A New Parasitic Male Found

The time comes upon every public man when it is best for him to keep his lips closed–Abraham Lincoln

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 7.30.03 PMOver 300 different species of anglerfish exist in the oceans.   The prominent lure gives them both their common name and the name of their scientific order, Lophiiformes.  Lophi, or lopho, in Latin means crest or a chicken’s comb.  The lure is the highly modified first dorsal spine of the fish.

Another unique characteristic of anglerfish is the parasitic dwarf males, long heralded in internet culture.  But only half of anglerfish species, those in the Ceratioidei sub-order, possess these unique males.  In these anglerfish species, females are 10x larger than males.  The males are essentially free living sperm packs.  Upon locating a female, anglerfish males will bite her side.  This biting triggers hormones that fuse his lips to her and dissolve his organs.  Eventually, he becomes nothing more than a testis on her side.

One anglerfish family, Centrophrynidae, contains only one species, Centrophryne spinulosa. Despite being found in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans, the species is only known from 45 individuals.  Whether this rare species contains parasitic males is unknown.

Until now!

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Sofia Vieira and colleagues describe a joined female-male pair caught in 2010 off Savage Island near Portugal.  The female is the largest known of the species and attached to her belly, most likely recently given the fusion process looks incomplete, is a male.  The authors note that this pairing is extremely rare.  Of all known anglerfish specimens these parings are only known from ~5%.  This suggests pairings in the wild are extremely rare.

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Dr. M (1729 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, a National Science Foundation supported initiative. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (http://deepseanews.com/), a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web. His forthcoming book, Science of the South (http://www.scienceofthesouth.com/), connects cultural icons of South such as pecan pie with the science behind them.

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