News in Science – Reef fish lives fast, dies young – 08/09/2006

News in Science – Reef fish lives fast, dies young – 08/09/2006

Lifespan of the coral reef pygmy goby: 59 days, tops. This is, according to the report, the shortest adult lifespan of any vertebrate species. The researchers figured this out by examining the otoliths or “ear bones”. These have a daily pattern of accretion, so microscopic examination can count up the rings — just like tree tings, said the article.

Now the diminutive fish, challenged in the dimension of time as well as the usual three of space, has a place in the Guiness Book of World Records. The acceptance of the research findings reported last year are, in fact, what generated media interest at this time.

The otoliths are not “ear bones” in the sense that we use to refer to the malleus, incus, and stapes of our middle ear. They are, instead, the same sort of thing that we have in our vestibular system, that gives us feedback on our attitude: these help tell us which way is up.

Our older dog, Farli, has developed an apparent problem with her vestibular system this week. She is having a hard time figuring out which way is up. This is a not uncommon occurrence in senior dogs. As short as we think our companion animal’s lives are, there’s something sobering about realizing that our Farli has already lived over 81 complete lifetimes of coral reef pygmy goby, and I have lived over 288 such lifetimes.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.