If you weren't already amazed that some fish can literally produce electric fields, how's this: Two entirely new species of electric fish have been discovered along the Atlantic coast of Africa.
The discovery was announced on Monday by Cornell University, which helped identify the bodies of three specimens of fish that had been discovered in the equatorial country of Gabon.
With every sample that is collected, researchers must determine which taxonomic categories the animal falls into. You may remember the acronym "Kpocfgs" from middle school biology — it represents the seven taxonomic categories each living thing falls into, from kingdom (say, animalia) to species (say, homo sapiens).
The three specimens announced this week, while clearly electric fish, did not appear to fall into any of the the genera previously reserved for this type of animal. It had been almost 40 years since a new genus of electric fish had been named, but the researchers knew they had something unique on their hands.
"That left us no choice but to describe them as a new genus," said John Sullivan, the paper's lead author and an evolutionary biologist and visiting fellow at Cornell. "It's unusual to describe a new genus and two species with only three specimens in hand, but no one knows when more specimens will become available and we felt this shouldn't wait any longer."
Electric fish are a fascinating study; they produce weak electric fields through an organ in front of their tail, and use these fields to "electrolocate." Much like echolocation, electrolocation sends information back to the animal when the signal is distorted by objects in the water. These new specimens share this trait, but their DNA is markedly different from other fish in the family Mormyridae.
The new genus is called Cryptomyrus, or "hidden fish," because they are so rare and previously undiscovered. The two new species are called Cryptomyrus ogoouensis and Cryptomyrus ona. Ogoouensis is a rare species in that only a single known specimen of its kind exists, while ona has two. Although these three specimens are the only known examples of Cryptomyrus, the first and third were discovered 13 years apart, and all three were found by different research teams visiting Gabon.
In a press release, Cornell University pointed out that without natural history museums to hold collections such as these, the DNA markers of these unique species might never have been preserved, and the link between the samples might have been lost forever.
The new genus is reported in the Feb. 8 issue of ZooKeys.