We’ve always considered the opah a special fish. Until now, the specialness of this fish was tied to the rarity of being caught, the beauty of its mottled orange skin, and the fact that it has four distinctly different types of meat, making it highly prized by chefs.

Recently, a study was published in the journal Science that puts this special fish in a category all by itself (at least for now). Scientists were first tipped off to the possibility that there was something fishy about the opah when they noted how their gill structure was different than any other fish they had ever examined. This clue led them to tag live fish with temperature monitors. The temperature data led to an amazing discovery. Learn more about this exciting development in this article from Yahoo News.

opah_nickThat makes the opah (Lampris guttatus) the first warm-blooded fish every discovered. Most fish are exotherms, meaning they require heat from the environment to stay toasty. The opah, as an endotherm, keeps its own temperature elevated even as it dives to chilly depths of 1,300 feet (396 meters) in temperate and tropical oceans around the world.

“Increased temperature speeds up physiological processes within the body,” study leader Nicholas Wegner, a biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California, told Live Science. “As a result, the muscles can contract faster, the temporal resolution of the eye is increased, and neurological transmissions are sped up. This results in faster swimming speeds, better vision and faster response times.”

The result, Wegner said, is a fast-swimming fish with an advantage for hunting slow, cold-blooded prey.

Photos: Excel Sportfishing (top); NOAA (above)