Peter’s elephantnose fish has long been a laughing stock of scientists. But now, due to a new study by researchers at the University of Bonn, Germany, the hilarious looking creature’s reputation might improve due to an astonishing attribute.
He’s got the whole world….in his nose!
According to the researchers’ study, released in the Journal of Experimental Biology, Peters’ elephantnose fish (Gnathonemus petersii) use weak electrical fields emitted out of their chins to scan the floor of the water and do so with amazing accuracy. The study shows how in total darkness the fish can sense the difference between a wide array of different materials and dead and living organisms, even when these objects are not right under their nose (so to speak) but farther away.
Sweeping its chin back and forth like a metal detector over the bed, the Peter’s elephantnose fish looks for its favorite snack, dead nematocera larvae which are buried under the gravel and sand. Mutated muscle cells pulse electricity 80 times a second into the fish’s surroundings and then the fish measures the electrical fields with sensors in its skin. The field is distorted by surrounding objects, allowing the fish to create an “image” of the surrounding terrain by sensing these distortions.
Listen to the noise of the fish emitting the signals
According to Professor Gerhard von der Emde, lead author of the study, the fish easily distinguished between different shapes underwater in pure darkness, such as a pyramids and cubes, and were even able to tell the difference when the shapes were non-solid, only frames of wire. The fish could also tell the difference between living and dead objects. According to Professor von der Emde, as quoted in this article from the Underwater Times,
“With its electric sense, it measures [the objects'] capacitative properties, i.e. their ability to store charges…Dead plants or animals cannot [store a charge].’ Finally, the fish can tell the material objects are made of and how far away the object is.
All of this is probably possible because of the large brains these fish possess, even larger proportionately to their bodies than human beings. Hopefully they are not smart enough to figure out that everyone is laughing at them.