Saturday, December 8, 2012

"Paris: City of Love and Mutant Catfish"* aka "The South Beached Diet"?

AKA also Monster of the Week :}

      So I was driving on Friday listening to NPR and heard a story that caught my curiosity.  Apparently, a species catfish translpanted to France from Eastern Europe in the 1980s has recently developed some rather radical feeding behaviors.  In their native environment, catfish are quiet, nocturnal, bottom feeders.  In the last 30 years, hower, their behavior has changed— they've started beaching themselves to attack pigeons in broad daylight.  Check out the video:

Wow, be careful where you walk your dog! The idea that these fish are changing so quickly intrigued me.  If their behavior could change so completely in 30 years, what will they look like in 30 million?  So I decided to do some doodles.  One of my favorite sketch games is "Projected Evolution"– basically, you take a creature and guess what it will turn into in umpteen million years.  A great example of this is the gorilla bats in the BBC's Primeval.  They project that some time in the distant future, bats will evolve into a ground-based superpredator that still operates by echo-location.  

Here's one way to play this sketch-game yourself–  you can take 2 very different animals and say "in 30 million years, elephants and rhino beetles will switch ecological niches."  Read up on what they eat, any particular behaviors they have, and look at pictures to learn what is unique about their anatomy and how it helps them survive. Then, as you draw, you start with the elephant's current design and ask yourself questions about what anatomical changes would need to be made for it to function as a matchbox-sized organism.  For one thing, elephants have evolved to have sparser hair than most mammals, as they easily maintain heat by virtue of their enormous bodies (partial mass homeothermy for you nerds).  If an elephant were to shrink, it would need more hair, as it would have much less mass to maintain heat.  Rhinoceros beetles are insects, which means the materials and structures in their bodies will only carry so much weight,  Even in prehistoric times, land based arthropods would max out at 2.5 feet (and those were scorpions, not insects).  What needs to be changed in the Rhinoceros beetle's body if it's going to be 13 feet tall and support 7 tons of weight?  What changes in the shapes of its legs will the elephant need to burrow and scurry? These are the kinds of questions that will lead you to new, creative solutions and fun creature designs.

Projected Evolution Doodles
The image above started as a 4AM flashlight doodle, which I played with more the next day.  I projected that the Catfishes' beaching behavior and desire for land-based food would lead it further and further on to land, paralleling the way amphibians developed in the Devonian period.  Its ray fins would become sturdier and stubbier to pull it along like a crocodile for excursions of increasing duration.  In the doodle at top left I evolved the catfish into an entirely land-based predator, but kept his fin because I thought it looked cool (which is allowed lol).  Obviously these aren't to be taken as serious scientific projections, but it's a fun exercise in creature design.

Listen to the aforementioned radio segment at

See the never-mentioned cool spikily catfish picture:

Watch as catfish tries to beat the unmentionable Dennis Rodman's NBA rebound record:

*Technically not paris, but the Tarn River in Southwestern France.  It made a better title Q:{)   (a frenchman with a berret.  Or a coonskin cap).


  1. Wow, it's really neat to get this insight into your creature design process--or one of the processes, anyway. :) I wonder what on earth moved the catfish to try out pigeonmeat in the first place?

    2. told me to stop wasting their bandwidth... Did that happen to you?

    3. The Frenchman with a coonskin cap is obviously one of the Colonial French trappers that made Canada what it is today. Going back to your projected evolution game, I wonder if you could apply similar principles to cultures and countries? :) Maybe not as fun for creature design, but intriguing for any psychologists or sociologists that may happen to look at this blog. ;)

    1. 2. Hmm, that's odd, I haven't had that problem . . . remind me, and I'll show you the picture next time I see you

      3. Wow, that's actually a really cool idea! I'ma have to try that . . . :) You're cool, you know that?

      Thanks for taking the time to read, and for your awesome input! I'll see you at Base 26 ;)