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While the discovery of a new species is always newsworthy, that of a fish spectacular enough to be named Tosanoides aphrodite, after the Greek goddess of love and beauty, is even more so! Hudson Pinheiro and Luiz Rocha were exploring the deep-sea coral reefs, nearly 400 feet underwater, around Brazil’s Saint Peter and Saint Paul archipelago when they spotted the dazzling pink and yellow fish. The California Academy Of Sciences researchers were so mesmerized by the colorful ocean-dweller that it was only later, when viewing the video footage, that they noticed the 10-foot sixgill shark which had been hovering above.
Suspecting they may have stumbled upon a new species, the researchers spent the rest of the day looking for specimens. Using hand nets, Pinheiro and Rocha managed to capture three adult males, two adult females, and two juvenile females and bring them to the Research Institute’s laboratory for examination. Sure enough, DNA tests and observational analysis, performed with help from fellow ichthyologist Claudia Rocha, revealed several unique features. These include a long spine and an extra fin ray which has never been seen in a fish before.
The Tosanoides aphrodite, which measure between 2 and 3.1 inches (5 – 8 cm) in length, vary in color depending on gender. While males sport neon pink and yellow stripes, the females are a more staid, solid blood-orange. The scientists are not sure why these small fish would need such extravagant colors deep in the ocean. “The prevailing hypothesis is that they use these colors as camouflage since there is no red or blue light there, but male and female are so different that they must be using it for something else,” says Claudia Rocha.
The discovery is even more significant, because the Tosanoides aphrodite is the only member of its genus to be found in the Atlantic Ocean. Its three cousins, the Tosanoides filamentosus, the Tosanoides flavofasciatus, and the Tosanoides obama - named after former US President Barack Obama in 2016 - all reside in the Pacific Ocean.
The researchers, who revealed the gorgeous fish in the peer-reviewed journal ZooKeys on September 25, 2018, hope their discovery will highlight the importance of preserving our coral reefs, which are being destroyed due to climate change. "In a time of global crisis for coral reefs, learning more about unexplored reef habitats and their colorful residents is critical to our understanding of how to protect them," says Luiz Rocha.
Resources: Natgeo.com, Smithsonianmag.com, zookeys.pensoft.net