New discovery on fish's face changes science

As if their deadly venom and spiny exteriors weren't enough, scientists at the University of Kansas have found that stonefish also have a hidden switchblade on their face that they can flick out whenever they feel like they're in danger.

Posted: Apr 19, 2018 2:11 AM
Updated: Apr 19, 2018 2:11 AM

If you're interested in fish who are scary-looking, poisonous and chock-full of elaborate defense mechanisms, look no further than the stonefish, a genus of fish that populate coastal waters of the Indo-Pacific region.

As if their deadly venom and spiny exteriors weren't enough, scientists at the University of Kansas have found that stonefish also have a hidden switchblade on their face that they can flick out whenever they feel like they're in danger.

Scientists call the bony, blade-like protrusion a "lachrymal saber," because it is located on a bone under the fish's eyes. Also, "lachrymal saber" is just a really metal-sounding name.

William Leo Smith, associate curator and associate professor of ecology & evolutionary biology at KU, first started to understand how the lachrymal saber worked 15 years ago, when he was dissecting a stonefish he kept as a pet.

This is a game-changer

He tells CNN the mechanism isn't just a cool new discovery (although it's that, too). It also changes the scientific understandings and classifications of this particular type of fish.

"It opens up these ideas of ecological questions. Muscular systems, bone systems, nervous systems all came together to form this. What led to its evolution or use?

In other words, he says, "Why do we see this accumulation of so many horrible things on one fish?"

The lachrymal saber is housed inside the fish's head, and they use their cheek muscles to deploy it. Though some stonefish are venomous, the saber is not.

It could be a sex thing, too

Smith says he and his fellow researchers have reason to believe the saber isn't just for warding off predators: It could be a sex thing, too.

"There is evidence pushing towards that," he says. "They may use this in battles with other members of their species, like ram horns. It may also be involved in courtship behaviors."

Oh, and the sabers glow.

"It's fluorescent green," Smith says. Since stonefish rely on camouflage for both protection and hunting prey, Smith doesn't think the fluorescence has a defensive purpose like, say, warning off predators.

There are 134 described species of stonefish, and by Smith's observation, all of them have some form of lachrymal saber.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 614946

Reported Deaths: 9807
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion849231342
Lake45784693
Allen33103560
Hamilton29752316
St. Joseph27572383
Elkhart24496346
Vanderburgh19679255
Tippecanoe18150144
Johnson15234296
Porter14970172
Hendricks14550253
Madison11071223
Clark10852145
Vigo10819185
Monroe9496115
Delaware9193136
LaPorte9173164
Howard8325148
Kosciusko811485
Warrick683399
Hancock6783106
Bartholomew6659100
Floyd6522113
Wayne6194164
Grant6050118
Dubois559081
Boone557968
Morgan551996
Henry512365
Marshall507884
Dearborn488745
Cass487864
Noble476159
Jackson428747
Shelby423381
Lawrence395180
Clinton375845
Gibson375560
Harrison354046
DeKalb351365
Montgomery349754
Knox337839
Miami325244
Steuben315846
Whitley313126
Wabash306951
Adams303636
Ripley301646
Putnam299152
Huntington295760
Jasper293035
White275943
Daviess271776
Jefferson267738
Decatur249983
Fayette249949
Greene242763
Posey241828
Wells237551
LaGrange230363
Scott227939
Clay225032
Randolph215848
Jennings200937
Spencer193622
Sullivan193633
Washington189023
Fountain185227
Starke177044
Jay168723
Owen168338
Fulton165430
Orange161035
Carroll160616
Rush156418
Perry156129
Vermillion150034
Franklin149933
Tipton134433
Parke13098
Pike118826
Blackford112023
Pulaski97937
Newton92621
Brown88835
Benton87110
Crawford8099
Martin75013
Warren6867
Switzerland6695
Union6297
Ohio4967
Unassigned0375

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 872918

Reported Deaths: 10856
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin102616707
Cuyahoga868931154
Hamilton65148455
Montgomery43662420
Summit35411766
Lucas31794634
Butler31451232
Stark26247445
Warren19939144
Lorain19378229
Mahoning17561339
Lake16350161
Clermont16235113
Delaware1463881
Licking13453142
Fairfield1301782
Trumbull12980317
Greene12226144
Medina11798169
Clark11094266
Wood10507158
Allen10031128
Portage9514111
Richland9275134
Miami927273
Marion7512113
Tuscarawas7455186
Columbiana7433124
Pickaway735250
Muskingum714042
Wayne7140172
Erie6253130
Ross5589100
Hancock556292
Scioto545365
Geauga518955
Darke474395
Lawrence464658
Union459130
Ashtabula457973
Sandusky440462
Huron435541
Mercer435590
Seneca435366
Auglaize425166
Belmont423948
Jefferson423969
Shelby422923
Washington396340
Athens38619
Putnam379276
Madison359930
Knox358423
Ashland349638
Fulton341744
Defiance336188
Crawford327274
Preble323637
Brown318821
Logan314835
Ottawa297443
Clinton293944
Highland282219
Williams282267
Jackson266145
Guernsey259326
Champaign254628
Fayette241030
Morrow23594
Perry235518
Holmes227274
Henry222954
Hardin217033
Coshocton208023
Van Wert204445
Gallia200126
Wyandot198151
Pike180918
Adams179815
Hocking174024
Carroll158216
Paulding145521
Noble121040
Meigs110324
Monroe103433
Harrison89821
Morgan84531
Vinton71714
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
24° wxIcon
Hi: 27° Lo: 21°
Feels Like: 14°
Angola
Partly Cloudy
21° wxIcon
Hi: 24° Lo: 17°
Feels Like: 9°
Huntington
Cloudy
24° wxIcon
Hi: 26° Lo: 21°
Feels Like: 24°
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
24° wxIcon
Hi: 27° Lo: 23°
Feels Like: 14°
Lima
Cloudy
26° wxIcon
Hi: 27° Lo: 23°
Feels Like: 16°
More Clouds than Sun Wednesday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events