June 5, 2014 | 2
“It’s a strange world. Let’s keep it that way.”—Warren Ellis
You can find some pretty weird things when you go poking around in holes in remote parts of the globe. The past month brought three examples of that rule of thumb as scientists announced the discovery of three extremely strange and endangered new fish species.
The first of these new species, and probably the most bizarre, comes from southwestern India. Dubbed Kryptoglanis shajii, this 10-centimeter catfish packs four rows of sharp, nasty teeth and looks like something designed by the late Swiss surrealist artist, H. R. Geiger. The creature is so bizarre that the paper describing it calls it “unusually puzzling”—its skeleton looks unlike that of any other known catfish. The fish, which looks externally like other catfish, lives in underground waterways and is rarely seen, except when it pokes its head up in wells and flooded rice paddies. (Note to self: never visit a rice paddy.)
Our second oddity, the Hoosier cavefish (Amblyopsis hoosieri), lives underground in southern Indiana. These 60- to 80-milimeter-long fish are blind, lack almost all pigment, have anuses behind their heads (yes, you read that right) and brood their young in the females’ gill chambers. (That’s not as unusual in the animal kingdom as a head–anus.) The researchers who discovered the cavefish say it is endangered due to groundwater pollution, its limited range and the fact that its few underground habitats are extremely vulnerable to disturbance from human activities. This is the first new cavefish described in the U.S. in 40 years.
Finally we move down to Colombia, where a new species of armored stick catfish has turned up in Yariguíes National Park about 270 kilometers north of Bogotá. Named Farlowella yarigui, these 12-centimeter-long fish are distinguished by their long snouts, which may be used for courtship. Other species in the Farlowella genus live in Venezuela, but this is the first one found west of the Andes Mountains. F. yarigui lives in very restricted area of the park called the Magdalena Basin, which is highly populated by humans and threatened by petroleum development. In other words, like a lot of the thousands of new species scientists discover every year, they may have identified this one just in the nick of time.
Previously in Extinction Countdown:
Secrets of the Universe: Past, Present, FutureX