'Alien' Catfish, Newly Discovered Toothy Species, Stumps Scientists

Thursday, 15 May 2014 01:00 PM

By Clyde Hughes

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A toothy subterranean catfish some have compared to the creature in the movie "Alien" has confused researchers as they try to determine how to classify the species only found in a region of India.

The tiny, elusive fish — the Kryptoglanis shajii — can be found in the Western Ghats mountain range of Kerala, India, and primarily lives underground, though it can sometimes be found in the springs, wells, and flooded rice paddies of the region, LiveScience.com reported.

Along with the looks of the "Alien" monster, the fish also has a bulging lower jaw similar to a bulldog, and scientists say they are having a hard time classifying it because of some of its quirky features.

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"The more we looked at the skeleton, the stranger it got," John Lundberg, emeritus curator of ichthyology at Philadelphia's Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, told LiveScience.com. "The characteristics of this animal are just so different that we have a hard time fitting it into the family tree of catfishes."

Lundberg told the Daily Mail that the fish is probably a meat eater judging from its large teeth and underground abode, taking in small invertebrates and insect larvae as meals. The "Alien" catfish is likely able to maneuver quickly around its environment near the river's floor.

The Daily Mail wrote that a group of British scientists led by Ralf Britz at the Natural History Museum of London separately looked at the bone structure of the fish using a technique of visualizing the skeleton called clearing and staining.

Clearing and staining is a chemical method in which the fish's soft tissues are rendered as clear as glass, and bones and cartilage are stained in contrasting colors. In the March 2014 issue of the journal Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters, the team assigned the fish to the new taxonomic catfish family. Lundberg told the Daily Mail that team's examination were similar to his own.

"There was an amazing congruence between the results," he said. "Neither of us was way out."

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