The killifish is a weird little critter that lives in muddy puddles that cars and trucks drive right through, and no one knows how they don’t get crushed. Some people are completely obsessed with them.
Take Mateuz Herczka, a Swiss artist at the Verbeke Gallery in Antwerp (also home to Eduardo Kac, creator of the controversial glowing GFP bunny). A few years ago, Herczka crossed paths with a retired, killifish-obsessed Dutch couple who spend their free time collecting and tracking the fish in muddy puddles in South America. The encounter inspired Herczka’s own obsession. He proceeded to build his own giant, artificial mud puddle killifish habitat. It’s a huge cube made of glass and metal filled with water. A truck wheel rolls through the middle.
Killifish are known for jumping from puddle to puddle, which seems necessary, as puddles typically don’t last forever. Some survive the leap, for others it’s a kamikaze endeavour. (But their name, if you’re wondering, has nothing to do with the English word “kill.” It’s derived from the Dutch word “kilde”, meaning small creek or puddle.)
Herczka caught some pretty cool stills of the fish jumping (for more of where the above came from, check out this PDF). He also created a digital simulation, showing a tire tearing through a virtual puddle.
But the killifish apparently don’t jump out of the way of cars. Herczka reports that they jump in the middle of the night when it’s quiet and no one’s around. So how they survive remains a mystery. The theories include:
1. The truck tyres press the water out of the way and the fish with it
2. The fish are pressed into the soft mud at the bottom and survive
3. Some fish are run over and killed every time a truck drives through, but enough survive to keep the population growing
4. The fish somehow sense and evade the tyres
Since the artist doesn’t really say his goal was to solve the mystery, but to examine how “the killifish have infiltrated culture, and are now part of the cultural evolution rather than the biological”, I suppose he succeeded. But I want to know how they survive those goddam truck tires! I guess we’ll have to wait for an actual science experiment to figure that one out.