Fish & Fisheries

Life in the Dark: Never-Before-Photographed Sea and Cave Creatures

Gunther’s Boafish. Photo © Danté Fenolio

Far beyond our comfort zone, many of the world’s most fascinating creatures dwell. We don’t think about them or dream about them because we don’t see them. And often, we literally can’t see them. They live in the dark.

These often-fantastical creatures are the subject of Danté Fenolio’s magnificent Life in the Dark: Illuminating Biodiversity in the Shadowy Haunts of Planet Earth (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016).

Fenolio – a zoologist, biologist and wildlife photographer – has captured images of wildlife that live in the darkest places on the planet, including the deep sea, caves, termite mounds and even inside other animals. Many of these creatures have never been photographed before.

Cover-ImageFenolio writes that humans have a need for mysterious beasts: think of the “Here There Be Monsters” warnings on ancient mariner maps. And his book has sea monsters aplenty: critters so other-worldly they’d seem more at home in a Star Wars cantina than on Planet Earth.

Fenolio documents these species with striking photographs as well as well-written natural history accounts detailing how these animals have adapted to life in conditions that, to us, seem inhospitable.

I admit I am not a fan of photographic nature books. I often find them lacking compared to the real thing. But I devoured this book; I read it like a novel while I marveled at the images. Marveled at the magnificent diversity of life on earth. Marveled at the beauty of evolution.

If you’re a naturalist, if you consider yourself in biodiversity’s fan club, even if you just like a good photograph: buy this book. You will not be disappointed. It will open your eyes to a part of the planet that you likely have never seen or even pondered.

Fenolio and Johns Hopkins University Press graciously allowed us to share a sampling of images from Life in the Dark.

Of course, many of the most fascinating critters that live in the dark make the deep sea their home. This book is full of other-worldy fish that have adapted to the high-pressure (literally), low nutrient environment deep in the ocean. Gunther’s Boafish has photophores that illuminate patterns on its body – a common adaptation among deep sea fish. Photo © Danté Fenolio
Of course, many of the most fascinating critters that live in the dark make the deep sea their home. This book is full of other-worldy fish that have adapted to the high-pressure (literally), low nutrient environment deep in the ocean. Gunther’s Boafish has photophores that illuminate patterns on its body – a common adaptation among deep sea fish. Photo © Danté Fenolio
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Many fish that live where light begins to dim have spectacular colors. These show up as patterns underwater – the bright colors like red, yellow and orange are filtered out by water. The bicolor dottyback and blue-eye royal dottyback both live at depths where light begins to dim. Photo © Danté Fenolio
Firefishes live at depths down to 230-290 feet and also exhibit striking coloration. Photo © Danté Fenolio
Firefishes live at depths down to 230-290 feet and also exhibit striking coloration. Photo © Danté Fenolio
Blue-spotted jawfishes live in burrows, “which they block themselves inside each evening. In the morning they remove the debris so they can pass through the burrow opening again.” Photo © Danté Fenolio
Blue-spotted jawfishes live in burrows, “which they block themselves inside each evening. In the morning they remove the debris so they can pass through the burrow opening again.” Photo © Danté Fenolio
Caecilians, strange amphibians that often live in leaf litter or around termite mounds, are covered in-depth by Fenolio. Despite their worm-like appearance, they have jaws filled with teeth. Photo © Danté Fenolio
Caecilians, strange amphibians that often live in leaf litter or around termite mounds, are covered in-depth by Fenolio. Despite their worm-like appearance, they have jaws filled with teeth. Photo © Danté Fenolio
I suspect even my most devoted fish nerd friends have never encountered a waterfall climbing loach, a cave fish that crawls out of the water to feed on bacteria growing on damp rocks. As Fenolio writes, it “defies our ideas of what a fish should be.” Photo © Danté Fenolio
I suspect even my most devoted fish nerd friends have never encountered a waterfall climbing loach, a cave fish that crawls out of the water to feed on bacteria growing on damp rocks. As Fenolio writes, it “defies our ideas of what a fish should be.” Photo © Danté Fenolio

Left: Bioluminescence is relatively unfamiliar to people, but a frequent adaptation in the deep ocean. But there are some terrestrial life forms that use bioluminescence, such as this fungus. Photo © Danté Fenolio. Right: Fungus while biolumenescing. Photo © Danté Fenolio.

Life in the Dark is a passionate plea for conservation. Amphibians may be frequently overlooked, writes Fenolio. Aside from their charismatic looks, their skin secretions may have many useful applications for human health. Photo © Danté Fenolio
Life in the Dark is a passionate plea for conservation. Amphibians may be frequently overlooked, writes Fenolio. Aside from their charismatic looks, their skin secretions may have many useful applications for human health. Photo © Danté Fenolio

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3 comments

  1. This is just extraordinary and fantastic. Imagination falls short.

  2. A truly Alien world and it’s right here on Earth…….extremely fascinating…..opens whole knew worlds of understanding how and where life exist…..it is great to explore the universe but we must remember there is still so much to discover and understand here…..just a few years ago a whole new FAMILY of spiders was discovered in a cave in Oregon……amazing….thanks for the review on this particular work.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing. I’ll have to look into getting this book.