Spring was almost here, but now it feels like winter is back to remind us that we live relatively far north on the surface of our planet and it should be cold here.
In my childhood days, when I was living somewhat south of here, spring would often come with the sounds of a cuckoo calling out for a mate. I always had a mixed relationship with this bird. Once the mating had succesfully taken place, the female cuckoo would lay her egg into another bird family’s nest for adoption. Since the adoptive parents were often much smaller than the cuckoo, they had a hard time feeding the pucky chick. The chick, on the other hand, helped this problem in a most ungracious way by pushing the host’s own chicks over the side of the nest.
It turns out that the cuckoo is not the only animal to place a “cuckoos egg” into another’s pouch. I recently was told about a connection between two rather unlike animals, where one uses the other to brood her eggs. In the chilly deep waters of the Bering Sea lives the golden king crab. Sharing this habitat, but much less known and much less studied, are the snailfishes. At least two species of snailfish take advantage of the good hatching conditions in a golden king crab’s gill chamber. This strange location offers a steady supply of water flowing over the eggs and keeps them oxygenated.
Unfortunately, the adoption of about 300 fish eggs in one’s breathing organ does not go without damage to the foster crab. The effects of snail fish foster care can be seen as a range from discoloration to total destruction of the gill tissue. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports on their website that in the holds of commercial fishing vessels, golden king crabs carrying snailfish egg had a 35 percent higher mortality than those without.
According to Wikipedia there are 361 species of snailfishes. They are widespread throughout the ocean from the Arctic to Antarctic, but more prevalent in cold waters. Little is known about these fishes, and they are not fished commercially. Many are pinkish and bloblike with big heads and tapering bodies that end in a pointed tail. There are no scales, just a soft skin cover, and even the pectoral fins, which are the fish’s main means of propulsion, are often delicate.
Sometimes you can find small snailfish in the tide pools around Kodiak. Other species only live in the deepest parts of the ocean.
During the latest scientific expedition to the deepest reaches of the ocean, scientists filmed a new species of snailfish at 26,700 feet. It is therefore the record for the deepest fish ever observed.
Once again, the ocean has shown us that humans are a long way from knowing this blue planet of ours and the creatures we have the honor to share it with. Just last year, it was a large snailfish that set us straight and taught us that what we think is impossible may just be defined by our own limitations.