Named for Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, a vividly colored species of fish that is new to science was recently discovered on a remote Brazilian archipelago.
A team of scientists from The California Academy of Sciences discovered a new fish species whilst on a deep-diving expedition in a remote Brazilian archipelago.
“This is one of the most beautiful fishes I’ve ever seen,” said Luiz Rocha, Curator of Fishes at the Academy, and co-leader of the Hope for Reefs initiative, in a press release.
The fish, which is a brilliant neon pink and yellow, looks like it had been colored by highlighter pens. It was discovered peering out from rocky crevices in twilight zone rocky coral reefs at a depth of 120 meters (400 feet) below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean (ref).
“Fishes from the twilight zone tend to be pink or reddish in color,” said marine biologist and lead author of the study, Hudson Pinheiro, a postdoctoral fellow at the Academy, in a press release. “Red light doesn’t penetrate to these dark depths, rendering the fishes invisible unless illuminated by a light like the one we carry while diving.”
The new fish was formally named Aphrodite Anthias, Tosanoides aphrodite, because it so enchanted its discoverers, much like Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and beauty, enchanted the ancient Greek gods.
“It was so enchanting it made us ignore everything around it,” Dr. Rocha said. The team was even oblivious to repeated warnings by the team’s diving officer and cameraman, Mauritius Bell, of the approach of a 3 meter (10 feet) sixgill shark that swam lazily overhead, surveying their moment of discovery.
It took Dr. Rocha and Dr. Pinheiro a day to collect three adult males, two adult females, and two juvenile females.
Laboratory and collections manager at the Academy, Claudia Rocha, formally described the new species for the scientific literature: males are brilliantly colored with alternating pink and yellow stripes running the length of their bodies whilst females are a solid, blood-orange color (Figure 3). Ms. Rocha also counted fin rays and scales, and measured spine lengths on the newly collected specimens, which are roughly half as long as an iPhone.
Genetic analysis revealed this newly described species is a member of the genus Tosanoides, a group of fishes that was previously known to only occur in the Pacific Ocean. This analysis also identified its closest genetic relative as Tosanoides obama, which is found in Hawaii and was named for President Barack Obama. This raises the question: how did this small marine fish end up so geographically distant from all of its relatives? Of course, it is possible — indeed, it is likely — that this fish represents an entirely new, and as yet undescribed, genus, although this cannot be determined until further genetic analyses can be performed.
Saint Peter’s and Saint Paul’s rocks is a small remote archipelago located almost 600 miles off the coast of Brazil near the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It is composed of 17 tiny islands that rise no more than 17 meters (56 feet) above sea level. These rocky outcroppings are extensions of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which is an active tectonic plate boundary, and many of the species living in this area are found nowhere else in the world.
Oceanic twilight zone ecosystems are unexplored. They are found between 60 and 150 meters (200-500 feet) beneath the ocean’s surface — deeper than recreational diving limits, which severely limits human access. The animals that inhabit these deep coral reefs live in partial darkness and reaching them requires use of special high-tech equipment, such as closed-circuit rebreathers, to allow scientists to extend their research time underwater. Previously, Dr. Rocha and Dr. Pinheiro and their colleagues reported that twilight zone habitats are distinct ecosystems that are home to their own remarkably diverse and unique collection of species that are found only in very specific locations (ref). They also reported that, despite their depth, twilight zone ecosystems are suffering catastrophic damage from climate change, storms, pollution and of course, people’s trash. For example, if you look closely, you can see that the shark in the video is dragging a fishing line behind it.
Dr. Rocha and Dr. Pinheiro hope the Aphrodite anthias brings more attention to twilight zone reefs.
“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,” Dr. Rocha said. “We aim to highlight the ocean’s vast and unexplored wonders and inspire a new generation of sustainability champions.”