Redtail garra fish have siskin and olive green scales that abruptly transition to bright orange and red along the tail, making them easy to spot at the bottom of clear streams. (Tangjitjaroen et al. 2023 via SWNS)
A popular aquarium fish turned out to be new to science and only lives in the wild in one short stretch of river.
The redtail garra, which feeds on algae, can easily be bought online and has been popular in fish tanks for 20 years.
But information about the fish’s biology was much less easy to obtain because, although popular with tropical fish owners since the early 2000s, it had until now been unknown to science.
Researchers were peripherally aware of the fish’s existence, but “discovering” a new species requires scientific description based on specimens collected in their natural environment.
Redtail garras appear to be restricted to a short stretch of river straddling the border between Thailand and Myanmar.
The locality is isolated and difficult to reach, so wild redtail garras have existed in relative obscurity, despite their global appeal.
Dr. Larry Page, of the Florida Museum of Natural History, has surveyed fish in Thailand every year since 2007.
He recently encountered a few redtail garras while conducting fieldwork along the Kasat River, a tributary of the Ataran River in neighboring Myanmar.
Many Garra species have faces and snouts encrusted with barbed nodules called tubercles, which may be used to attract mates or to fend off adversaries. (Tangjitjaroen et al. 2023 via SWNS)
Redtails take their place among nearly 200 additional species in the genus Garra, one of the most diverse and widely distributed fish groups anywhere on Earth.
Garra can be found in streams and rivers in western Africa the Middle East, India and Asia, including parts of China.
But their ubiquity has not resulted in a corresponding amount of research on the group.
Garra primarily subsist on algae and the occasional arthropod, which they eat by scraping detritus off rocks with specialized mouthparts.
Page, who is working on a book describing the fish of the Mae Klong River basin in Thailand, said the belated description of redtail garra is part of a larger recurring pattern.
He added: “Many of the fishes in South East Asia are referred to by names given to species discovered in India or Indonesia because they look similar.”
Page and his colleagues named the new species Garra panitvongi after the author of another book on Thailand’s fishes, Nonn Panitvong.
In 2006, Panitvong and a friend discovered one of Thailand’s redtail garra populations and helped introduce the fish to the aquarium trade.
Now, more than 16 years later, the species has been officially named.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker