a hungry chameleon. A hungry chameleon blending in with its leafy background to sneak up on an oblivious insect. But this tale as old as time does not always have a happy ending. If animals cannot adapt to meet the rising predatory pressures, they may find themselves face to face with extinction. We humans often like to turn the tables on this predator-prey relationship in the stories we tell. In “An American Tail: Fievel Goes West,” one of my favorite childhood movies, the mice find ways to survive and thwart the plans of the cat predators. In this month’s evolutionary mash-up, I take a common prey from the deep ocean and turn the tables on the predator by giving the prey game-changing defensive traits. What traits could we give a common oceanic prey to make it untouchable from any and all predators? And what other effects would this have on the aquatic ecosystem?
The Northern Lampfish is a common deep-sea fish that swims to the surface at night to feed on plankton and resides in the depths of the sea during the day. This particular lampfish is an important food source for whales, dolphins, sharks, tuna, salmon, and even seabirds. It get’s its name “lampfish” from the light producing organs (called photophores) that run along the ventral, or belly, side of the fish. Each species of lampfish has a different pattern and color to their photophores. The photophores help the Northern Lampfish to attract a mate, communicate with other lampfish, and hide from predators. I know what you are thinking, flashing a light in the deep dark ocean should attract predators! Not exactly! Photophore-containing fishes produce light that matches the intensity of the sunlight from the ocean’s surface. So a predatory fish looking up at the lampfish would simply see a continuous glare from the ocean’s sunny surface. This is called counter-illumination and has even been used as a military tactic! But counter-illumination aside, the Northern Lampfish is still a very vulnerable and a very common prey.
Join me throughout this whole month of June as I give the Northern Lampfish an evolutionary makeover. Watch as it transforms into a formidable foe to any predator that crosses its path. Each week I will reveal a new animal adaptation to give the Northern Lampfish, after which I will discuss how this changes the playing field in the deep ocean ecosystem. We often like to see the underdog gain the upper hand, but how will this really effect the ocean as a whole? Finally, at the end of the month, I will reveal artwork from several very talented artists which depict the Northern Lampfish with all of its newly acquired adaptations.
If you read this whole blog post, you are my hero! Thanks for reading. Please feel free to leave me a comment and feedback below. Also, let me know if there is any particular science topic you would like me to look at “through green tinted glasses” and I will write about it.