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The fins and the furious: Fish are nature's top athletes, study says

Scientists suggest that a fish's ability to quickly disperse oxygen through its body makes it the ultimate athlete. Oh yeah? Let's see a pirate perch go three rounds with Ronda Rousey.

These rainbow trout could probably beat you in a race. Ilan Ruhr

If the host of a trivia game asked contestants to name an athletic animal, they might shout something like "lion," "bear" or "cheetah." Anyone responding with "fish" might be met with spasms of laughter.

However, a new study from the Arc Center of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies in Queensland, Australia, says fish should be the No. 1 answer on that survey. The study, published Monday in the journal PLOS ONE, maintains that the fish's ability to quickly spread oxygen to tissues throughout its body makes it a more efficient athlete than almost any other species.

The scientists behind the study came to their conclusion after a decade of studying rainbow trout. They recorded the amount of time it took for these fish to deliver oxygen to their muscle tissue and found that their systems are "up to 50 times more effective in releasing oxygen to their tissues" than humans, Arc Center senior research fellow and lead study author Jodie Rummer said in a statement.

Oxygen is transported to different parts of the body through hemoglobin, a protein found in the bloodstream. The fish's hemoglobin is extremely sensitive to pH levels, the amount of acidity or alkalinity in the water. The fish can adapt to these changing pH levels faster than other vertebrates, according to the study's abstract.

This means that fish can adapt to different environments faster than other species or even respond more quickly to stressful situations, such as escaping a predator.

"This information tells us how fish have adapted this very important process of getting oxygen and delivering it to where it needs to be so that they can live in all kinds of conditions, warm or cold water, and water with high or low oxygen levels," Rummer said

Fish seem to have an inate ability to adapt to their environment in other ways too. A study published in September in the journal Science Advances explained how blind cave fish, also known as Mexican tetra, lost their eyes as an evolutionary, energy-saving strategy to survive in a dark environment where food supplies are more scarce compared with environments that are closer to the water's surface.

Just think of it. All this time, we thought apes were the next species that would take over the planet. It turns out it could be highly adaptable and agile fish. Boy, am I feeling humbled right now.