Friday, May 20, 2011

Ellen Prager's "Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime"

Ellen Prager, a marine scientist, was formerly the chief scientist at the world’s only undersea research station, Aquarius Reef Base in the Florida Keys. She is the author of several books, including Chasing Science at Sea.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime: The Oceans' Oddest Creatures and Why They Matter, and reported the following:
Within the sea there is a group of fishes that have a knack for immobility and a body built for angling. They are the anglerfishes, frogfishes, and their relatives; and they are described on page 99 of my new book. They are excellent examples of the weird and whacky amid the oceans, with a few surprising links to humankind.

Both the anglerfish and frogfish are big-mouthed creatures with a built-in fishing pole and lure. Their dorsal spine has been modified into a thin, flexible rod, tipped with an enticing fleshy appendage, or lure. Sitting motionless, they patiently wait for prey to near, attracted by the prospect of a tasty meal. When a victim is in range, these fishes lunge with rapid finality.

They are strange, and in some cases, goofy looking fishes with small eyes, globular bodies, and really big mouths. That is not all that is bizarre. In anglerfish, the gender differences are extreme and sex is, shall we say, unusual. Male anglerfish are only about a centimeter long, one-tenth the size of the female, and their one mission in life seems to be to find a female and latch on, literally. The male actually bites onto the female in a never-ending kiss as his mouth fuses with her skin. His internal organs then begin to degenerate, with the exception of those that produce sperm, and he becomes reliant on the female’s bloodstream for nutrition. Once mated, the tiny male anglerfish is a literal parasite of the female, living solely to produce sperm for as long as they both shall live. Sorry men.

Interestingly, scientists are studying the odd parasitic attachment of the dwarf male with the female anglerfish to learn about immune systems and endocrinology. The monkfish, a relative of the frog- and anglerfish, was once the poor man’s lobster, but is now a popular, pricey commodity gracing many a gourmand’s table. As never before we are looking to the oceans as a source of food, jobs, revenue, models for biomedical research and in biotechnology, and in the search for new drugs to improve human health. The sea’s great and strange diversity of life is not just critical to the ocean ecosystem, but also to humankind as well.
Read more about the book and author at Ellen Prager's website and the University of Chicago Press website.

Learn about the volcanic sexual activity of sea sponges, the transgendered parrotfish, and the well-endowed conch.

The Page 99 Test: Chasing Science at Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue