'Spookfish' Looks in the Mirror

on January 17, 2009
Featured in News to Know

BBC News: “‘Spookfish’ Has Mirrors for Eyes” The brownsnout spookfish isn’t exactly a household name, but scientists have just discovered its claim to fame: eyes that incorporate not only lenses, but also mirrors to see into murky Pacific Ocean depths.

Scientists had obtained none of the fish live in the 120 years since it was first identified—until last year, when a scientist from Tuebingen University caught one off the coast of Tonga.

"The spookfish is adapted to make the most of what little light there is.”

A team has now reported in Current Biology that the fish is the first known vertebrate to have mirrors in its eyes that help focus light. “In nearly 500 million years of vertebrate evolution, and many thousands of vertebrate species living and dead, this is the only one known to have solved the fundamental optical problem faced by all eyes—how to make an image—using a mirror,” said Bristol University’ Julian Partridge, who conducted the tests.

The fish’s two eyes are each split into two connected elements, one which points up and the other which points down. A mirror, thought to be composed of layers of guanine crystals, unites the two images.

“Very little light penetrates beneath about 1,000 meters (3,281 ft) of water and like many other deep-sea fish, the spookfish is adapted to make the most of what little light there is,” Partridge explains. “The use of a single mirror has a distinct advantage over a lens in its potential to produce bright, high-contrast images. That must give the fish a great advantage in the deep sea, where the ability to spot even the dimmest and briefest of lights can mean the difference between eating and being eaten.”

Partridge also used a computer simulation that showed that the arrangement of crystal plates that form mirror’s curved surface were “precise” and “perfect” for focusing the light to the retina. So once again, the question is: are such “perfect” designs better explained by accidental mutations or by an ingenious Designer?

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