Pufferfish Are Behind The Mysterious 'Underwater Crop Circles' First Seen in 1995 [STUDY]

By Josh Lieberman on October 7, 2013 6:50 PM EDT

pufferfish circles
Pufferfish are behind "crop circles" first discovered by scuba divers on the seafloor of Japan in 1995. (Photo: Yoji Okata)

Scientists in Japan have solved the mystery behind the underwater "crop circles" on the country's sea floor. Scuba divers first noticed the ornate circular patterns in 1995, and now we finally know who created them. It turns out the "crop circles" were created by a newly discovered species of pufferfish, which was first observed making the patterns in 2011. 

In a study published in the journal Nature, Japanese researchers Hiroshi Kawase, Yoji Okata and Kimiaki Ito found that male pufferfish "constructed large geometric circular structures on the seabed that played an important role in female mate choice. Males dug valleys at various angles in a radial direction, constructing nests surrounded by radially aligned peaks and valleys."

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Over the course of seven to nine days, male pufferfish create these rather beautiful patterns by flapping their fins as they move about the seafloor. Male pufferfish even gussy up the circular patterns using fine sediment and bits of shells, a decorative twist never before observed in other creatures. Despite the pufferfish's length of 5 inches long, it can create circular patterns which are seven feet in diameter.

If a female pufferfish is impressed with the male's circular pattern, she will lay eggs in the center. Interestingly, it isn't known what criteria females use to evaluate whether a circular structure is attractive or not. Once the female lays eggs within the circular pattern, the male fertilizes them. Then the female leaves, with the male hanging around for six days, possibly to protect the eggs.    

Below, watch a pufferfish observe his work. Or maybe it's a female evaluating the circle -- it's not exactly easy to tell a pufferfish's gender from this distance. 

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