Researchers in India have discovered a new species of snakehead fish, which they named after the creature Gollum from The Lord of the Rings.
The Aenigmachanna gollum was found living underground in an area in Kerala, South India. It is the first snakehead fish seen thriving in such inhospitable environment since most other species live in wetlands or freshwater rivers in Asia and Africa.
Gollum-Like Snakehead Fish
Researchers from Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies came to Kerala to investigate claims of an odd-looking fish found in the region. The creature suddenly surfaced following the massive floods that devastated the state in August 2018.
Photographs of the strange fish began circulating online, which showed the animal seemingly washed out of permeable rocks, known as aquifers, that carry water from underground.
"As soon as I saw higher quality images it became pretty clear that it was a snakehead," said Dr. Ralf Britz, a researcher Natural History Museum and coauthor of the study on the A. gollum. "Having a snakehead from a subterranean habitat is an exciting find."
Britz described the newly discovered fish as "very unusual."
So far, there are only two groups of subterranean fishes in the world known to scientists: carps and catfishes. These species are the only ones known to be pre-adapted to living in harsh environments underground.
Snakehead fish, on the other hand, have not shown any ability in the past that would allow it to live such habitats.
Ralf explained that if the Gollum fish does indeed turn out to be subterranean, the creature does not have the typical adaptations normally seen in underground fish.
He said that it could either be that the fish only recently acquired its ability to live underground, or that it lives in some form of transition zone where it could move between above ground habitats and underground.
Finding out how the Gollum fish lives is something the researchers are quite interested in, according to Ralf.
Characteristics Of Snakeheads
Snakeheads are distinguished from other fish by their large mouths and long dorsal fins. These animals are known to breathe air using a suprabranchial organ located in their gill cavity.
Despite being considered a snakehead fish itself, the A. gollum also have its own unique characteristics. The new fish has been shown with a remarkably long and eel-like body covered in numerous scales. It has a long anal fin located along its belly and tail. The creature also seem to have lost its ability to stay buoyant in the water column.
The researchers believe these traits may be the Gollum fish's adaptations that allow it to live underground.
Before the discovery of the new fish, scientists have already found seven other subterranean fish species coming from the aquifers beneath Kerala. This suggests that a hidden ecosystem may exist some 40 meters (131 feet) below the state's surface.
The Gollum Fish's Namesake
Gollum is a fictional character from J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium on Middle-Earth. He is depicted as a grotesque creature living in caves beneath the Misty Mountains.
The findings of the Aenigmachanna gollum study are featured in the journal Zootaxa.