Mysterious crop circles have for generations piqued the interest of UFO enthusiasts and fans of the supernatural. But similar geometric patterns discovered recently on the sea floor off southern Japan, it turns out, are not so mysterious. Underwater photographer Yoji Ookata, after finding what he described as a “mystery circle” sketched in the sand 80 feet below the surface, returned with a film crew and unearthed the improbable artist: a tiny puffer fish.
Ookata, with his crew from the nature program NHK, documented a lone male puffer fish working tirelessly, swimming in patterns and flapping its fin just above the sand, to create one of these circular series of ridges (see image at right). Their findings appeared on a program that aired last week, titled “Discovery of a Century: a Deep-Sea Crop Circle.” The discovery was made in the semi-tropical Amami Oshima region.
“The unlikely artist–best known in Japan as a delicacy, albeit a potentially poisonous one–even takes small shells, cracks them, and lines the inner grooves of his sculpture as if decorating his piece,” states a story on the website, Spoon & Tamago, which celebrates Japanese art, design, and culture.
The story gets even better. Scientists’ observations are correct, as this process serves a valuable purpose: The ridges and groves are avenues for female puffer fish to find their way along the dark sea floor to male puffer fish. It’s believed that mating and egg-laying occur in the center of these circles, which measure about six feet in diameter.
The Spoon & Tamago story explains: “In fact, the scientists observed that the more ridges the circle contained, the more likely it was that the female would mate with the male. The little sea shells weren’t just in vain either. The observers believe that they serve as vital nutrients to the eggs as they hatch, and to the newborns.”
Further, the ridges might help shelter the eggs from strong currents, so the mystery appears to have been solved, and one of the complexities of puffer fish life has been revealed. For more mystery circle images, and to see the puffer fish at work, see the video posted below.