Although the Gulf of Mexico has been intensively surveyed by scientists and picked over by fishermen, it is still home to fishes that are waiting to be described. New research published in the Journal of Fish Biology describes two new species of pancake batfishes (Halieutichthys intermedius and H. bispinosus) and re-describes another (H. aculeatus), all of which live in waters either partially or fully encompassed by the recent oil spill.
"One of the fishes that we describe is completely restricted to the oil spill area," says John Sparks, curator of Ichthyology at the American Museum of Natural History. "If we are still finding new species of fishes in the Gulf, imagine how much diversityespecially microdiversityis out there that we do not know about."
Pancake batfishes are members of the anglerfish family Ogcocephalidae, a group of about 70 species of flat bottom-dwellers that often live in deep, perpetually dark waters. Pancake batfishes have enormous heads and mouths that can thrust forward. This, combined with their ability to cryptically blend in with their surroundings, gives them an advantage for capturing prey. They use their stout, arm-like fins to 'walk' awkwardly along the substrate; their movements have been described as grotesque, resembling a walking bat. As most anglerfishes, batfishes have a dorsal fin that is modified into a spine or lure, although their lure excretes a fluid to reel in prey instead of bio-illuminating.
The pancake batfishes described by Sparks and colleagues, genus Halieutichthys , live in shallower waters than most batfishes and occur along the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic from Louisiana to North Carolina. Until now, the currently described three fishes had been lumped into one species, since they all have similar coloration and body shape.
But there are several differences. The three species are distinguished by the size, shap
|Contact: Kristin Elise Phillips|
American Museum of Natural History