Tubular Fish Eyes Defy Evolution

Fully-functional and distinct eye designs are found throughout the animal world. They are diverse, and yet each one contains such highly specified interconnected parts that evolutionary scientists have admitted that they had to have evolved separately.1 Perhaps the most bizarre ocular structure is in the barreleye fish Macropinna microstoma.

Recent research found that not only are these fish eyes shielded behind a crystal clear dome, the eyes can also rotate!2 Remarkable video of this unusual but functional visual setup is available on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute’s website.3 The eyes typically are aimed upward (oriented dorsally), peering toward the ocean surface far above. But how do they see what they’re eating if they are always looking up and not at the food near their small mouths?

Unique and perfectly integrated muscular, nervous, and bone arrangements make it possible for their eyes to rotate forward. Like a pilot in a cockpit who can tilt his head to see in different directions through his transparent canopy, the barreleye fish rotates its eyes from dorsal (skyward) to rostral (mouthward). Some of the design specifications needed to accomplish this include the placement of the cranial bones—they are entirely outside the clear canopy, so as not to obstruct the fish’s view.4

The green pigment in the lenses acts as an optical clarifying filter, to help the fish discern clear images amidst the shifting optical illusions that typify deep water environments. The optic nerve enters the eye at the center of the base of the eye tube, “which reduces twisting during rotation.”2 Observing jellyfish fragments in a test fish’s stomach, the researchers reasonably speculated that these ocular features comprise a visual system that seems ideal for this fish to eat a certain bioluminescent jellyfish called Apolemia. The barreleye fish can “scan the water overhead for potential prey,…recognize bioluminescence against the background, and…move into a cluster of tentacles with its eyes protected.”2

Like the recently discovered mirror fish’s eyes,5 this unique but functional arrangement is so unlike any other vertebrate eye that it must have been developed specifically for this fish. In fact, the study’s authors admitted, “Macropinna has obviously invested a considerable amount of evolutionary currency to develop its remarkably structured head and the tubular eyes it contains.”2 But how did these fish survive blind while they were investing eons of time and energy into developing new eyes? And how, with the total absence of any evidence that they can do so, could creatures invest in anything at all?6

Fish didn’t design their eyes any more than humans designed theirs. Nor would nature be a reasonable candidate for designing such highly-specified structures as the barrel eyes, since there have been no recorded instances—in the lab or in the field—of nature’s processes doing anything but wearing systems down. And the more time allowed for nature to “work” with, the more broken down the systems become, according to observable science.

Design features like tubular eyes could not be the result of unaided, undirected natural forces, which have not demonstrated any capacity to develop anything beneficial or unique and purposive. However, barrel eyes are exactly what would be expected in a world created by an intelligent God who equips His creatures for the specific environments in which they live.


  1. Fernald, R. D. 2006. Casting a genetic light on the evolution of eyes. Science. 313: 1914-1918. Fernald points out that genetic distinctions indicate that eyes have evolved 40 or more times. Studies based on morphology indicate at least 12 separately evolved eye “designs.” See Bergman, J. 2008. Did eyes evolve by Darwinian mechanisms? Journal of Creation. 22 (2): 67-74.
  2. Robison, B. H. and K. R. Reisenbichler. 2008. Macropinna microstoma and the Paradox of Its Tubular Eyes. Copeia. 4: 780-784.
  3. Researchers solve mystery of deep-sea fish with tubular eyes and transparent head. Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute press release, February 23, 2009. 
  4. It is more accurate to refer to these features as “specifications” rather than “adaptations” because there is no evidence that the features arose from the adaptation of pre-existing structures, as the evolutionary scenario asserts. Rather, these features were highly specified from the beginning.
  5. Thomas, B. Fish's Mirror Eyes Reflect the Creator. ICR News. Posted on icr.org January 15, 2009, accessed February 26, 2009.
  6. See also Thomas, B. Ant Algorithms Argue Against Evolutionary Origins. ICR News, February 17, 2009, accessed February 26, 2009.

Image Credit: MBARI.

* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer.

Article posted March 3, 2009.

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