Just when you thought the pufferfish was winning in the cuteness stakes, and the blobfish was winning in just downright peculiarity, meet the little beasty with a rather unfortunate name, but an utterly adorable appearance. I accidentally stumbled upon a ridiculous amount of these little fish during my MSc, when the killifish we were looking after got moved to the new aquatic centre, and ended up placed amongst these huge blue barrels tanks. Peeking over the edge of the tank*, we stared into the water… to be greeted by hundreds of little beady eyes.
Popular (if you’re a male, unlucky) as a delicacy in Iceland, and apparently quite the attraction when stuck onto the sides of balloons, they have another extraordinary career path – pest managers of the future.
Rather than using toxic pesticides to kill salmon lice, these little critters like to eat the salmon lice, with the salmon being pretty passive to the whole thing. They use their modified pectoral fins to “suck” onto smooth surfaces (though just about anything) and remove adult lice from the salmon, and because of originating from the colder areas of the Arctic, North Atlantic and North Pacific; they can deal with the colder waters of salmon farms, than the wrasse species trialled previously.
With sea lice threatening the global salmon farming industry, the use of lumpfish as a biological control agent is an encouraging prospect. In Scotland alone, £30m a year is spent on mitigation against these small ectoparasites – they cause damage to scales, muscle and the mucus layer, leading to nasties such as anemia, osmoregulatory dysfunction and physiological stress, whilst transfering diseases amongst stock and reducing growth. Although more research into the behaviour of the fish is needed (some aggression towards salmon has been spotted), and the possibility of transferable diseases needs attention, these lumpfish are showing exciting promising potential as a future eco-friendly treatment for those pesky sea lice. And they are damn cute to boot. Win-win?
*I’m 4 ft 11, it wouldn’t have been a strain for those of average height. I’ll do a blogpost at some point about the time my boyfriend convinced most of my Facebook, including my closest family, that I was going to be a hobbit in the new lord of the rings film due to my fitting stature.