How Long Does it take to make a Smeagol?

And by a Smeagol, I mean a cave fish. Cave fish are a whole different breed of fish, and many of them can be traced back to open-water swimmers. So how does this strange process happen...and why?


First, a little background on what cave fish are. As I mentioned up top, cave fish were once open water swimmers. While there are over 150 species of cave fish, many cave fish are threatened and can only live in small ranges. They typically have reduced pigment, as compared to other fish, and smaller eyes.

According to a study released just a few days ago, it only takes a few hundred years to make a Smeagol, excuse me..*Gollum, Gollum*. However, cave fish take a little longer - but not as long as we once thought. A new fish discovered in Germany - the first European cave fish to be discovered - is giving scientists more insight in to the process of becoming a cave fish.

Okay, but what does finding a new cave fish have to do with it? Don't we find them semi-regularly? Well, we do...but not in Europe. In fact, it was thought that cave fish could not colonize in Europe because of ice-age glaciers. Until just a few thousand years ago (12 to be exact) Europe, and all of its caves, were under ice...which then blocked ANY connection be above, and below, waterways. This would make any fish dwelling in caves impossible.

But, then the ice started to melt...and that's where our little fishy friend comes into play.

The fish shares many of the same characteristics as other cave fish - it is pale, small, and even has whisker-barbs sprouting from its head. It is believed to be of the loach family and even though it was found over year ago, still has no name...scientific or otherwise. But, because 12,000 years ago Europe was covered in ice, and as that ice slowly melted underwater springs and pathways began to open, it must have taken 12,000 years, or less, for cave fish to completely branch off from their ancestors.

However, I should say that calling this a Smeagol fish is a bit of an exaggeration. As noted, it took a few thousand years for this loach relative to turn into a true cave-dweller. However, Smeagol's life span wasn't even a tenth of that! According to Tolkien, Smeagol/Gollum was roughly 589 years old when he died. Although this is QUITE old for a hobbit, it isn't even a thousand years. So, if he died at 589...the Smeagol -> Gollum transition (similar to normal fish -> cave fish) likely took somewhere between 100-400 years. A few years after Smeagol stole the ring, he went into hiding in a cave near Goblin Town and there he remained undisturbed for 471 years. When he met Bilbo, Bilbo describes him not as a hobbit...but as Gollum - sallow-skined, strange-eyed, and living in almost total darkness in a wet cave. Sounds a little bit like our new cave fish, doesn't it?


This photo is unrelated to the above story and was taken by Flickr user m01229, and is liscensed under Creative Commons 2.0.