June 28, 2005 PHILADELPHIA -- Dr. John Lundberg of The Academy of Natural Sciences and a team of researchers from Mexico and the U.S. have discovered a new, rarely seen species of catfish representing an entirely new taxonomic family.
The rare find marks only the third new family of fish found in the last 60 years. It is the 37th family of catfishes, a diverse group of fish found around the world and prominent in commercial industry.
Researchers named the new family Lacantuniidae and named the species Lacantunia enigmatica. The names derive from the fish’s habitat in the Lacantún river of southern Chiapas state in Mexico. The discovery was described in Zootaxa, an online scientific journal.
Lundberg, the Academy’s Curator of Ichthyology, said only about 30 of the fish have been found since the 1990s and only one specimen was collected in a recent five-day expedition. “The unexpected discovery of this enigmatic new family of fishes in one of the world's most biogeographically complex regions emphasizes how little we know about Mesoamerica's biotic legacy and conservation value,” Lundberg said. “This find reminds us that the most basic scientific inventory of Earth's biodiversity is woefully incomplete."
Anatomical studies aided by high-resolution computer images allowed researchers to pinpoint key differences from other species in the bone structure of the skull, the shape of the air bladder and the articulation of a barbel (the part that resembles a cat’s whisker). Studies also show the fish is the only member of an ancient group that may have arisen millions of years ago when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.
“Realizing now that the Chiapas catfish is highly unusual, it is critical that we learn the details of its diet and habitat requirements and reproductive biology,” Lundberg said. “This will require a focused study of the species in its natural habitat."
That habitat is of concern to researchers, however. The fish was found in and around Montes Azules, a jungle reserve in a region threatened by logging, expansion of agriculture and cattle ranching and the damming of rivers.
For information on the multi-national All Catfish Species Inventory, see http://silurus.acnatsci.org/
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