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Department of Vertebrate Zoology

Division of Fishes

Mirapinnidae, the group of fishes
that contains tapetails and hairyfishes
Sandra Raredon
© Smithsonian Institution

An Ichthyological Family Reunion

Meet the Family Members

Solving the Puzzle

Read the Scientific ArticleBiology Letters, 5(2): 235-239

A New Family Tree - Cetomimidae

It is widely known that the larvae of many marine fishes undergo significant morphological changes as they develop into adults. The work by Johnson and his colleagues documents an extraordinary example of this, which, in combination with the extreme sexual dimorphism (the remarkable differences that can occur between the male and female specimens of a single group) in the now unified Cetomimidae, is unparalleled within vertebrates.

For a century, the tapetails, bignoses and whalefishes were each considered discretely different kinds of fishes. After decades of study of the more than 600 whalefishes, 120 tapetails, 1 hairyfish, 65 bignoses, and two transitioning males that exist in museum collections, in addition to a recently collected transitioning female and DNA analysis based on additional fresh specimens, Johnson and his colleagues have finally reunited them in a bizarre family tree that confounds comparative anatomy. Their seminal work clearly demonstrates the critical importance of historical museum collections as well as the need for continued exploration and collection in the open ocean, from the surface to the deepest depths of the sea.

The read the full scientific article documenting this research see:

Johnson, G. D., Paxton, John R., Sutton, Tracey T., Satoh, Takashi P., Sado, Tetsuya, Nishida, Mutsumi and Miya, Masaki 2009. Deep-sea mystery solved: astonishing larval transformations and extreme sexual dimorphism unite three fish families. Biology Letters, 5(2): 235-239.

Tapetails (top), the bignose(middle), and the whalefish(bottom)
In resolving this long-standing biological and taxonomic conundrum Johnson and colleagues have documented an extreme example of ontogenetic metamorphoses and sexual dimorphism in vertebrates.
Photo credit: Chris Kenaley (top), Dave Johnson (middle), Kunio Amaoka (bottom)
In resolving this long-standing biological and taxonomic conundrum Johnson and colleagues have documented an extreme example of ontogenetic metamorphoses and sexual dimorphism in vertebrates.

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