A Texas A&M University scientist recently discovered a new species of clingfish and surprising, new findings about a second, well-documented clingfish.
The discoveries are based on the work of Dr. Kevin Conway, who for several years has been involved in the research of a small species of fish that live in shallow waters along the coast of Belize and in the Caribbean and Bahamas.
An assistant professor and curator of fishes with Texas A&M’s department of wildlife and fisheries sciences at College Station, Conway published his findings in the paper “Cryptic Diversity and Venom Glands in Western Atlantic Clingfishes of the Genus Acyrtus (Teleostei: Gobiesocidae)” in the journal PLOS ONE.
The study was conducted between Dr. Conway, his collaborator at the Smithsonian Institute Dr. Carole Baldwin, and Macaulay White, a former Texas A&M undergraduate.
“We are excited about the study, because it resulted in not only the discovery of an undescribed species, but also the discovery of a unique venom gland in a group of fishes nobody knew were venomous,” Conway said, adding that the last discovery on this field was reported in the 1960s. “The shocking thing is that the fishes that possess the venom gland have been known to science for a long time, some for over 260 years, and have been pretty well studied,” the researcher added.
Clingfishes are found throughout the world in temperate and tropical climates. This particular species that researchers discovered is a marine fish about an inch long and lives in the coral rubbles of shallow waters in the coast of Belize and in the islands of Caribbean and Bahamas.
The name clingfish come from the animal’s ability to anchor with a sort of belly sucker. In the past, Dr. Kevin Conway and his team have analyzed several fish and found many species that were already known, but not the new one they have seen, which has a “strange gland associated with sharp and spine-like subopercular bone.”
Researchers are confident that these species of clingfishes can produce a type of toxin, since the cells inside the gland are similar to the ones produced in venom glands by scorpion fishes and some catfish types. “We do not know exactly what the venom is used for, but based on the position of the venom gland, it is more likely that it would be used for protection, as in most venomous fishes,” Dr. Conway explained.
Most of the world’s 2,000 venomous species of fish distribute venom through modified fin rays, sharp opercular spines, or a fang in the lower jaw. On the contrary, this type of clingfish is the first one known to have a venom gland associated with the subopercular gill cover bone. Dr. Kevin Conway explained that he and his team are excited about the discovery, since he believes it shows that even in relatively well-studied areas of the world’s oceans, new species can be found.