Indonesia's Psychedelic Fish Named New Species

Sunday, 01 Mar 2009 04:33 PM

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JAKARTA, Indonesia – A funky, psychedelic fish that bounces on the ocean floor like a rubber ball has been classified as a new species, a scientific journal reported. The frogfish — which has a swirl of tan and peach zebra stripes that extend from its aqua eyes to its tail — was initially discovered by scuba diving instructors working for a tour operator a year ago in shallow waters off Ambon island in eastern Indonesia.

The operator contacted Ted Pietsch, lead author of a paper published in this month's edition of Copeia, the journal of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, who submitted DNA work identifying it as a new species.

The fish — which the University of Washington professor has named "psychedelica" — is a member of the antennariid genus, Histiophryne, and like other frogfish, has fins on both sides of its body that have evolved to be leg-like.

But it has several behavioral traits not previously known to the others, Pietsch wrote.

Each time the fish strike the seabed, for instance, they push off with their fins and expel water from tiny gill openings to jet themselves forward. That, and an off-centered tail, causes them to bounce around in a bizarre, chaotic manner.

Mark Erdman, a senior adviser to the Conservation International's marine program, said Thursday it was an exciting discovery.

"I think people thought frogfishes were relatively well known and to get a new one like this is really quiet spectacular. ... It's a stunning animal," he said, adding that the fish's stripes were probably intended to mimic coral.

"It also speaks to the tremendous diversity in this region and to fact that there are still a lot of unknowns here — in Indonesia and in the Coral Triangle in general."

The fish, which has a gelatinous fist-sized body covered with thick folds of skin that protect it from sharp-edged corals, also has a flat face with eyes directed forward, like humans, and a huge, yawning mouth.

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