PHILADELPHIA (May 13, 2014) Kryptoglanis shajii is a strange fish and the closer scientists look, the stranger it gets. This small subterranean catfish sees the light of day and human observers only rarely, when it turns up in springs, wells and flooded rice paddies in the Western Ghats mountain region of Kerala, India. It was first described as a new species in 2011.
Soon after that, John Lundberg, PhD, one of the world's leading authorities on catfishes, started taking a closer look at several specimens.
"The more we looked at the skeleton, the stranger it got," said Lundberg, emeritus curator of Ichthyology at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University and emeritus professor at Drexel in the College of Arts and Sciences. His team's study describing the detailed bone structure of Kryptoglanis is now published in the 2014 issue of the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.
"The characteristics of this animal are just so different that we have a hard time fitting it into the family tree of catfishes," said Lundberg. From the outside, Kryptoglanis does not look particularly unusual for a catfish. But when Lundberg and his colleagues looked at its bones using digital radiography and high-definition CAT scans, they found some surprises.
Kryptoglanis was missing several bony elements a characteristic fairly common for subterranean fish. But there were also changes in the shapes of certain bones, changes so strange that Lundberg described them as "completely unique among catfishes and all fishes as far as I know." Numerous individual bones were modified in the face, giving the fish a compressed front end with a jutting lower jaw like a bulldog's snout, if a bulldog also had four rows of conical, sharp-tipped teeth.
Multiple changes piled up in one part of the body could mean there is a functional purpose for those changes. "In dogs that was the result of selective bre
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