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article imageFish That Go Skin-Deep

By Tea Lulic     Jun 8, 2007 in Environment
A natural hot spring that is in between the brown hills in Turkey is home to an absolutely rare type of fish and for a specific fee, you can become their food. I don't mean it in that way though. Apparently the fish have healing powers.
The hot spring is flooded with these tiny creatures. The moment you dip your hand or foot in the hot spring, the fish come swimming, swarming, bumping and nibbling your skin. These creatures have adapted to humans. The moment they see you above the spring, they gather below and wait. They are called "The Doctor Fish of Kangal" and they supposedly have curative powers. However, their "eating" may be helping the fish more than humans.
These fish have little choice when it comes to finding food. Because there are so many of them and the spring is way too hot, there is not enough algae and planktons to feed off of. When we look at the past of these fish, we would notice that they were able to move and swim to other nearby creeks.
So, what exactly happened that these fish cannot go there anymore?
In 1917 a wounded shepherd dipped his leg into the spring and for some odd reason, his leg healed. So builders walled off the spring from the creek in the 1950s to preserve a captive school.
On that land now lays a Turkish hotel, a bunch of villas, a playground and markets - it was turned into a resort for psoriasis patients. Approximately 3,000 people pay every year to dip their bodies into this hot spring and let these omnivores eat their dead skin.
Because, apparently, the process may stimulate new skin growth or relax patients and therefore, ease the stress triggered psoriasis. Unquestionably, the skin is really good for the fish too.
Fevzi Bardakci, a biologist at Turkey's Adnan Menderes University believes that human skin is like meat to the fish. One of the species found in the spring is called Garra rufa . These species grow up to an average of 97 millimeters and weigh about 11 grams if they're allowed to go to the nearby creek. In the spring the fish are about three-quarters the length and weigh one quarter as much.
According to the research done, the trapped females grow fewer and have smaller oocytes (cells that develop into eggs). The gonads balloon from about 3 percent of body weight to almost 8 percent. When we take a look at the hot spring, their organs increase from 1 percent of body weight to 2 percent. Without the submerged skin, these fish would grow even less.
Richard Londraville, a biologist at the University of Akron, believes that these fish will sooner or later separate into two different species. They come from the capr and minnow family, known for adaptability.
What is the temperature in this spring? Well, about 34 degrees Celsius. The article also states that companies in China and Japan have built resorts and trained their "doctor fish" to eat the skin. At several spas in Japan right now, these fish are performing the so called "fish pedicures."
It is interesting to see that even though their way to the food at the nearby creek has been cut off, these fish are still able to survive by adapting to their environment. I do not think I would ever go to the resort and dip my body into the spring, because I think that the role of these fish is not to make people heal. That's what humans made it do. Would you dip your body into the hot spring and allow these fish to eat off your dead skin?
Please Note: This article has been adapted from the original, printed version of Scientific American. The article cannot be found on their website.
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