Scientists from India, Germany, UnitedKingdom and Switzerland have discovered a new family of bonyfish from the Western Ghats, and named it Aenigmachannidae.
Results of this study was published in ScientificReports, the open-access mega-journal of the NaturePublishing Group.
A year after the discovery of the enigmatic GollumSnakehead, Aenigmachanna gollum from the rice fields ofnorthern Kerala, scientists have now conducted detailedstudies on its skeleton and genetic assembly.
The study led to the recognition that this species, andits congener Aenigmachanna mahabali, represents a new familydifferent from Channidae, in which both species were initiallyplaced.
Rendered images obtained from high-resolution CT scansrevealed that Aenigmachanna gollum has a surprisingly largenumber of primitive characters, and detailed molecularphylogenetic analyses including of its mitogenome, suggestedan ancient separation from Channidae, the study said.
These suggest that members of Aenigmachannidae are”living fossils” and comprise an ancient gondwanan lineagethat survived the break-up of the supercontinent and thenorthward drift of the Indian subcontinent, about 100 millionyears ago, it added.
The research team comprised scientists from SenckenbergNatural History Collections in Dresden (Germany), the NaturalHistory Museum in London (UK), Natural History Museum in Berne(Switzerland), Indian Institute of Science Education andResearch (IISER) – Pune (India), Nirmalagiri College in Kannur(India), and the Kerala University of Fisheries and OceanStudies in Cochin (India).
Assistant Professor at the Kerala University of Fisheriesand Ocean Studies, Rajeev Raghavan, who was part of the study,said the recognition of Aenigmachannidae as a new family ofbony fishes comes six years after the description ofKryptoglanidae, another unique family of freshwater fishendemic to Kerala.
“The presence of two unique endemic families offreshwater fish in a small region like Kerala is unparalleled,and indicates the exceptional diversity and endemicity offishes in this part of the world,” said Raghavan.
The gollum snakehead, Aenigmachanna gollum and themahabali snakehead, Aenigmachanna mahabali are known to occurin the aquifers and subterranean channels connected to paddyfields and dug-out wells in Malappuram and Pathanamthittadistricts of Kerala.
While Aenigmachanna gollum was discovered by pure chancein a rice field not long after the devastating floods thatraged in Kerala in August 2018, Aenigmachanna mahabali wasdiscovered opportunistically from a dug-out well.
“The aquifers of Kerala have a wealth of enigmatic andrelic fauna, the diversity of which we are only slowlyuncovering.
But subterranean ecosystems are under high levels ofthreat due to indiscriminate ground water extraction andpollution, and introduction of alien species in the dugoutwells.
As a result, we may be losing unique habitats and speciesmuch before they are known to science” said Neelesh Dahanukar,Research Scientist at the IISER, Pune, who co-authored thepaper.
According to scientists, the subterranean ecosystems ofKerala harbour some of the planets most bizarre species suchas Horaglanis krishnaii, Kryptoglanis shajii, Aenigmachannagollum and Monopterus digressus.
Many of these species are blind, pigment-less, and havepeculiar morphological characters that are otherwise not seenin species occurring in surface waters.
Around 10 such enigmatic species of subterranean fish arecurrently known from Kerala, the scientists said.
“Throughout my career I have worked on many strangefishes, but the Gollum Snakehead is easily the weirdest ofthem all.
If I had been asked whether such a fish existed in theWestern Ghats or anywhere in the world, I would have said, noway.
Yet here it is,” remarked Ralf Britz, based at theSenckenberg Museum at Dresden, Germany, who led this paper.
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