Monday, January 3, 2011

Creature Feature: Barreleye.

As stated in the manta ray entry, there's a whole zone of the world's oceans that laughs at our surface world's definition of "normal." When you get to the depths at which the sun doesn't shine, things begin to glow in the dark, lose all bodily coverings except slime, and have eyes on the top of their heads.

The barreleye lives slightly above that zone. This does not make it any less terrifying than the things that actually live in the deepsea abyss. They live in the mesopelagic ('midwater') zone, but that's almost like saying "hey, I live right next door to Hell." Regardless of where you want to place this fish, there are a lot more of them than you think (6 genera with 13-14 species total).

(The one that you see most often is Macropinna microstoma.)

See those green blobs in the barreleye's submarine window of a head? Those are its eyes. Barreleyes have their eyes set in 'barrels' on top of the skull; the structure covering it is all soft tissue, making dried out specimens look freakier than the healthy, live fish.

Even the Japanese wouldn't eat this...

Barreleyes use their strange, upturned vision to see the shadows of potential prey. Some sources say that the eyes can also be turned forward, but these fishes are using what little light they can get from above most of the time. They are among the few fish to possess binocular vision, and the only vertebrates around to use mirrors and lenses in their eyes.

No. No, this fish does not look any better as a sketch.

The eyes are just the start of this fish's weirdness. Depending on what species you are looking at, they might have scales or not. Their fins are mostly spineless (seriously, check out the crystalline fins on the dried out specimen above). They have gizzards like birds, and some of their organs even glow in the dark thanks to bioluminescent bacteria. They even have some 'mirror lighting,' which is like countershading on crack. There is much more to these fishes than meets the eye, but the eyes are what everybody focuses on.

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