Are You My Mommy?

Preview Larvae sea bass looking at the adult version of itself with a black background.
(Images from Barry Brown, Substation Curacao and Cedric Guigand, University of Miami)

Human infants often already resemble their parents. Visitors coo, "Oh, she has your eyes," or "He is the spitting image of his father." But what if the infant (or in this case, the larva) looked entirely different from its adult parents, with different body shape and coloring? This is the case for many marine species, especially fishes, making it difficult to match up a larva with it's corresponding adult. Most marine fish larvae tend to live in surface or near-surface waters, while adult fish inhabit largely different environments. The different habitats require two different body shapes, leading to larvae that look very different from their adult counterparts.

Smithsonian scientists matched the larvae (on the right) with the adult sea bass (on the left) by using DNA barcoding after finding the larvae in waters off of Florida.