Blind unicorn-like fish discovered in dark waters of Chinese cave

A living specimen of the new species, Sinocyclocheilus longicornusin a laboratory tank. (Image credit: Xu et al. 2023)

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A strange species of fish lurks in the dark waters of Chinese caves and looks suspiciously like a mythical equine creature. The bizarre new fish, which researchers have discovered hiding in a pitch-black pool the size of a kitchen table, have no scales or color, tiny rudimentary eyes that probably can’t see anything and a unusually large horn protruding from their forehead, a new study reveals.

Researchers found the dull unicorn-like fish while surveying cave fish of the genus Sinocyclocheilus. Fish of this genus are found only in China, usually in small ponds immersed in darkness. There are 76 known species of Sinocyclocheilus, most of which share similar characteristics with newly discovered species, such as reduced or no vision, lack of scales, and no pigmentation. However, only some Sinocyclocheilus fish possess a horn, and others have completely lost their eyes in a process known as regressive evolution, in which species lose complex characteristics over generations. There are also a handful of Sinocyclocheilus species that live in illuminated waters and lack the unusual characteristics associated with their strange cousins.

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