Marine Fauna | Roman copy of Hellenistic original | Museo nazionale di Napoli | Image and original data provided by SCALA, Florence/ART RESOURCE, N.Y., artres.com, scalarchives.com | (c) 2006, SCALA, Florence / ART RESOURCE, N.Y.

The dusky grouper (Epinephelus marginatus) is reputedly the best-tasting of all Mediterranean fish, so it comes as no surprise that they find themselves endangered. Efforts are underway throughout the Mediterranean to help the species recover, and, according to an article in this month’s Scientific American, ancient art is playing a part.

To determine just how far recovery efforts had to go, scientists wanted to get a sense of how the grouper has changed in the past thousands of years. University of Salento biologist Paolo Guidetti remembered having once seen an image of a Roman mosaic depicting an enormous grouper swallowing a man. Guidetti was struck by the image; while dusky groupers today can grow to be more than four feet long and a weigh around 100 pounds, most are much smaller, and generally live in waters too deep to be able to leap out and swallow a whole Roman fisherman, even a tiny one.