South Africa: Evolution - Everything but an Eye-Biter


When genes make an error in replicating themselves, the results can be creatures most wonderful. Humans, however, are another kettle of fish.

"Their mouths are round like an O. They swim up to other fishes and suck their eyes out. Pop! Just like that." I winced. It sounded too horrible to contemplate. David Chitambo clearly relished the effect of his story, because his next one was about snout-sucking egg thieves.

We were sitting on the beach of the little fishing village at Cape Maclear in Malawi, watching the sun funnelling liquid gold into the afternoon sky above Mumbo Island. David is a fisherman and we were discussing cichlids, those colourful little fish for which Lake Malawi is famous.

Lake Malawi (Image Don Pinnock) Lake Malawi (Image European Space Agency)

There was reason to remember David's story the next day while snorkelling off Domwe Island. I was tail-up among a school of purplish cichlids which were nibbling algae off some rocks. A rather gaudy fish with a succulent pair of lips swam up to me and opened its mouth, displaying two rows of very businesslike teeth. It seemed to size up the single eye of my goggles then flicked away into...

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