F Rosa Rubicondior: Unintelligent Design - Hundred-Year-Old Fish That Live in A Desert

Wednesday 1 November 2023

Unintelligent Design - Hundred-Year-Old Fish That Live in A Desert

Bigmouth buffalofish, Ictiobus cyprinellus
Study uncovers hundred-year lifespans for three freshwater fish species in the Arizona desert | University of Minnesota

The last place you'd expect to find fish would be in a desert.

That's because, being intelligent, no-one would expect an intelligent designer to design fish to live in that environment, and yet there are fish living in a lake in the Arizona desert. These are three species of the Catostomidae, all from the Ictiobus genus, Ictiobus cyprinellus, I. bubalus, I. niger, known colloquially as buffalofish.

Good design is a top-down process, but no intelligent designer would take a desert as its starting point and decide that what the desert needed was fish. Evolution being a bottom-up process starts with fish and, as its environment becomes a desert, those that are better adapted to a desert environment are selected by that environment to survive ad breed, so, over time, we have a fish 'designed' to live in a desert.

And this is how we can tell they weren’t intelligently designed but evolved by a natural, unintelligent process without a plan.

First, a little AI background:
Tell me all about the buffalofish species (Catostomidae: Ictiobus cyprinellus, Ictiobus bubalus and Ictiobus niger). Buffalofish are a group of freshwater fish belonging to the family Catostomidae. The buffalofish species that you mentioned, Ictiobus cyprinellus, Ictiobus bubalus, and Ictiobus niger, are commonly referred to as smallmouth buffalo, bigmouth buffalo, and black buffalo, respectively. These fish are native to North America and are primarily found in the Mississippi River basin and its tributaries. Here's some information about each of these buffalofish species:
  1. Smallmouth Buffalo (Ictiobus cyprinellus):
    • Appearance: Smallmouth buffalo are typically olive to brownish-gray in color and have a slightly compressed, deep body. They have a small, terminal mouth and are characterized by a smaller head compared to other buffalo fish species.
    • Size: Smallmouth buffalo can grow to substantial sizes, with individuals reaching lengths of up to 30-40 inches and weighing between 5 and 30 pounds.
    • Habitat: They are often found in slow-moving rivers, backwaters, and lakes with silty or muddy bottoms.
    • Diet: Their diet primarily consists of aquatic plants, insects, algae, and detritus.
  2. Bigmouth Buffalo (Ictiobus bubalus):
    • Appearance: Bigmouth buffalo are characterized by their large, terminal mouth and a nearly cylindrical body. They are typically silver or gray in color with a lighter underbelly.
    • Size: Bigmouth buffalo are one of the largest freshwater fish in North America, capable of growing over 40 inches in length and weighing over 70 pounds.
    • Habitat: They are commonly found in large rivers, reservoirs, and lakes, often in areas with slow to moderate currents and soft substrate.
    • Diet: Bigmouth buffalo are primarily herbivorous, feeding on aquatic plants, algae, and detritus.
  3. Black Buffalo (Ictiobus niger):
    • Appearance: Black buffalo are dark, almost black in color, which distinguishes them from other buffalo species. They have a slightly compressed, deep body and a small, terminal mouth.
    • Size: Black buffalo are typically smaller than bigmouth buffalo, with individuals ranging from 12 to 30 inches in length and weighing up to 15 pounds.
    • Habitat: They are often found in slower-moving waters such as backwaters, oxbows, and deep pools of rivers and streams, typically over soft bottoms.
    • Diet: Like other buffalo fish, black buffalo primarily feed on aquatic plants, algae, and detritus.
Buffalo fish are known for their filter-feeding behavior, where they feed by sifting through the substrate for organic matter and small invertebrates. They play an important ecological role in maintaining water quality and ecosystem health in the habitats they inhabit. These fish are not typically sought after by anglers for sport or food, but they are valuable in their ecosystems for their role in nutrient cycling. Conservation efforts are in place to protect their populations, as they can be negatively affected by habitat degradation and water pollution.
The amazing thing about these fish is not so much that they live in a lake in a desert, because we know how they got there, but the fact that they are well over 100 years old.

This was discovered by researchers from the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) and reported in the online journal, Scientific Reports, and described in a UMD research brief:
A recent study found some of the oldest animals in the world living in a place you wouldn’t expect: fishes in the Arizona desert. Researchers found the second genus of animal ever for which three or more species have known lifespans greater than 100 years, which could open the doors to aging studies across disciplines, such as gerontology and senescence (aging) among vertebrates.

The study centers around a series of fish species within the Ictiobus genus, known as buffalofishes. Minnesota has native populations of each of the three species studied: bigmouth buffalo, smallmouth buffalo and black buffalo. The importance of this research is underscored by the fact that these fishes are often misidentified and lumped in with invasive species, like carp, and the fishing regulations in many places, including Minnesota, do not properly protect these species, and what could become a wealth of information about longevity and aging.

This new research from the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD), recently published in Scientific Reports, was a collaboration between Alec Lackmann, PhD, an ichthyologist and assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics of the Swenson College of Science and Engineering at UMD; other scientists including from North Dakota State University; and a group of conservation anglers who fish the Apache Lake reservoir in Arizona.

There is likely a treasure trove of aging, longevity and negligible senescence information within the genus Ictiobus. This study brings light to this potential and opens the door to a future in which a more complete understanding of the process of vertebrate aging can be realized, including for humans. The research begs the question: what is the buffalofishes’ fountain of youth?

Assistant professor, Allec R. Lackmann, lead author.
Department of Mathematics and Statistics
University of Minnesota Duluth, Duluth, MN, USA.
Lackmann has studied buffalofishes before, and his research from 2019 went so far as to extend the previously thought maximum age of bigmouth buffalo from around 25 years of age, to more than 100 years of age by applying and validating a far more refined aging technique than had been used previously. Instead of examining the fish’s scale, “you extract what are called the otoliths, or earstones, from inside the cranium of the fish, and then thin section the stones to determine their age,” said Lackmann.

Approximately 97 percent of fish species have otoliths. They’re tiny stone-like structures that grow throughout the fish’s lifetime, forming a new layer each year. When processed properly, scientists like Lackmann can examine the otolith with a compound microscope and count the layers, like the rings on a tree, and learn the age of the fish.

Results of the study include:
  • Unparalleled longevity for freshwater fishes. Namely, three species with lifespans more than a century, with greater than 90 percent of the buffalofishes in Apache Lake more than 85 years old.
  • The discovery that some of the original buffalofishes from the Arizona stocking in 1918 are likely still alive.
  • A fishery of catch-and-release buffalofish angling that has not only increased our knowledge of fisheries, but also our understanding of how buffalofishes can be identified and recaptured across years, including uniquely-marked centenarians.
  • A robust citizens and scientists collaborative effort that has resulted in thorough and consistent scientific outreach and learning.
Buffalofishes are native to central North America, including Minnesota, but those in this recent study were found in Apache Lake, a reservoir in the desert southwest. Originally reared in hatcheries and rearing ponds along the Mississippi River in the Midwest, the government stocked buffalofishes into Roosevelt Lake (upstream of Apache Lake), Arizona in 1918. While Roosevelt Lake was fished commercially, Apache Lake’s fish populations remained largely untouched until anglers recently learned how to consistently catch buffalofishes there on rod-and-line.

When these catch-and-release conservation anglers noticed unique orange and black spots on many of the fish they were catching, they wanted to learn more about the markings, and found Lackmann’s previous research. An Arizona angler, Stuart Black, reached out and invited Lackmann to a fishing expedition at Apache Lake, where the fish collected would be donated to science.

By studying the fishes collected at the angling event and analyzing their otoliths for age, Lackmann found that some of the buffalofishes from the 1918 Arizona stocking are likely still alive today, and that most of the buffalofishes in Apache Lake hatched during the early 1920s. More importantly, they discovered that the three different buffalofish species found in the lake had ages more than 100 years. To their knowledge, such longevity across multiple freshwater fish species is found nowhere else in the world.

For Lackmann, there are exciting possibilities for the future of studying this unique group of fish, with far-reaching implications.

These long-lived species of fishes and individuals could be monitored so that we can further study and understand their DNA, their physiology, their ability to fight infection and disease, and to compare these systems across the continuum of age. The genus Ictiobus has potential to prove of high value to the field of gerontology, and Apache Lake could become an epicenter for a variety of scientific research in the future.

Alec R. Lackmann

During the 1910s three buffalofish species (Catostomidae: Ictiobus cyprinellus, I. bubalus, I. niger) were reared in ponds along the Mississippi River. Individuals of these buffalofishes were transported to locations across the United States to support or establish commercial fisheries, including Roosevelt Lake, Arizona in 1918. During the 1930s–1960s a commercial fishery existed on Roosevelt Lake, ending by 1970. Scarce information exists on Arizona buffalofishes since. From 2018 to 2023 we studied buffalofishes from nearby Apache Lake (adjacent and downstream of Roosevelt Lake) in collaboration with anglers. Here we show that > 90% of buffalofishes captured from Apache Lake are more than 80 years old and that some of the original buffalofishes from the Arizona stocking in 1918 are likely still alive. Using unique markings on old-age buffalofishes, we demonstrate how individuals are identified and inform dozens of recaptures. We now know all species of USA Ictiobus can live more than 100 years, making it the only genus of animal besides marine rockfishes (Sebastes) for which three or more species have been shown to live > 100 years. Our citizen-science collaboration has revealed remarkable longevity for freshwater fishes and has fundamentally redefined our understanding of the genus Ictiobus itself.


Buffalofishes Ictiobus spp. are freshwater fishes native to North America that have a complex history. There are five species of buffalofishes in the family Catostomidae1,2, and three species are endemic to the Mississippi or Hudson Bay drainages: bigmouth buffalo I. cyprinellus, smallmouth buffalo I. bubalus, and black buffalo I. niger. They are the largest members of the Catostomidae3, a group known for its North American diversity and a family for which 55% of species are classified as imperiled4. Despite the imperiled nature of catostomids, smallmouth buffalo, bigmouth buffalo, and black buffalo make up a group that have held commercial value5,6,7. Indeed, the first documented buffalofish rearing attempt occurred in the 1880s for commercial purposes8. After many failed attempts, the U.S. Fish Commission succeeded and began officially rearing buffalofishes in hatcheries and rearing ponds in the 1910s to supplement the severely declining commercial fishery of buffalofishes9,10,11,12,13,14,15. Despite these historic efforts for the commercial fishery and rising buffalofish sport fisheries of the twenty-first century16,17, buffalofishes are virtually unmanaged (both commercially and recreationally) across most of their USA range today16,18,19,20,21. Buffalofishes were introduced to Arizona in 1918 by the Bureau of Fisheries to supplement declining food stocks. Legislators desired to establish a commercial buffalofishery in this region, as new water management practices were taking place11,22. Roosevelt Dam, an impoundment along the Salt River in central Arizona, was constructed from 1905 to 1911, which eventually formed Roosevelt Lake23. In 1918, an estimated total of 420 buffalofish fingerlings, yearlings, and adults11 arrived by rail to Globe, Arizona, likely from the Fairport Biological Station in Iowa24,25,26, and were stocked in Roosevelt Lake11. From 1923 to 1930 the lower three reservoirs along the Salt River formed as construction of more dams took place, including Apache (1924–1927), Canyon (1923–1925), and Saguaro (1928–1930) lakes23. By the 1930s, buffalofishes were documented in all four reservoirs, but were never documented as an established part of the aquatic community elsewhere along the Salt River or its tributaries26,27,28. For 30 years Roosevelt Lake supported a commercial fishery, which also included common carp Cyprinus carpio, while Apache Lake remained virtually unfished25,28,29,30. This was (is) due to its difficult-to-access location along the Apache Trail, via switch-back gravel roads prone to wash out, its steep banks, and fjord-like bathymetry unsuitable for commercial fishing25,29. Indeed, there is a paucity of commercial fishing data from Apache Lake, and it is described that the majority of the lake was “untouched”29. This differed markedly from Roosevelt Lake, which lies over two flood plains25,29.

Figure 1.
Map of Apache Lake, Arizona, USA showing recreational shore-fishing locations of Crabtree Wash (CW), Marina, Lower Burnt Corral (LBC), Upper Burnt Corral (UBC), and Chunk Beach (CB), as well as the locations where recaptures occurred throughout the study (1a–31b)—see Table 4 (numbers 1–31 represent individual fish, and letters are capture occasions). Picture inset (upper left) is a view of Apache Lake overlooking the Marina from the red asterisk labeled on the map. Buildings of the Marina are visible in the middle-right of the image. Scale bar = 5 km. We retrieved map information for this figure using Google Maps (retrieved April 2023) and organized its layout using Adobe Inc. software including Adobe Illustrator (Creative Cloud version; https://www.adobe.com). The photograph in the upper left was taken by the authors.

Figure 4
Examples of multi-capture sequences of individual bigmouth buffalo Ictiobus cyprinellus from Apache Lake, Arizona across years. (a)–(d) An individual male was caught by four anglers on four dates across a 13-month period. This specimen (RCID#13 in Table 4) ranged from 4.96 to 5.30 kg across captures and was noted for two prominent black markings on its left side (dorsal posterior, inset arrows ad), as well numerous other black and orange spots not visible from these full-body images. (e)–(k) An individual bigmouth buffalo was caught six times by five anglers across a 4-year period. This specimen (RCID#5 in Table 4) ranged from 5.56 to 6.83 kg and was noted for its numerous black spots (see inset arrows in ek for examples).

Figure 5
Natural orange and black spots provide unique identifiable markers on an old-age buffalofish individual from Apache Lake, Arizona. This female bigmouth buffalo Ictiobus cyprinellus was first caught in 2018 (ab), and then caught a second time in 2021 (ce). This specimen was noted for a large orange spot (~ 50 cm2) on its left side (see middle arrow in a, arrows in b, c and e), as well as a black spot on the posterior margin of its left operculum (see other arrows in a, c, and arrow in d). This specimen (RCID#2 in Table 4) increased from 7.03 to 9.95 kg and the distance between captures was 7.5 km (see Fig. 1).

Figure 6
Smallmouth buffalo I. bubalus and black buffalo I. niger recaptures from Apache Lake, Arizona. An individual smallmouth buffalo (RCID#1 in Table 4) was caught twice in 4.33 years (ad). This specimen was noted for black spots on its left operculum and dorsal anterior (see arrows and insets in ab), as well as a black spot on its head, posterior and dorsal of its right eye (see arrows cd). This specimen (RCID#2 in Table 4) increased from 7.17 to 9.41 kg and the distance between captures was 13.0 km (see Fig. 1). (ef) An individual black buffalo (RCID#25 in Table 4) was caught twice across a 7-month period. This specimen was noted for black spots on its left side (see arrows and insets in ef). This specimen decreased from 6.46 to 6.24 kg (see Table 4) across captures.
Evolution came up with a fish that can live in a desert and will live for over 100 years. There was no plan or purpose for doing so, it’s just the way it turned out as the climate changed and the ancestral buffalofish fish were living in what was becoming a desert, so those that were better fitted to survive and breed came to dominate the species gene pool; those that were less fitted died out. The result? Centenarian dessert fish.

What would be the intelligent reason for designing something like that? What intelligent designer of living things, if there ever were such a thing, would look at a desert and think, "I know just what that needs! Fish! And just to show Off, I'll design them to live for a century or more!".

It takes a creationist to believe that such a fruitloop actually exists and is worthy of worship.

Thank you for sharing!

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