Friday, January 5, 2018

Sticks and stones

'Sticks and Stones', acrylics and sand on canvas. Original painting 20x20cm).
Last Spring my family and I visited ‘Blijdorp’ (Rotterdam Zoo). Thanks to a new outbreak of bird flu, the aviary behind the giraffes was left empty. Thus we were forced to view the empty bird house with different eyes. And yes, my eyes wander quickly towards water parties. Water with small fish in it: sticklebacks. The gray-colored females remained at the water surface, the colorful males were hurrying back and forth along the bottom. An old love blossomed again. At home I took out my modest collection of fossil fish, knowing there had to be a fossil stickleback in there. A species from the North American Nevada desert that I had ordered via the Internet a couple of years ago. Few fossil finds are known in Europe; in the Netherlands (near the city of ‘Tegelen’), only one dorsal spine of Gasterosteus aculeatus has been found (Gaudant, 1979). 
Drawing below, top: Gasterosteus doryssus (artists's impression the way this fish probably looked like in real life); middle G. aculeatus (Three Spine Stickleback) bottom Pungitius pungitius (Nine Spine Stickleback). Scale bar 10mm.
The deposition along our former Dutch coast unfortunately was not suitable for complete fossilisation of fish. The Nevada desert was. Fossil sticklebacks have been found near Hazen (Lahontan Beds). Of course, dinohunters prefer to dig the ground to find large reptiles; small fish are literally and figuratively bycatch. Yet one has found a remarkable series of fossil sticklebacks at these quarries; specimens of the species Gasterosteus doryssus exposed in a number of layers of sediment on the site, representing a consecutive period of no less than 30,000 years stickleback evolution. Researcher Michael Bell ( Bell et al . 1989 ) has shown that ten million years ago over a period of several thousand years the sticklebacks sometimes had pelvic fins with large spines and sometimes no or only minimal pelvic fins. More recently reserach has shown that in Canada, Iceland and England, some populations, which have migrated from salt to fresh water for a longer period of time, still can lose those genes causing the pelvic fins to disappear (Bell et al . 2004 , Shapiro et al . 2004). The extensive study by Michael Bell is worth reading anyway. An interesting study of one of the most studied fish in the world! 
Oh and if you want to see ‘my’ fossils, they are now part of the collection of The Museum of Natural History (NMR 9979-1818). Specimens with pelvic fins and (be careful!) spines...

Also read my blog (Words and Vision - Behind the scenes) which includes a link to the original publication and news about my upcoming catalog on fossil Cyprinodonts.

Bell, M.A., 1994 - Paleobiology and evolution of three spine stickleback - in: Bell, M.A. & Foster, S. - The evolutionary biology of the three spine stickleback - Oxford University Press, New York. (Read this book - as PDF - for free online).

Bell, M.A., Aquirre, W.E. & Buck, N.J., 2004 - Twelve years of contemporary armor evolution in a threespine stickleback population - Evolution 58: 814-824

Bell, M.A., Wells, C.E. & Marshall, J.A., 1989 - Mass-mortality layers of fossil stickleback fish: catastrophic kills of polymorphic schools - Evolution 43: 607-619

Gaudant, J., 1979 - L'ichthyofaune tiglienne de Tegelen (Pays-Bas): signification paléoécologique et paléoclimatique - Scripta Geologica 50: 1-16 

Shapiro, M.D., Marks, M.E., Peichel, C.L., Blackman, B.K., Nereng, K.S., Jónsson, B., Schluter, D. & Kingsley, D.M., 2004 - Genetic and developmental basis of evolutionary pelvic reduction in threespine sticklebacks - Nature 428: 717-723
Additional information: the short documentary 'Making of the fittest'on You Tube.

The artworks in this blog can be ordered at my printshop. The painting (sand and acrylics on canvas) is available in full (as pictured above) or in detail (without the white borders); the drawing of the three species (without scale bar) is available in black and white and full color.