|Photo of Manti Te'o by Shotgun Spratling |
and Neon Tommy at Wikimedia
He was what?
The top definition of catfish at Urban Dictionary reads:
“A catfish is someone who pretends to be someone they're not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.The term apparently originates with the 2010 documentary, Catfish, about a young man who falls in love with a woman on Facebook… who turns out to be someone else. Ew. But why the term catfish? A story in the movie explains that when cod are shipped from North America to Asia, their inactivity can result in mushy meat. Fishermen discovered that putting catfish in the cod tanks will keep the cod active and preserve meat quality. Like catfish for cod, the guy philosophizes, people that have deceptive identities keep idle people active. (The producers of the documentary now produce an MTV series by the same name about this online phenomenon).
Did you hear how Dave got totally catfished last month?! The fox he thought he was talking to turned out to be a pervy guy from San Diego!”
But it’s not like real catfish can imitate others… Or do they?
|Three poisionous Lake |
Tanganyikan catfish. Figure from
Jeremy's 2010 Evolution paper.
But just because you look like everyone else doesn’t mean that it is because you’re imitating others. I mean, maybe that’s just the way you look. So how do you know if a bunch of animals that look like one another are using functional Müllerian mimicry?
Jeremy studied a number of similarly-colored, poisonous and closely-related catfish species in the African Great Lake, Lake Tanganyika. All of these Tanganyikan catfish species (from the Synodontis genus) have dark spots on a yellowish background and dark fins with white borders. Could this be because of functional Müllerian mimicry?
Jeremy put a bunch of largemouth bass each into their own tank. Largemouth bass are predators that use their vision to find and eat most any fish that will fit in their mouths. But these bass were from Michigan, so they’d never had any experience with a poisionous, spotted Synodontis catfish. A clear barrier divided each tank in half and the bass was placed on one side of the divider, and a bite-sized fish was put on the other. The bite-sized fish was either a spotted and poisonous Synodontis multipunctata catfish, a spotted and poisonous Synodontis petricola catfish, or a not-spotted and not-poisonous minnow. He then counted how many times the bass struck the plastic divider in 5 minutes as a measure of how much that bass wanted to eat the bite-sized fish. After the 5 minutes were up, Jeremy removed the divider and watched to see if the bass ate the bite-sized fish. For each bass, he did this every day for 5 days, giving each bass the same species of bite-sized fish every day, so it could learn from its past experiences.
On the first day with the bite-sized fish, all the bass struck at the divider equally regardless of whether it was a spotted poisonous catfish or a minnow. But after their first bite, the bass given spotted poisonous catfish quickly lost their interest in them even though the bass given minnows continued to vigorously strike at them every day. When Jeremy later gave them a different species of bite-sized fish, those previously given a spotted poisonous catfish avoided both species of spotted poisonous catfish, but readily ate the minnows. So the bass had learned. Spotted catfish: bad! Minnows: yum! And the spotted catfish look was transferable between the two species… the hallmark of functional Müllerian mimicry. Further analysis of the venom revealed that these catfish species were all equally poisonous: Painful, but not deadly.
Online catfish like Lennay Kekua are usually like these real-life spotted poisonous catfish: painful, but not (usually) deadly. And they typically have facebook pages and twitter accounts full of sexy photos and superficial chatter. If we’re smart, we can learn to avoid them. Do you know if all your “friends” on social media sites are who they say they are?
Want to know more? Check this out:
Wright, J. (2011). CONSERVATIVE COEVOLUTION OF MÜLLERIAN MIMICRY IN A GROUP OF RIFT LAKE CATFISH Evolution, 65 (2), 395-407 DOI: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2010.01149.x