To me, one of the most interesting species of fish has to be the Osteichthyes mykuss, more commonly known as the “Chinese Bony Trout” (not to be confused with the Ecuadorian Boner Eel).
On the outside, the Bony Trout is an extremely colorful and beautiful fish. But under its flesh lies an ingenious defense mechanism – an exceedingly bony skeleton.
When it comes to evolution and the development of defense mechanisms, aquatic creatures have long displayed a great sense of creativity. Creatures like the mimic octopus and the pipefish have developed camouflage skills to blend with their surroundings, while the Coleman shrimp has developed a tolerance to the barbs of venomous sea-urchins to that it can seek shelter there.
What the Bony Trout did though, was to grow a wickedly spiky and bony skeleton. This does not prevent an individual fish from being eaten by a predator, but its bony skeleton will cause such extreme discomfort (and even death if a bone pierces the right nerve) that the predator and its ilk will learn not to eat a Bony Trout again.
Of course, this individual Bony Trout will still die – but like a suicide bomber, it’s taking one for the team.
This peculiar defense mechanism worked very well for the Bony Trout, and it would prosper and rise in numbers in its native habitat in the Pearl River – an aquatic habitat known to contain many predators like the Huǒchē Grouper and Hainanese Barracuda.
That is, until the Chinese came and established a port in the Pearl River, the city that would eventually be known as Guangzhou.
Sometime around the 18th century, the Chinese discovered the Bony Trout, and came to regard it as a delicacy that was served lightly steamed with soy sauce. The spiky skeleton of the Bony Trout, or Yìnggǔ yú as the Chinese refers to it, was still extremely hazardous. This was compounded by the almost non-existent healthcare available at the time (a problem that many will argue still exists now), and many Chinese died eating the dish, either by choking to death or having a major artery or their intestine pierced by a bone.
However, the Chinese have a suicidal and genocidal desire to prove their superiority and ability to eat anything, so they continued feasting on the fish. Eating a Bony Trout was a rite of passage for local Guangzhou boys to become men, because Chinese medicine men thought that the flesh of the Bony Trout would improve a man’s virility, hundreds of noblemen journeyed to Guangzhou for the dish. Indeed, even court eunuchs would secretly come to Guangzhou to eat the fish with the belief that the mystical properties of its flesh would be able to regrow their manhood.
The price of Bony Trout shot up seemingly overnight, and the fisherman of Guangzhou prospered during this time. Some historians believe that the Bony Trout was indirectly responsible for Guangzhou’s eventual growth into the third largest city in China.
This culinary war between the Chinese and the Bony Trout continued for decades, with great numbers of casualties on both sides. But in the end, the Chinese and their ability to rapidly reproduce and replenish their numbers proved to be the deciding factor, and the Bony Trout went extinct sometime during the 19th century.
Thus ended the reign of the Bony Trout in the Pearl River. There are still some bony fish around today, like the rainbow trout and parrot fish, but none as dangerously bony as the Bony Trout.
But seriously, eating those doesn’t make you any manlier either, nor does it mean you have discerning taste buds. It just means you’re a masochistic idiot.