National Geographic

Dawn of the Picasso Fish

FlounderSometimes a species is so complex, so marvelous, or simply so weird that it’s hard to imagine how it could have possibly evolved by natural selection. Among the weirdest is the flounder.

Not many animals would be at home in a world made by Picasso, but the flounder would fit right in. It belongs to a group of fish called flatfish, or pleuronectiforms, that all spend their adult lives hugging the sea floor, where they ambush smaller fish. Flatfish are teleosts, a huge group of fish species that include more conventional creatures like trout and goldfish. While they have a lot of teleost anatomy, flatfishes also have some bizarre adaptations for their life at ninety degrees. All vertebrates, ourselves included, use hair cells in the inner ear to keep ourselves balanced. In most flatfish species, the hairs have rotated so that swimming sideways feels normal to them. Many flatfish can camouflage the upward-facing side of their body. The underside is pale, and in many species the fin is tiny.

And then, of course, there are the eyes.

On a typical teleost like a goldfish, the eyes face out from either side of its head. On a flounder, both eyes sit on one side, gazing upwards. It takes time for this Picasso-esque anatomy to emerge: flatfish are born with eyes in the normal position, but as they grow, one eye moves across its head to join its partner. To accommodate this migrant, the bones of the flatfish head twist and turn to make room.

When Charles Darwin published the Origin of Species in 1859, a number of critics took him on, but  none more seriously than a British zoologist named St. George Jackson Mivart. In 1871, Mivart published a full-scale challenge to evolution by natural selection, called On the Genesis of Species. In one of his attacks, Mivart wielded the flatfish:

mivart-flatfish-220.jpg In all these fishes the two eyes, which in the young are situated as usual one on each side, come to be placed, in the adult, both on the same side of the head. If this condition had appeared at once, if in the hypothetically fortunate common ancestor of these fishes an eye had suddenly become thus transferred, then the perpetuation of such a transformation by the action of “Natural Selection” is conceivable enough. Such sudden changes, however, are not those favoured by the Darwinian theory, and indeed the accidental occurrence of such a spontaneous transformation is hardly conceivable. But if this is not so, if the transit was gradual, then how such transit of one eye a minute fraction of the journey towards the other side of the head could benefit the individual is indeed far from clear. It seems, even, that such an incipient transformation must rather have been injurious. [Emphasis mine]

How exactly an early flatfish eye would have hurt the animal, Mivart didn’t say. In general, Mivart was more interested in the fact that intermediate forms of traits didn’t seem to be useful. What good was half a wing to a bird, he wondered. What good was an eye that hadn’t made it all the way around a flatfish’s head?

darwin-200.jpgDarwin took Mivart very seriously, and in 1872–the year after On the Genesis of Species came out–he took on Mivart’s arguments in the sixth edition of the Origin of Species. Mivart, he argued, wasn’t thinking carefully enough about what could or could not evolve by gradual evolution. He agreed with Mivart that flatfish did not evolve in a sudden change. But he could envision a way in which the fish could have evolved in a series of steps. He had read how young flatfish–with normal eyes–sometimes fall to the sea floor and then twist their lower eye upward to see above them. They seem to strain their lower eye, twisting it as far as possible.

At this point in his life, Darwin was warming to Jean Lamarck, the French naturalist who had proposed an earlier theory of evolution in 1800. Lamarck had argued that an animal’s body changed through its experiences, and that those changes could be passed down to its offspring. Natural selection, Darwin’s great discovery, depended instead on pure inheritance. Nothing we do in our lives changes the inherited traits we pass down to our offspring. But Darwin struggled with the mystery of heredity. Over time, he became more open to Lamarck. And so he offered a surprisingly Lamarckian explanation of creeping flatfish eyes. The more the young flatfish strained their lower eyes, he suggested, the more it migrated during its development towards the other side. He wrote,

We thus see that the first stages of the transit of the eye from one side of the head to the other, which Mr. Mivart considers would be injurious, may be attributed to the habit, no doubt beneficial to the individual and to the species, of endeavouring to look upward with both eyes, while resting on one side at the bottom.

Natural selection had driven the eye further, Darwin proposed. “For all spontaneous variations in the right direction will thus be preserved; as will those individuals which inherit in the highest degree the effects of the increased and beneficial use of any part. How much to attribute in each particular case to the effects of use, and how much to natural selection, it seems impossible to decide.”

By the early 1900s, as scientists began to understand how genes work, they realized that mutations could fuel natural selection. But some biologists still argued that evolution might proceed by giant leaps. In the 1930s, the German biologist Richard Goldschmidt argued that small mutations might produce what he called “hopeful monsters,” some of which might prove to be well-adapted to their environment. For Goldschmidt, flatfish looked like promising candidates for a hopeful monsters. After all, he pointed out, no one had found a transition between ordinary fish and flatfish. Perhaps, Goldschmidt suggested, it had only taken a single mutation to launch a fish eye on its journey across the skull, and the basic flatfish anatomy emerged in a flash.

Matt FriedmanFlash-forward another seventy years. A graduate student at the University of Chicago named Matt Friedman was starting to research his dissertation on the diversity of teleosts.  While paging through a book on fish fossils, he noticed a 50-million year old specimen called Amphistium. Like many fish fossils, this one only showed the bones from one side of the animal. It was generally agreed that Amphistium belonged to some ordinary group of teleosts, although biologists argued over which one. But Friedman saw something different. To him it looked like a flounder.

Amphistium might not have the lopsided eyes of a flounder (it was hard to see just what its eyes looked like), but it did share subtler traits with flatfish. All flatfish, for instance, have prongs on some of their vertebrae that bow forward in a peculiar and distinctive way. So does Amphistium.

To see if he was right, Friedman began traveling to museums around Europe to look at their Amphistium fossils. When he found an intriguing specimen still encased in rock, he had it run through a CT-scan so that he could see its skull.  He discovered that Amphistium shares many traits with flatfish found in no other fish. Most striking of all Amphistium‘s anatomy was its pair of eyes. On one side, the eye sat in its normal teleost position. But on the other side, the eye sat high on the fish’s head. In other words, this was a fish Mivart had said could not have existed. Here’s Friedman’s drawing of the beast from both sides:

amphistium_drawings-600.jpg

This was not a freakish deformity, Friedman realized as he looked at more and more Amphistium fossils. And since they were adult fish, not juveniles, the fossils could not be showing developing eyes still drifting from one side to the other. Intriguingly, though, some Amphistium had a higher left eye, while others had a higher right eye. In most living flatfish, each species only develops its eyes on one side or the other.

Friedman also wondered if Amphistium was not a transitional early flatfish, but instead a flatfish that had evolved an eye that had moved back to its original side. But he was able to reject that possibility when he traveled to Vienna to look at another Amphistium fossil. It turned out not to be Amphistium at all, but a separate species altogether. He named it Heteronectes.

Heteronectes lived around the time of Amphistium, and it also had a lot of traits seen only in flatfish. It also had one eye sitting high on its head. But a careful comparison of Heteronectes to living and fossil fish revealed that it was missing some traits found only in Amphistium and living flatfish. In other words, Heteronectes, Amphistium, and living flatfish all share a close common ancestor. Heteronectes belongs to the first lineage to branch off from that ancestor. Later, the ancestors of Amphistium and living flatfish split. In other words, the two oldest branches of flatfish relatives had the same intermediate eyes. Here’s a slightly simplified evolutionary tree Friedman has prepared:

Flatfish evogram

Nature has just published Friedman’s report on his flatfish research. [Note: it may take a while for this link to go live.] In a common ancestor of Heteronectes, Amphistium, and living flatfish, he argues, one eye began to move upward. Friedman proposes that at this early stage, proto-flatfish were lying on the sea floor at least some of the time. They propped themselves up a bit with their downward-facing fins, so that they could see a little with their downward facing eye. Mutations arose that produced eyes sitting higher on their heads. Natural selection favored them because they gave the fish better vision. Even with one eye midway up their head, the early flatfish thrived as predators. (Friedman found one fossil of Amphistium with the skeleton of another fish in its stomach.)

But flatfish evolution did not grind to a halt once both eyes ended up on the same side of the head. It turns out there’s a living fossil flatfish on Earth today, known as Psettodes. (There are three species in this genus, found in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.) The ancestors of Psettodes branched off from all other living flatfish long ago. Intriguingly, some Psettodes put both eyes on their left side and some on their right–the same loose variations found in fossil flatfish. They even swim vertically like other teleosts, because they have fins on both sides of their bodies. Friedman argues that the full-blown flatfish body did not emerge until after Psettodes branched off–more evidence of the steps by which this weird kind of creature evolved.

Amphistium and Heteronectes now join the transitional fossil hall of fame, along with a fish with limbs, Tiktaalik, and the limbed cousin of whales, Indohyus. They’re also a reminder that the argument, “It can’t possibly have evolved because I can’t imagine it evolved” is not an argument at all. It may be hard to imagine Amphistium and Heteronectes, but they are real. In fact, they’ve been sitting around in museums for centuries, waiting for someone to recognize their true wonder.

[Plaice photograph copyright Kåre Telnes. Reproduced with permission from the Marine Fauna Gallery of Norway]

[Update: For other takes on the fossil flatfish, see Ed Yong.]

Add Yours.

  1. Patrick
    July 9, 2008

    Mr. Zimmer this is an awesome post and you are awesome. There are so many interesting stories to be told about evolutionary history.

  2. Michael Balter
    July 9, 2008

    Wow, Carl, looks like you’ve got the entire Discover art department working with you too! Great stuff.

  3. EastwoodDC
    July 9, 2008

    A transitional fossil. It it just me, or does anyone else I hear the sound of goalposts moving?

    >Mivart published a full-scale challenge to evolution by natural selection, called On the Genesis of Species. In one of his attacks, Mivart wielded the flatfish:

    The mere suggestion of fish being wielded recalls this classic:

    I think Mivart might be the short guy on the right. :-)

  4. Gary Hurd
    July 9, 2008

    I have studied the skulls of halibut, and sole from different age groups. A small number of bones from the “top” side “turn off” shortly after leaving the larval stage. They are present but reduced in size. The paired bones on the bottom side grows larger in effect pushing the “down” side over to the top. The paired bones at the rear of the skull are perfectly ordinary, as are the jaws and postcranial bones. I think that this indicates a Hox gene mutation.

    What is classic is that this new report was from material collected long ago and currated, and that it so clearly satisfies the requirement of a Darwinian intermediate. The creationsits will no doubt claim there are two new gaps to fill in the fossil record.

  5. Charlie Wagner
    July 9, 2008

    “Sometimes a species is so complex, so marvelous, or simply so weird that it’s hard to imagine how it could have possibly evolved by natural selection. Among the weirdest is the flounder.”

    First of all, I really enjoyed reading this article. It was very well written and most interesting.
    This is an excellent example of evolution, since the extinct forms are different from the extant forms. This is the fact of evolution and I accept it without qualification.
    What the fossils fail to tell us, however is the mechanism by which these changes occurred. Were they the result of random mutation and natural selection or was some other mechanism involved? Friedman (and I assume you also) propose that “Mutations arose that produced eyes sitting higher on their heads. Natural selection favored them because they gave the fish better vision. Even with one eye midway up their head, the early flatfish thrived as predators.”

    We must be careful to point out that this is only one interpretation for this change. We must be very careful that we are not fooling ourselves about it. We must be certain that we are not engaging in what Feynman called “cargo cult science”.

    http://wwwcdf.pd.infn.it/~loreti/science.html

    (What’s missing from “cargo cult science is) “a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty — a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid — not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked — to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

    Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can — if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong — to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

    In summary, the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgement in one particular direction or another. ”

    And if there is no strong evidence to confirm your interpretation, it’s OK to admit that you just do not know.

  6. Frank Oswalt
    July 9, 2008

    @Charlie Wagner: And if you’re a creationist troll, it’s OK to admit that you don’t know. Like, you know, anything at all.

  7. Ryan
    July 9, 2008

    Incredible article!! I am going to write about this at my blog, “Answers in Genesis Busted”

    http://aigbusted.blogspot.com

    -Ryan

  8. Left_Wing_Fox
    July 9, 2008

    I strongly doubt Feynman included “Evolutionary Theory” in his discussion of Cargo Cult science.

    Just as it is intellectual dishonesty to ignore contrary results from experiment in favor of a theory, it is equally dishonest to ignore collary results in favor of ignorance. The totality of evidence gained so far supports the evolutionary theory without having to invoke unproven metaphysics or untestable supernatural forces.

    If new evidence arises that challenges the Theory of Evolution, the theory changes with the evidence to better encompass the whole. Just as Newton’s equations were worked into Einstein’s theories to better explain new discoveries, Darwin’s view of Natural Selection integrated discoveries of Genetics, developmental biology and now epigenetics to better explain the totality of evidence.

    Indeed Charlie, your willingness to accept the individual experiments, yet unwilling to connect them into a larger picture, are the one engaging in the close-mindedness you seem so willing to accuse biologists of.

  9. llewelly
    July 9, 2008

    Charlie Wagner:

    We must be careful to point out that this is only one interpretation for this change. We must be very careful that we are not fooling ourselves about it.

    Yes. It’s certainly possible, that flatfish evolved via homeopathy, due to the flatness of the Earth.

  10. Steven
    July 9, 2008

    “Sometimes a species is so complex, so marvelous, or simply so weird that it’s hard to imagine how it could have possibly evolved by natural selection. Among the weirdest is the flounder.”

    Watch out for creationist quote mining.

  11. Alexander Vargas
    July 10, 2008

    Certainly what was argued to occur in a single step has been discarded here: a classic “case of saltationism” is no longer valid.
    This been said, a step-wise process does not prove natural selection; the advanatage of the intemediate stages still seems a bit mysterious to me.
    Simply put: if X is Y it does not mean that Y is X. A creative” role for natural selection certainly implies an accumulation of steps, but an accumulation of steps does not imply natural selection. If not we might juts as well simply state that evolution= natural selection, since all we have to do is simply adjust our scale of observation ( as if magnification in a microscope) to find a step-wise accumulation in any lineage.

    It is also worth mentioning that partially twisted flounder can be found in the variation of modern populations, and even sometimes individuals with completely “normal”, non-twisted faces.

    Also, a much more arguably non-gradula change is the tendency to twists the face randomly, always to the right, or always to the left, that can be observed to have occurred in the more recent evolution of these fishes, switching from one mode to another. That “jump” is legit.

  12. stephen
    July 10, 2008

    Charlie,

    If you’re truly having such problems fathoming how the process works, may i suggest you delve into Sean Carroll’s books “Endless Forms . . . ” and “Making of the Fittest”.

    [sorry Carl! "Evolution" is a wonderful overview, but Carroll spreads out the nuts and bolts in a way that might even enlighten Charlie]

    stephen
    Ottawa, Canada

  13. Mike from Ottawa
    July 11, 2008

    Yes, Charlie Wagner is a long time creationist troll. The actual ‘cargo cult science’ is intelligent design and other forms of creationism. Charlie doesn’t come out and say it but his explanation for how any new feature or creature came about is ‘Then a miracle happened.’

  14. Charlie Wagner
    July 12, 2008

    “Yes, Charlie Wagner is a long time creationist troll. The actual ‘cargo cult science’ is intelligent design and other forms of creationism. Charlie doesn’t come out and say it but his explanation for how any new feature or creature came about is ‘Then a miracle happened.’”

    Normally I wouldn’t respond to this but you have misquoted me.

    What I said was:

    “Meaningful islands of function are so isolated that to find even one by chance would be truly a miracle.”and

    “It (darwinism) just substitutes one miracle for another. I prefer scientific explanations over mystical explanations.” and

    “It (darwinism) requires a miracle equal in magnitude to god “poofing” the universe into
    existence. Which is why is prefer to think that the universe and the life in it
    have always existed.”

    The miracle I’m referring to is evolution by mutation and natural selection which is as much a miracle as “god did it”

  15. scott
    July 12, 2008

    cant creationism exist alongside evolution? creationism doesn’t equal christianity… but there could be ineteligent design behind all evolution, could it not? i believe there is something beyond our human intelligence that is behind evolution. i could be wrong, obviously..

  16. Don Meaker
    July 12, 2008

    I have to ask: How do you judge, measure, or quantify how much a miracle something is? I always thought that getting a good sample size on miracles was tough.

    Say 5 consecutive snake eyes…. (1/36) to the 5th power. I did it once. So is that a miracle? Does that mean that it was divine intervention, and that without divine intervention it couldn’t have happened?

  17. mikeWA
    July 13, 2008

    Charlie says:
    >Normally I wouldn’t respond to this but you have misquoted me.
    > Meaningful islands of function are so isolated that to find even one by chance would be truly a miracle

    Oddly, Charlie has no problem misrepresenting science. Notice how Charlie misrepresents the process of evolution by implying that evolution searches for “islands of function” randomly. It doesn’t. Natural selection is not random. The search is not random, therefore results do not require miracles.

    Also, he uses a misleading metaphor of an island in a 2-3 dimensional sea to imply that it is difficult to get from function to function. Genomes don’t have 2 or 3 dimensions. They have MILLIONs of dimensions. The more dimensions you have, the harder it is to isolate islands from each other, because there are that many more possible paths from island to island.

    Charlie hasn’t got a clue what he is talking about.

  18. Rafi Schutzer
    July 13, 2008

    I am not a creationist by any stretch of the imagination. I’m fully an adherent of the Theory of Evolution. But I don’t believe that these paleontologists have found an intermediary specimen. How do they tell the difference between an intermediate and simply a fish which is in the process of migrating its eye and dies during the process?

  19. Charlie Wagner
    July 13, 2008

    “Charlie misrepresents the process of evolution by implying that evolution searches for “islands of function” randomly. It doesn’t. Natural selection is not random. The search is not random, therefore results do not require miracles.”

    It doesn’t matter if natural selection is random or not. This whole
    line of reasoning is a red herring. It was designed to answer the charge
    that darwinian evolution was a random process and that function cannot
    arise from a random process. So the claim was made that while mutation
    was indeed random, selection is not. But it’s irrelevant and draws
    attention away from the real issue. Natural selection is a trivial
    effect that has nowhere near the power vested in it by evolutionists.
    True, it can change the frequency of alleles in populations under
    selection pressure, but no evolutionist has ever demonstrated that these
    changes in gene frequency can ever lead to new processes, structures or
    organisms. This is simply a story, a leap of faith, with no evidenciary
    basis in reality. My contention is that natural selection, whether you
    believe it’s random or not, has no creative power. It cannot create new
    structures, new processes or new organisms. Until someone demonstrates
    that this is possible, it’s not right to ask people to believe it. They
    may as well believe that wooly mammoths live on Pluto, or that sitting
    by a drafty window causes colds.

    Darwinian evolution by natural selection is
    merely a special case of the general procedure of problem solving by trial
    and error. This method would never be successful in achieving the level of
    organization that we see. It is too inefficient. And there would not be
    enough room in the universe for all of the rejects.

    Yes, alleles can change their frquency over time by this method.
    Mutations do occur and selection is a real phenomenon. But this kind of
    change is not evolution in my book, because, first of all, it’s an
    oscillatory effect, changing first in one direction and then back in
    another direction. This is not a path that leads to new processes,
    structures and adaptations. This was clearly demonstrated by Peter and
    Rosemary Grant with the Galapagos finches. If you want to call this
    evolution, fine, but then you cannot use it to explain the appearance of
    complex processes, structures and adaptations. And you cannot
    demonstrate that these trivial effects have anywhere near the creative
    proclivities assigned to them by Darwin and his ilk.

  20. Helen
    July 13, 2008

    The flounder is a weird-looking fish, but don’t call it a Picasso fish… a fish named Picasso fish already exists. (It’s a kind of triggerfish.)

  21. Sven DiMilo
    July 13, 2008

    Charlie is famously stubborn and has stayed on message for many years despite the best efforts of many knowledgable people. He doesn’t understand the difference between 20 years and 20,000 years, so what are you going to do? Ignore him (but be aware that he’ll be right back with the same o’ spiel no matter what you do or do not do).

  22. mikeWA
    July 13, 2008

    > It doesn’t matter if natural selection is random or not.

    Hardly. This assumption of randomness is CENTRAL to Charlie’s argument. He can’t make his case without misrepresenting science by pretending the evolution is a purely random process–thus making it sound impossible. Here he is making the false assumption of randomness again in the very same post:

    > . And there would not be enough room in the universe for all of the rejects.

    This is true if he assumes a pure random evolutionary process. Evolution is not like this, so claiming evolution has this result is misrepresentation.

    > natural selection is merely a special case of the general procedure of problem solving by trial and error

    Note the conflation. There are different kinds of “trial and error” processes with very different performance.

    Homework Charlie:
    1. tell us whether your “universe full of rejects” you envision requires a dependent or independent set of trials. Tell us how the probabilities of multi-step mutations are calculated as you envision it.
    2. Tell us whether mutation + selection uses dependent or independent trials. Tell us how the probabilities of multi-step mutations are actually calculated. Hint: it isn’t the same as (1).
    3. Finally, tell us why you keep misrepresenting evolution as something other than it is. You seem to care about other people misrepresenting you. How come you don’t have trouble with that behavior yourself?

  23. amphiox
    July 13, 2008

    Dear Charlie,

    With regards to the following:

    “there would not be enough room in the universe for all the rejects.”

    The universe is a bigger place than you appear to realize. Also, the “rejects” as you call them die, and their material components are recycled into the next generation. Very little space is actually required for them.

    “Darwin and his ilk.”

    I find the level of personal animosity you harbor towards a 19th Century naturalist puzzling. You seem to include an ad hominem attack on him in about every other post you make. In previous posts you have even gone so far as to threaten a currently dead man with bodily harm.

    I understand you are not in full agreement with some of the man’s ideas. But you have already declared your agreement with his assertion that natural selection occurs and is a mechanism of population change. This puts you in complete agreement with just about half of “The Origin of Species.” Is opposition then, to half a book worth such vitriol? Or is it something else? Was it his theory of reef formation that offended you? Of something in his study of barnacles that you found obnoxious?

    And yet, opposition to an idea warrants not such hatred for a man. I, for one, stand opposed to Copernicus’ assertion that the orbit of the earth around the sun transcribes a perfect circle. But I feel no compulsion to throw said astronomer under a London bus.

    So why the hostility? What did Charles Darwin ever do to you? Surely you are not so old as to have been personally wronged by him. Was it an ancestor then, who suffered some ignominy at Darwin’s hands? Is this, then, an inherited vendetta, descended with modification from your ancestral past?

  24. amphiox
    July 13, 2008

    A personal thought, inspired partly, but not entirely, by Charlie.

    In science it is NOT ok to say you don’t know.

    Science BEGINS with “I don’t know,” it does not end with “I don’t know.”
    If you don’t know, you must guess (hypothesize), then go and TEST your guess. That first guess, most likely, will be wrong. So you guess again, using the information obtained in the process of testing the first guess. And you test again. And you guess again, and test again.

    The process doesn’t end. That is science.

  25. Rick Byland
    July 13, 2008

    Mr. Wagner, I exhort and commend you. Your responses are charitable and gracious, well done.

  26. Ottawa U
    July 14, 2008

    It’s threads like this that make me wonder why we bother.
    Mr. Wagner is obvious in his intent, even if he may think he his clever.
    We are fighting with words that many seem to lack the meaning of.
    Science begins because we bored of cursing the dark, cannot endure the cold, and are curious about our surroundings.
    Religion starts because we are fearful.
    Let’s enlighten the world with the fish and DNA and bacteria (oh my !)
    Science will never compete with Religion and ID.
    These two things do not coexist on the same intellectual plane.
    But deception, greed and Religion have always been good friends.

  27. Adam
    July 15, 2008

    “But deception, greed and Religion have always been good friends.”

    -Ottawa U

    I guess you’ve never heard of Al Gore’s global warming… lol

  28. Neil
    July 16, 2008

    “They’re also a reminder that the argument, “It can’t possibly have evolved because I can’t imagine it evolved” is not an argument at all.” – says it all really

    Great post and great summary of the paper and background :)

  29. Nick Gardner
    July 20, 2008

    I Xomblurb’d your article, but Xomba doesn’t support trackbacks. I enjoyed thoroughly enjoyed your article, it made me think more about fish and their evolution than I had before.

  30. amphiox
    July 20, 2008

    Adam, if Al Gore’s global warming is guilty of deception, it is only by exaggeration.

    And greed? You gotta be kidding me. Voluntary anti-consumerism, self-restraint, and growth restriction? For an entire civilization? An entire planet? The message is as pure anti-greed as anti-greed can get.

  31. Bruce
    July 21, 2008

    What I haven’t yet seen in any of the articles or comments about the gradual migration of the eye from the underside of the fish to the upward side is the avodance of abraion If these fish were adopting the behavior of lying on the bottom, with its obvious potential survival benefits they would be exposing the “down” eye to damage from sand, shells etc. Then even slight mutations that moved that eye away from the bottom most part of the fish would help lessen damage or at least give more incentive for the eye to move.

  32. Ottawa U
    August 18, 2008

    Oh adam…please..

    Global warming is a fact period. It’s partly normal and partly our doing.
    What the end effect will be and what we should do about it is another.
    I’ve never been an alarmist, but I come to my own conclusions, and spent way too much time researching my own facts.

    The real problem is everything gets politicized and confounded, to be polite. That our leaders are Lying asshats and we’re blind 1D10Ts is closer to truth.

    But the fact is Humanity can’t deal with reality, so we live with Fantasia.
    Mine is that my wife could never love another…

    Yours is that there’s a big old guy in the clouds…

    Who’s crazy, who’s sane ? depends….The Golden Rule applies…

    Cheers.

  33. Dave S
    April 2, 2009

    Unfortunately, I am forced to admit that this time Charlie has made some valid points. In order for this to be a really good example of random mutation and natural selection one must determine the mutations involved and demonstrate their morphological effects and their selective advantage. Until this is done there are still critical pieces of the puzzle missing.

    Now let’s see, I know, how about screening for mutations in regulatory regions of hox genes in flatfish and other species. After finding such mutations, one could then theoretically perform transgenic experiments to demonstrate direct morphological effects and selection coefficients. This approach could even potentially help determine the order and timing of the important mutation events.

    Now, until such experiments are performed what should we do? Should we conclude that very well known processes observed countless times in many other species could also be operatinig in flatfish evolution? Or, should we do like like Charlie and throw our hands up in the air and quit, just because we don’t have every little detail of this particular example worked out yet.? I know which alternative I will choose.

  34. Koninja
    September 26, 2009

    Oh my goodness! you guys at the top bicker like children!

    The second that Charlie commented on how the article was not absolutely perfect, you jumped down his throat, dubbing him a creationist, and attack his every word! Whichever side is actually right, you guys will not soon find out because you won’t even listen to the other without bias.

    Judge each comment with a bias against it, or don’t judge at all. sheesh. this is science, not politics!

  35. Noodly James
    October 4, 2009

    “Natural selection is a trivial
    effect that has nowhere near the power vested in it by evolutionists.
    True, it can change the frequency of alleles in populations under
    selection pressure, but no evolutionist has ever demonstrated that these
    changes in gene frequency can ever lead to new processes, structures or
    organisms.”

    Incorrect. New processes have been observed being initiated (lactose tolerance, strictly unicellular algae become strictly 8 celled balls of algae, new muscles in lizards, new lengths of gut in lizards, new bones structures), new organisms, by this you mean speciation, yes it has been observed, so has the formation of new genera. Natural selection may be a trivial effect for you. It is not such a trivial effect when a population is placed under selective pressure.

    As for the last poster above me, you have obviously never attempted to have anything published or defend your thesis. Science is very much about having everything 100% in accordance the scientific method. This applies to the terminology as well. I will assume that if your doctor came in and proclaimed that your washer bearings were not intact and that he needed to remove your eyes to fix them, you would likely not agree that this was the best course of action?

  36. Koninja
    October 8, 2009

    That is almost relevant to my point.

    Debating, discussing, and questioning is good yes. But there is no reason to attack your doctor, using your metaphor. Assuming your doctor metaphor is directly in response to my comment, you are assuming that Charlie, or anyone with an opinion different than yours for that matter, is insane and has no clue what they are talking about.
    You proved my point by neglecting most of what I said, and clearly stating your own bias.

  37. Koninja
    October 8, 2009

    also, where are the references for this article and who is the author? I’ve found another article from which this one quotes whole paragraphs word for word.

  38. david
    May 30, 2011

    I would think the sudden appearance and staying power of a ‘monster form’ would be quite likely for fish, since they can avoid sexual selection, due to them simply just releasing their gametes into solution. An asymmetrical land based creature enjoying that success would be quite a bit more unlikely, unless they use rape techniques to mate.
    I don’t think that creationism and evolution have to be mutually exclusive. If you look at it in analogous instead of literal terms , the Bible got it mostly right, sequentially, and it’s far closer to the scientific truth than any other religious imagining of creation. That to me is almost miraculous, that people 3500 years could even begin to approach thinking like that.
    Then there’s the odds game. So many delicate things necessary for life in just the right balance, with just the right timing. From having one moon to Van Allen’s belt, to the ozone to sea level to the ratio of sea to land, to the molten iron core and much more. Those odds are probably on par or greater than the amount of stars that exist

  39. 4u1e
    June 27, 2012

    “Then there’s the odds game. So many delicate things necessary for life in just the right balance, with just the right timing. From having one moon to Van Allen’s belt, to the ozone to sea level to the ratio of sea to land, to the molten iron core and much more. Those odds are probably on par or greater than the amount of stars that exist”

    Of course that particular delicate balance is only necessary for life broadly similar to us. Alternative forms of life (if they exist) will have their own, different delicate balances of necessary conditions that may be more or less common across the universe.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. A » Blog Archive » Dawn of the Picasso Fish

    [...] Dawn of the Picasso Fish Not many animals would be at home in a world made by Picasso, but the flounder would fit right in. It belongs to a group of fish called flatfish, or pleuronectiforms, that all spend their adult lives hugging the sea floor, … [...]

    July 9, 200811:05 pm
  2. » Dawn of the Picasso Fish A Side: What The World Is Saying About A Side

    [...] Dawn of the Picasso Fish Like many fish fossils, this one only showed the bones from one side of the animal. It was generally agreed that Amphistium belonged to some ordinary group of teleosts, although biologists argued over which one. … [...]

    July 9, 200818:49 pm
  3. Dear Kitty. Some blog :: How flatfishes evolved :: July :: 2008

    [...] All previous studies of Amphistium mistakenly concluded that it had a symmetrical skull. See also here. And [...]

    July 10, 200818:08 am
  4. Natural Selection is Weird, Very Weird « Good Tithings

    [...] Selection is Weird, Very Weird Carl Zimmer talks about the crazy bottom dwelling [...]

    July 10, 200812:09 pm
  5. Noblesse Oblige » Which Controversy?

    [...] that they are misunderstood while cavalierly dismissing yet another series of transitional fossils (normal fish to flatfish.) He then moves to slamming his former allies because associations with them past the Dover [...]

    July 11, 2008112:22 am
  6. shantarohse.com » Dawn of the Picasso Fish

    [...] Carl Zimmer gives a typically fascinating account of the evolution of our understanding of how the f…, an evolutionary conundrum that engaged both Charles Darwin and his critics. Darwin argued that the trait evolved over many generations of flatfish; however there was no evidence for this morphological development in the fossil record.The most recent contribution to the story is evolutionary biologist Matt Friedman’s discovery of three examples of transitional forms of flatfish among the dusty fossil collections of Europe. What is most interesting to me is that these fossils were long ago collected and curated, but so clearly satisfy the requirement of a Darwinian intermediate. Matt Friedman explains: I suppose there is a general perception that museum collections are dusty, static archives, and that everything in them has been carefully studied and precisely identified. But the truth is that they are much more than just long-term storage, because as our interpretive framework matures, we can begin to make sense of specimens that evaded or baffled earlier generations of researchers, or draw new conclusions about materials we mistakenly thought we had figured out ages ago. This entry was written by Shanta Rohse, posted on July 15th, 2008 at 1:01 am, filed under Linking Thinking and tagged reconceptualizing understandings. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL. « The Sky Is Falling The Next Renaissance » [...]

    July 15, 200811:26 am
  7. What on Earth happened to Pat Buchanan? « Buttle’s World

    [...] claim there are two new gaps! I’d love to know what they think about the fossil record of the Picasso Fish. No doubt they see three gaps instead of a continuum. The fact is that absolutely nothing in [...]

    July 17, 200811:49 am
  8. Caught in the Middle: Transitional Flatfishes | Publisher & Social

    [...] be examined with modern techniques and a fresh perspective. You can read more about this paper at The Loom, Not Exactly Rocket Science, and GrrlScientist’s [...]

    August 13, 200817:26 am
  9. The failed Twitter experiment « The Outer Hoard

    [...] learned that the Picasso Fish has something interesting to say about [...]

    August 14, 2008111:04 pm
  10. Weird Eyes | The Loom | Discover Magazine

    [...] examples of eyes evolving in weird ways. One example may be familiar to readers of this blog–the flatfish. The other example, illustrated here, is the stalk-eyed fly. The point I try to make in the piece [...]

    October 21, 2008112:07 pm
  11. Yay For Turtle Ancestors! | www.jeffthefish.com

    [...] which happens surprisingly often.  I’ve done it once before, that I can remember, and I missed an awesome one that was written about over the summer.  I created a special category called Transitional Forms so [...]

    November 26, 200815:29 pm
  12. Biochemical Soul » Adaptation of the Week - Flatfish Eyes & Recapitulation Theory

    [...] In a well-known study that was published last summer in Nature and received much media attention, Matt Friedman showed findings from a series of fossils delineating a clear gradual evolution from symmetrical to asymmetrical flaltfishes. (For excellent in-depth coverage looking at this study and the debate over flatfish evolution, see one of my favorite science bloggers, Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science, and also see the popular science writer Carl Zimmer at The Loom). [...]

    February 25, 200918:18 pm
  13. Floundermania! | Deep Sea News

    [...] flounders have been flopping all over the place! The maestro of science story-telling, Carl Zimmer, has produced in my opinion one of his finest posts ever at his new blog at Discover Magazine. Head over there now, don’t delay!, to understand the [...]

    March 18, 200918:27 pm
  14. Interesting Stuff: Early June 2009 « The Outer Hoard

    [...] have read were it not nominated for the prize. Of the articles that I had already read, perhaps this is the best (and indeed I linked to it in an earlier installment of this series) but it would have [...]

    June 8, 200913:02 am
  15. Evrimin kay

    [...] fossils – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Intermediate Forms Between Classes – SkepticWiki Dawn of the Picasso Fish | The Loom | Discover Magazine ….Yine de ben tatmin olmad

    August 9, 2009111:44 am
  16. Giants Lurking In The Drawer | The Loom | Discover Magazine

    [...] University of Oxford. Friedman knows a thing or two about the treasures lurking in museum drawers. As I wrote in 2008, he showed that previously neglected fossils were actually transitional forms that track the [...]

    February 18, 201012:01 pm
  17. Flatfish Transition « rackyourbrain.net

    [...] drive home a few more nails in the proverbial coffin of the ID position, we have found not one but three fossils reaffirming the position that these animals evolved from bilaterally symmetrical [...]

    June 3, 2010112:50 pm

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