Photo of cyclopia sample at the Old Anatomical Theatre on the Toome Hill (Theatrum Anatomicum) of city of Tartu, Estonia.
Creatures with cyclopia have stirred the imagination for thousands of years. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/GBE/Wikipedia)

It may sound like a strange tale born of the high seas, but fisherman Enrique Lucero León stared mystery right in the eye – its single, solitary eye. The Mexican fisherman discovered a cyclops shark within the belly of a pregnant dusky shark he caught off Cerralvo Island in the Gulf of California, reports National Geographic.

The eye of the beast

At 22 inches long, the cyclops shark fetus may not be large enough to inspire deep sea nightmares, but the fact that it has just a single eye at the front of its head – a product of the congenital condition cyclopia – makes it no less unsettling. Several species, humans included, are susceptible to the birth defect.

On sight, León knew he’d found something amazing. Biologist Felipe Galván-Magaña of the Interdisciplinary Center of Marine Sciences in La Paz, Mexico, told National Geographic that he first heard of León’s discovery on Facebook. He immediately contacted the fisherman to ask permission to borrow the one-eyed shark for research.

X-rays and a review of previous research confirmed that the spawn of León’s catch was indeed a cyclops shark, one of the very few cases ever documented. According to University of North Florida shark biologist Jim Gelsleichter, the only recorded cases have been as embryos, which suggests that cyclops sharks don’t survive in the wild for long.

Greek myths explaining the natural world

The presence of animals with cyclopia harkens back to a time when ancient Greeks and Romans attempted to use fossil evidence of currently extinct species to support portrayals of the cyclops in ancient myth, writes folklorist/historian Adrienne Mayor in her book “The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times.” Such myths were spread by the ancient Greek epic poet Homer, who wrote in “The Odyssey” of a giant, man-eating humanoid cyclops that plagued Odysseus and his crew. Other myths tell of the blacksmith-to-the-gods cyclops brothers, who were born of of the earth goddess Gaia and sky god Uranus.

“The idea that mythology explains the natural world is an old idea,” said archaeologist Dr. Thomas Strasser of California State University, Sacramento. “With no concept of evolution, it makes sense that they would reconstruct them in their minds as giants, monsters, sphinxes, etc.”

A look at the cyclops shark

Sources

“The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times”: http://bit.ly/oxINp4

National Geographic: http://bit.ly/ph5DBK

Pete Thomas Outdoors: http://bit.ly/pbKgsv

Reef Builders: http://reefbuilders.com/2011/06/28/cyclops-shark/

Slightly Warped: http://slightlywarped.com/crapfactory/curiosities/2011/july/cyclops_shark.htm

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