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CONSIDER THE FLOUNDER


“Orange_ watercolor by kayti sweeetland rasmussen

Would you be better off not knowing?

Baby flounders look like any other normal fish, swimming upright with one eye on each side of their face. Then they undergo a bizarre transformation: one eye migrates to the other side of the face. It’s like a fishy facial reconstructive surgery. No scalpels or sutures, though I haven’t talked to anyone willing to try it out.

While you’re digesting that information, it doesn’t take long to accomplish this act. Five days in some cases and less than one day in some species. If a fish can have an awkward adolescence, this is it.

In exchange for this indignation, flounders get fabulous binocular vision. Great if you were scuba diving. You would have advance notice of any possible predator coming your way. Binocular vision would be useful for a lifestyle of lying in wait on the bottom of a sandy or stony bottom dressed in incomparable camouflage watching for an opportunity to snatch an unsuspecting shrimp or other unfortunate passerby.

In addition to the miracle of vision exchange, flounders have the enviable ability to mimic their background. Think of the advantage this might bring to those of us humans who might prefer to remain in the background? In a high school biology example of a flounder who had been placed on a checkerboard, the change began within minutes; the flounder had produced a believable rendition of a checkerboard on its back.

This ability to mimic background by changing their distribution of skin pigment is poorly understood. If one of the flounders’ eyes is damaged or covered by sand, they have difficulty matching their colors to their surroundings, which hints at some level of conscious control by the flounder. These guys may be smarter than we give them credit for.

My grandson is a wildlife biologist, and a world class fisherman. I wonder if he knows all this.

Selected from new book What a Fish Knows by Johathan Balcombe

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18 comments on “CONSIDER THE FLOUNDER

  1. I love this painting! And, wow! That’s fascinating about the flounder: the eyeballs and the ability to mimic the background, even if it’s a checkerboard. I will definitely put this book on my reading list.

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    • I thought we needed a bit of funny info! My fisherman grandson posted a photo of him holding some sort of flounder, but no ID. It was big though. He ended up in the ideal career as Wildlife biologist. His friends call him the “fish whisperer”. We took him fishing when he was about 3 years old and he has never stopped.

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  2. I would not mind in my next life to be born a male flounder. I would disguise myself by mimicking the background and when a nice sensitive female flounder happens to frolic past, surprise her with a two- eyed blink and present her with a nice gift of pink coral.
    Nice painting, Kayti.

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  3. I love your newest watercolor, Kayti. And no, I knew nothing about flounders. I just like the name ” flounder.” It’s one of those words like “sparkle, mystery, and ubiquitous” of which I like the sound. Today, at Ducky’s in Cayucos, the boys and I had grilled snapper on hot rice with steamed vegetables. Yummy. No flounder at Ducky’s. XXXXOOOO

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    • Thanks Cheri. I thought he looked better orange. I like sole and halibut is all I knew as well. It keeps us humble to know that some creatures can do things we cannot though. I have snapper in the freezer. Very good.
      Just began reading A Norwegian at Night. I think it will be good. I’ll get a list for you as well.

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  4. I would guess that the flounder might ‘flounder about’ while its eye is migrating, Kate. 🙂 –Curt

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  5. I had a chance a few months ago to tour the business end of a fish hatchery associated with Texas Parks and Wildlife, and got to see baby flounder pre-and-post eye change. It was the most amazing thing in the world. They didn’t say anything about that color change, though. Our focus was more on redfish and trout, so maybe we were limited in the amount of time to devote to the flounder.

    The flounder run here in the fall is really something. They move from the bays to the Gulf (and vice-versa, later) and down at the jetties you can catch nice ones. The regulations are a little complicated, to prevent over-fishing during the runs, but the bag limit usually is five.

    Personally, I’ll take my flounder broiled, with a nice crabmeat stuffing.

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    • How amazing to have actually seen the eyes before and after. So many odd creatures both in and out of the water.We have fished halibut in Alaska many times but I prefer petrale sole with lemon butter. That crabmeat stuffing sounds delicious by the way.

      Your new lagniappe post is lovely. It is difficult for me to respond in your site, but now that I have you in my “sights” I can tell you how much I enjoyed it.

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      • Is it my site that’s causing the problem for you, or your sight? As I mentioned there today, you shouldn’t feel any obligation to respond, but if there’s a glitch on my end that’s giving you problems, of course I want to fix it.

        In any event, I’m glad to know you’re enjoying it. I need to write the flounder story I’ve been sitting on for a decade. Like the piece I wrote about the city gal encountering her first cattle guards, and wondering where their uniforms were, the flounder story is amusing at my expense — but really funny.

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  6. I don’t know about about your grandson, but I didn’t know about the wonders of the flounder and I found the information fascinating. I also loved your painting, and I think a flounder would love it as well.

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  7. Isn’t nature wonderful? We know so little about it and are so disrespectful to it! Crazy species these humans.

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  8. That is a great watercolor! Well done! The trivia about the flounder is also interesting.. Thanks so much for sharing the art and the info! Lisa

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