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A Maltese Patternfish with Matching Bubbles
Despite the image above, the Maltese Patternfish is not often seen alone. Patrolling a present habitat that ranges throughout the south-central Mediterranean, this fish normally schools among scads of sardines from nearby Sardinia or tons of tuna off the coast of Tunisia.
But the Patternfish did not always roam the cool waters ringing the island of Malta. Scientists speculate that it instead evolved millennia ago in much more tropical climes. That theory is bolstered by the many body patterns developed by differentiated sub-species of the fish. Whether plaids or checks, houndstooth or windowpane, polka dots or paisleys, those patterns serve as wonderfully protective camouflage should the creature venture among the many multi-colored geometrical corals studding the 76,800 square (of course!) miles of the Orthogonal Sea (or, for that matter, visit any Ivy League alumni party).
The Maltese Patternfish has also evolved a very distinctive gill structure that enables it to imprint its own particular pattern onto the air bubbles it expels. It is unclear whether such bubble imprinting serves any useful purpose — perhaps, say, to lure prospective mates, or to warn of digestive distress. Researchers can often use trails of patterned bubbles to track the elusive Patternfish.
The creature is a favorite of European and African anglers, as well as touring fisherman from America. Many strive throughout their career to catch a quality specimen of each known pattern and color. The rarest of all Patternfish — known as the Double Malt — has a surface comprised of multiple Maltese crosses in deep magenta against a ruddy ochre skin.