With the end of the year fast approaching, I thought it might be a good time to reflect upon my favourite science story of 2012 and, in true Unpopular Science style, it’s one that may well have passed you by.
On a cloudy day in May, just north of Cambridge, an outlandish beast was dragged from the depths of Magpie Lake by fishing tackle expert, Mark Sawyer.
Gazing upon his catch Sawyer, tackle editor of Angling Times, immediately found himself in awe of the curious creature before him. The fish was not one of the roach, bream or goldfish known to inhabit the lake, but instead seemed to be a bizarre chimaera of the three; with the head of a roach, the anal fin of a bream and the body and tail of a fan-tailed goldfish.
The ‘Frankenfish’ as it was quickly dubbed did grab some media attention, with many experts commenting it was quite possibly the result of hybridisation (goldfish, bream and roach are all species of the family Cyprinidae and therefore interbreeding is perfectly feasible) whilst others concluded it was merely a slightly odd-looking brown goldfish.
What was so great about this story was that it really seemed to capture the imagination of those who saw it; fierce debates over the creature’s lineage ignited in the comments sections of related articles, with some interested parties clearly having gone to great lengths in order to research the topic. But on a personal note, it got me wondering what other strange creatures might be lurking just out of sight, even in a country as hugely colonised and as fully explored as Blighty; an intriguing prospect I’m sure you’ll agree.
- Hybridisation is more commonplace than you might expect with the zorse (zebra-horse), Liger (lion-tiger) and mule (horse-donkey) being three well-known examples.
- A rarer hybrid is the wholphin, a hybrid of the bottlenose dolphin and false killer whale.
- As well as the Cambridge oddity, Frankenfish is also the name of a 2004 film revolving around genetically engineered monster fish.
- Cyprinids don’t have ears, but have a great sense of hearing. They use bits of their backbone to transfer soundwaves from their gas bladder to their brain. Weird.
Whether or not the Frankenfish of Cambridge really is a hybrid is still up for debate, but for now we’d love to know what your favourite hybrid is. Get in touch!