The Ambiguous Fish

The Ambiguous Fish

Lachlan Marnoch, 2015

The ambiguous fish mocks me from the rock. A forgotten skeleton, not bones anymore, but stones, taunts me with intermediate features. The empty eye socket stares smugly into mine: “You don’t know what I am.”

          The fish lurked there for a million years, gathering dust and rock, patiently waiting for the right moment to resurface and befuddle a simple palaeontologist. Dumb little thing.
          Pick a branch on the tree of life and stick to it next time, I think as I brush soil from its tail. The damn thing is an evolutionary oxymoron, a paradox of traits. It has fins that simply don’t belong with its ribs; teeth that don’t make sense in those jaws. And there are traces of mollusc shells in its stomach, against all dentitional convention! And that’s not to mention the location. What the hell is an unknown species of bony fish doing in the Quaternary strata, in a place that hasn’t seen water in almost twenty million years?
          Sand is in my boots and the sun chews my skin. Is it too much to ask that a journey here might result in something a little less uncomfortably defiant?
          Another man might enjoy this discovery.
          “Something new!” he’d say.
          “This challenges our way of thinking about adaptations in Calabrian-era fish!”
          “Perhaps we’ve been mistaken this whole time! What if fish don’t live in water at all!”
          Not I. The universe is as I know it. What use is a universe you can’t pin down?
          I grumble as I stab at the fish, just a little too hard. The tip of the chisel glances off the spine and sends a flake of former bone flying.
          Showed him.


Priscacara liops    By  Didier Descouens (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Priscacara liops

By Didier Descouens (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

(Disclaimer: The Ambiguous Fish is based on the most elusive specimen of all - a fictional one. The one above is just a neat picture. So don't waste too much time hunting for more information on the curious animal!)