Although one would think that most animals see with their eyes, a recent University of Maryland study shows that a species of cave catfish, called an Astroblepus pholeter, navigates through darkness using its teeth.
This native fish of Ecuador has “teeth,” called dentricles, which protrude from the skin and are covered in enamel and surrounded by dentine. Other fish that have dentricles usually use them for cutting and protection or to reduce drag when swimming. However, biologists at the University of Maryland, in collaboration with scientists at the National Institutes of Health and Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, claim that this new sensory organ is a result of evolution. Cave catfish that use these dentricles to navigate are more likely to survive in a dark and fast-moving environment. Researchers expect that the mechanosensory nature of denticles in this cave fish species might reflect an extensive sensory role for these structures in other animals.
This study was originally published in Cell Biology in the August 21, 2012 issue.
"We have now a whole new sensory organ to examine when we find new species," said Daphne Soares, who works in the biology department of the University of Maryland College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences. “More importantly, we found a new way in which evolution has allowed animals to live in this challenging environment. It's not only completely dark but the world around them is also flowing fast."
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August 21, 2012