Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Evolution of blind cave fish
Name: rudeeric
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: N/A 


Question:
I am a biology teacher, now starting a unit on evolution. Just about every book on the topic mentions the blind and albino cave fish. But I've always been bothered by this example. Why is being blind and white an advantage for animals in a cave? I understand that they have no use for eyes or pigment, but this sounds like we're back to Lamarck's law of use and disuse. Wouldn't there first have to be the mutations to cause these? And in order for the changes to become common, they would have to be advantageous. Although there is no use for the eyes or pigment, what is the advantage to losing them?



Replies:
I can think of one important use for the loss of pigment in fish. It has been documented with the early breeding of black mollies and black angelfish, that the fry were extremely hard to keep alive. The breeders found that these fish required much greatly quantities of protein to produce the pigment melanin, and therefore supplementing the fry with protein quantities that were many times higher than those required by less pigmented fish kept them alive. Imagine then, a situation where a random mutation of albinism in a cave dwelling fish results in a population that can use the protein that it consumes for growth and reproduction, rather than for pigment production. The albino fish could quickly out-produce the pigmented fish. What the "real" explanation would be as described by an evolutionary biologist, I have no idea.

Stacie



Click here to return to the Biology Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (help@newton.dep.anl.gov), or at Argonne's Educational Programs

NEWTON AND ASK A SCIENTIST
Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory