Every now and then, nature serves up a weird animal that you can't not stare at. Well, here's one for you -- the barreleye fish, with its funky transparent face:
Researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute recently solved the half-century-old mystery of a fish with tubular eyes and a transparent head. Ever since the "barreleye" fish Macropinna microstoma was first described in 1939, marine biologists have known that it's tubular eyes are very good at collecting light. However, the eyes were believed to be fixed in place and seemed to provide only a "tunnel-vision" view of whatever was directly above the fish's head. A new paper by Bruce Robison and Kim Reisenbichler shows that these unusual eyes can rotate within a transparent shield that covers the fish's head. This allows the barreleye to peer up at potential prey or focus forward to see what it is eating.
Check out these photos of the barreleye:
From MBARI: The barreleye (Macropinna microstoma) has extremely light-sensitive eyes that can rotate within a transparent, fluid-filled shield on its head.
The bright green eyes point upward (as shown here) when the fish is looking for food overhead. They point forward when the fish is feeding. The two spots above the fish's mouth are are olfactory organs called nares, which are analogous to human nostrils.
In this image, you can see that, although the barreleye is facing downward, its eyes are still looking straight up. This close-up "frame grab" from video shows a barreleye that is about 140 mm (six inches) long.
A closer look at the upward-facing green eyes.
This face-on view of a barreleye shows it's transparent shield lit up by the lights of MBARI's remotely operated vehicle Tiburon. As in the other photos, the two spots above the fish's mouth are are olfactory organs called nares, which are analogous to human nostrils.
It had been difficult to figure out what these fish actually looked like in life because catching them and keeping them in tact were mutually exclusive, until recently:
Most existing descriptions and illustrations of this fish do not show its fluid-filled shield, probably because this fragile structure was destroyed when the fish were brought up from the deep in nets. However, Robison and Reisenbichler were extremely fortunate--they were able to bring a net-caught barreleye to the surface alive, where it survived for several hours in a ship-board aquarium. Within this controlled environment, the researchers were able to confirm what they had seen in the ROV video--the fish rotated its tubular eyes as it turned its body from a horizontal to a vertical position.
MBARI also captured video of this strange creature. WATCH: