Scientists discovered 212 freshwater fish species in 2021, according to a new report by the conservation organization Shoal. At a time when we hear so much about animals going extinct, the report is a happy reminder that there are still many species as yet undiscovered by science.
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“It’s fascinating that over 200 new freshwater fish species can be described in just a single year,” said Harmony Patricio, Shoal’s conservation program manager, as reported by The Guardian. “You might see this level of new discovery for organisms like plants or insects, but not really for vertebrates. It means there are still hundreds and hundreds more freshwater fish out there in the world that scientists don’t know about yet. Also, many of the newly described species have pretty unique and unexpected traits.”
The Hopliancistrus wolverine is one of the more unusual discoveries. Researchers named it after an “X-Men” character because of its hidden weapons. “This species has strong lateral curved spikes called odontodes tucked under the gill covers that can be extended to jab anything that tries to mess with them,” Patricio said. The researchers who collected Hopliancistrus wolverine sustained several finger injuries collecting this bad boy.
Scientists were also excited about a blind swamp eel discovered in a Mumbai well. Naturalist Tejas Thackeray, one of the team members who discovered the eel, announced it to the world in an Instagram post last year. “Pleased to introduce you to a species we collected a few years ago and worked on throughout the pandemic. A journey full of ups and downs, and today it finally gets to see the light of day. Presenting a new blind hypogean freshwater eel from my city – Rakthamichtys mumba – the Mumbai blind eel!” the post read.
While the new report joyously announces newly discovered species, freshwater fish, in general, are facing pollution, overfishing, habitat loss and impacts from invasive species. Patricio wants people to be aware of the biodiversity crisis we’re facing while getting excited about the newly identified fish. “Hopefully, they’ll be motivated to support conservation efforts and encourage their governments to do more,” she said.
Lead image by Ken Maeda, courtesy of Shoal