August 19, 2019


The Life And Death Of An Instafish: What one funny-looking fish taught us about evolution, the internet, and the monsters we create (MIRANDA COLLINGE, 19/07/2019, Esquire)

It is not known exactly when humans started inventing animals, but the origins of the practice are certainly ancient. A painting on the tomb of the wealthy Egyptian official Nebamun, dating from 1350BC, once in Thebes and now in The British Museum, seems to show a chariot drawn by two mules: a cross between a male donkey and a female horse (although they might also be examples of the unsurprisingly lesser-known hinny: a female donkey mated with a male horse). In 1548, the Ming dynasty scholar Lang Ying described the people of Hangzhou exploiting a natural colour mutation in the crucian carp to breed dazzling "fire fish", or goldfish, for profit. Charles Darwin, in On the Origin of Species, quotes an historian from the court of Akbar the Great in India in the 17th century, where the pigeon-fancying monarch, "by crossing the breeds, which method was never practised before, has improved them astonishingly."

Later in his book, Darwin makes a pointed note. "One of the most remarkable features in our domesticated races," he writes, "is that we see in them adaptation, not indeed to the animal's or plant's own good, but to man's use or fancy". Fish in particular have a history of being tinkered with for our viewing pleasure. Koi carp are descended from the black carp that were originally brought from China to Japan in 200BC, where by the 19th century rice farmers were selectively breeding and cross-breeding specimens with particularly colourful scales. The Siamese fighting fish, which appears in the wild as dull greenish-brown with short fins, has been selectively bred in captivity in astonishing varieties of purple, red, blue, orange and green, with tails that billow around them like matadors' capes.

Posted by at August 19, 2019 12:00 AM