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2012’s New Fish Species – Obama Fish, “Head-Mater”, Flabby Whalefish…

Black Cap BassletFishes are the most numerous and diverse of all vertebrates, so it’s no surprise that many fascinating new species were discovered in 2012.  Among them were 9 brilliantly-colored American Darters and a Vietnamese fish that carries its sexual organs on its head (dubbed, for the lack of a better name, the Genitalia-Headed Fish).  Shallow Tennessee streams, ocean trenches nearly 2 miles deep, Indonesian coral reefs and many other habitats yielded wonderful surprises, and hinted that fish enthusiasts have much more to look forward to. Today I’ll highlight a few grabbed my attention; please post your own favorites (whether covered here or not) below.

US Darters: the Obama Fish and other “Politicos”

Nine new species of freshwater Darter were described from the southeastern USA this past year (Bulletin of the Alabama Museum of Natural History).  Five were named in honor of the environmental awareness exhibited by current and former politicians: Etheostoma obama, E. teddyroosevelt, E. gore, E. jimmycarter and E. Clinton.

The newly-christened species were formerly grouped together as E. stigmaeum, the Speckled Darter.  Each was found to be limited to single rivers, streams or drainages, and genetically distinct enough to warrant species status.  Although naming new species based on genetics alone is frowned upon by some, doing so often helps us to understand the life histories of endangered creatures, and may assist in obtaining funding for study and protection as well.

The Genitalia-Headed or Priapium Fish

Phallostethus cuulong hails from Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, an area that seems to shelter an unending supply of unexpected creatures. The small, white fish would seem destined to draw little attention in such a river – but for the fact that its sexual organs are located below the throat! 

The male organ, known as the priapium, enables this species to reproduce via internal fertilization.  But while most other fishes that rely upon internal fertilization give birth to live young (and locate their sexual organs more “reasonably”!), female Priapium Fish produce fertilized eggs.  Please see this article for photos.

Flabby Whalefish (Family Cetomimidae)

Flabby WhalefishThe fish christened with this unflattering name was collected at a depth of 1.7 miles off eastern New Zealand.  Among the Whalefish’s neighbors were 4 other new species given equally unique names – 3 Slickheads and a Rattail.

Measuring 12.5 inches in length, the Flabby Whalefish lacks ribs and has tiny eyes.  Nothing is known of its natural history 

Fairy Basslet, Pseudanthias mica

Clad in pastel, pink-hued orange, the Fairy Basslet is known only from a single deep-water reef off Indonesia.  As you can see from the accompanying photo of a Black-Capped Basslet, these tiny fishes are similar in general appearance to their much larger relatives, the groupers.

The Fairy Basslet is described in the recently published Reef Fishes of the East IndiesCovering 2,500 species, this 3 volume work is a tremendous contribution to our knowledge of one of the world’s hotbeds of marine fish diversity.

Alor Clingfish, Aspasmichthys alorensis

ClingfishAlthough a mere half inch in length, the Alor Clingfish survives the exceedingly strong currents of southeast Indonesia’s Alor Strait, its only known habitat.  In fact, it was discovered when currents forced Conservation International biologists, who were surveying the region, to take shelter beneath among some boulders. 

The Alor Clingfish is bright red in color, and marked with pure white stripes (please see photo in article below). The size and oddly-shaped snouts of the Clingfishes, and their habit of scuttling about on coral and rocks, leads many observers to confuse them with shrimp at first (and second!) glance.

Conservation Update: Orange Clownfish and US Damselfishes

The fame brought to the Orange Clownfish by the film Finding Nemo has been a mixed blessing. On the plus side, many children have become interested in protecting the film star’s real-life counterpart. However, Orange Clownfishes have also become much in demand as pets, and as all aquarists know, marine fish-keeping should not be entered into on impulse. Clownfishes and the closely-related damselfishes now account for approximately 40% of the trade in marine aquarium fishes. 

Spurred by greenhouse gas emissions, global warming and ocean acidification threaten a number of marine species and habitats.  Some evidence also indicates that the Orange Clownfish and the Black Axil Chromis may be threatened by over-collection for the pet trade. The Center for Biological Diversity is, therefore, seeking Endangered Species Act protection for the Orange Clownfish and the 7 Damselfish species that reside in US waters.  You can read the text of the petition, along with details concerning the threats faced by these fishes, here.

Many, many other new reptiles and amphibians have been described in recent years…please let me know your favorites by posting below.


Further Reading

Newly Described US Darters (illustrations, range info)

The Genitalia Headed Fish

New Reef Fishes

Alor Strait Clingfish (with photo)



Darter http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Etheostoma_stigmaeum.jpg


Clingfish http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lepadogaster_candollii_04-02-06_DSCF8726.jpg


Whalefish http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cetomimus_gillii.jpg

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.