Category Archives: fish

Arnold Schwarzenegger of duck-billed dinos – Gryposaurus monumentensis

The newest dinosaur species to emerge from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument had some serious bite, according to researchers from the Utah Museum of Natural History at the University of Utah.

“It was one of the most robust duck-billed dinosaurs ever,” said museum paleontologist Terry Gates, who is also with the U.’s Department of Geology and Geophysics. “It was a monster.”

Researchers from the Utah museum, the national monument and California’s Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology unearthed fossils of this ancient plant-eater from the rocks of the Kaiparowits Formation and say it dates to the Late Cretaceous Period 75 million years ago. They announced the name of the creature, Gryposaurus monumentensis, in the Oct. 3 issue of the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

Gryposaurus means “hook-beaked lizard” and monumentensis honors the monument where the fossils were found.

Artistic rendering by Larry Felder

Gryposaurus monumentensis is probably the largest dinosaur in the 75-million-year-old Kaiparowits fossil ecosystem,” said Alan Titus, paleontologist for the national monument.

Gates, lead author on the study, explained that this creature could have eaten just about any vegetation it stumbled across. “With its robust jaws, no plant stood a chance against G. monumentensis,” he said.

Scott Sampson, another paleontologist with the Utah museum who was involved with the project, emphasized the massively-built skull and skeleton, referring to the animal as the “Arnold Schwarzenegger of duck-billed dinosaurs.”

In 2002, a team from the Alf Museum, in Claremont, Calif., located at the Webb School, discovered the site that contained the skull used to describe the new creature. Every summer, the California institution, the only nationally-accredited paleontology museum on a high school campus, gives Webb students and volunteers the chance to participate in scientific field work.

The California team was working a stretch of Grand Staircase that Utah researchers had not examined. Duncan Everhart, a Pennsylvania furniture maker, is credited with finding the skull.

Don Lofgren, curator of the Alf Museum, said the team received permission from the monument to dig deeper in 2003.

“We determined it was a skull sitting upside down with the jaw on top,” he said.

Once Gates went out to take a look in 2004, he quickly realized the California team had a potentially-important find. The Alf Museum gave the Utah researchers permission to prepare and study the skull.

Titus noted the discovery of this new species was a team effort involving the Alf Museum, the Utah Museum of Natural History and the national monument.

“The cooperative effort put into its collection and research has truly been a model for scientific investigation on public lands,” he said.

It wasn’t until Utah researchers began working on the skull in 2005 that the full significance of the find began to emerge, Gates said.gryposaur_skull.jpg

The well-preserved skull was initially missing key pieces from the nose region. Fortunately, the California museum had collected a box full of eroded bones, including bits of the nose bone, which was critical for identifying the creature.

“I knew immediately that we had some species of Gryposaurus,” Gates said.

The creature’s large number of teeth embedded in the thick skull is among the features that made G. monumentensis, as well as other closely related duck-billed dinosaurs, such a successful herbivore.

At any given time, the dinosaur had over 300 teeth available to slice up plant material. Inside the jaw bone, there were numerous replacement teeth waiting, meaning that at any moment, this Gryposaur may have carried more than 800 teeth.

“It was capable of eating most any plant it wanted to,” Gates said. “Although much more evidence is needed before we can hypothesize on its dietary preferences.”

While the diet is unknown, given the considerable size of the creature, the massive teeth and jaws are thought to have been used to slice up large amounts of tough, fibrous plant material.

The teeth may hold important clues the dinosaur’s eating habits. The Utah museum plans to study the composition of the dinosaur teeth, which when compared to other plant-eating dinosaurs from the Kaiparowits Formation, will help researchers decipher differences in diet.

G. monumentensis is one of several new dinosaur species found in Grand Staircase, including: a Velociraptor-like carnivore named Hagryphus, a tyrannosaur, and several kinds of horned dinosaurs. In all, more than a dozen kinds of dinosaurs have been recovered from these badlands, and most represent species that are new to science.

“This is a brand new and extremely important window into the world of dinosaurs,” said Sampson.

Under ideal circumstances, paleontologists will find the skull and other key bones at the same site. In this case, the head was the only thing they managed to find from where the Alf team searched.

Researchers believe the head of this particular Gryposaur likely rolled into a bend of a river, where it was partly buried. The right half of the head remained exposed to the river current, dislodging several bones before this side was buried as well.

In other parts of the monument, Utah researchers have excavated bones believed to be from the same species. Gates estimates G. monumentensis may have grown up to 30 feet long as an adult.

“As each new find such as this new Gryposaur is made,” Titus said, “it is placed into the greater context of an entire ecosystem that has remained lost for eons, and is only now coming under scientific scrutiny.”

Around 75 million years ago, southern Utah differed dramatically from today’s arid desert and redrock country. During much of the Late Cretaceous, a shallow sea split North America down the middle, dividing the continent into eastern and western landmasses.

In what Sampson terms “West America,” G. monumentensis and its fellow dinosaurs lived in a narrow strip of land sandwiched between the seaway to the east and rising mountains to the west. Due in large part to the presence of the seaway, the climate was moist and humid.

Thanks to more than 100 years of fossil collection, scientists know more about the Cretaceous dinosaurs from North American than they do from any other time or continent on Earth, Sampson noted.

While G. monumentensis gulped down its greens and tried to avoid predatory tyrannosaurs down in Utah, closely related but different species of duck-billed dinosaurs were doing the same thing farther north, in places like Montana and Alberta, Canada.

The new Utah species is proving crucial for determining patterns of duck-billed dinosaur evolution and ecology during the Late Cretaceous of North America, Gates said. He added that “this calls for a re-evaluation of previous ideas about the evolution of duck-billed dinosaurs across the world”.

Earlier explanations of dinosaurs undertaking long distance migrations have gone out the window. “Now we have to figure out how so many different kinds of giants managed to coexist in such small areas,” said Sampson. “We’re just beginning to unravel this story.

Bones from G. monumentensis are on display at Big Water Visitor Center in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and for a short time at the Utah Museum of Natural History before returning to the Alf Museum.

Artistic Rendering by John Moore
Photo: Raymond M. Alf Museum
The skull, weighing over 200 pounds, had to be air-lifted from the remote dig site by a helicopter in order to transport it to the Utah Museum of Natural History at the University of Utah.

The Blue Auction Details

The 10 new fish that need naming are:

blue_Pterois.jpgPterois ToBeDetermined Lionfish are one of the most spectacular and dangerous of reef fishes, having poisonous spines that cause excruciating pain for up to three days after a wound is inflicted. Docile during the day, they emerge just before sunset and perform elaborate courtship displays with their showy fins extended. This species can “herd” small fish by throwing its pectoral fins out like a net, encircling its prey, and then striking out with lightning speed to ingest its quarry whole. First collected from Cendrawasih Bay, this new species has now been photographed from Northern Sulawesi to eastern Papua New Guinea..

blue_Pterocaesio.jpg Pterocaesio ToBeDetermined – Colorful fusiliers typically form large conspicuous shoals of thousands of individuals that swirl around divers visiting outer reef slopes. This species is one of the smaller but more vividly colored of the known fusiliers, with gold blaze across its body making it visible even in the depths.

blue_Pseudochromis.jpgPseudochromis ToBeDeterminedDistantly related to groupers, the dottybacks are secretive fish highly sought by advanced scuba divers. This distinctive species — with yellow and black “racing stripes,” blue eyes and cherry belly — was discovered amid the deep reefs in Triton Bay, where it typically lives in mated pairs and displays a strong curiosity for scuba divers. Unlike many fish, dottybacks are committed parents and carefully care for their eggs until they hatch.

blue_Pseudanthia.jpg Pseudanthias ToBeDetermined - Fairy basslets form massive colorful shoals that hover a few meters above the reef, feeding on plankton. All fairy basslets mature first as females, later changing sex to become males as they grow larger. Males typically oversee a harem of up to 20 females. This species has been collected only from deep reefs in Cendrawasih Bay.

blue_Pictichromis2.jpgPictichromis ToBeDetermined - Known only from Cendrawasih Bay in the eastern Bird’s Head, this gorgeous magenta and yellow fish inquisitively investigates any divers that come near it. It is normally found below 15m depth and hides under reef overhangs. Its vibrant colours make it perhaps the most beautiful of the dottybacks.


Melanotaenia ToBeDetermined – The lone freshwater fish at auction, this rainbowfish has been found in only two small mountain streams on the island of Batanta in the Bird’s Head. With approximately 60 known species in this family of fish, each having a very limited distribution, rainbowfish have inspired a cult following. The striking males of this species can “flash” irridiscent blue colors to attract mates in the deep pools that form below stunning waterfalls in the streams on Batanta.

blue_Hemiscyllium_2.jpg Hemiscyllium ToBeDetermined – The completely singular evolutionary path this shark has taken gives it pectoral fins uniquely developed for walking. This form of motion, unknown in other sharks, made this distinctive species an international media darling when it was discovered last year. Although it can swim if frightened, this shark commonly crawls across shallow coral reefs in search of its prey. Also notable are the male’s unusually large clasper organs. This shark is known only from Cendrawasih Bay.


Corythoichthys ToBeDetermined – Pipefish, like their seahorse relatives, stand out in the fish world because of their “male pregnancy” — the female deposits her fertilized eggs in a specialized pouch on the male’s belly and he tends the eggs until they hatch. The subtle but ornate color pattern on this new species differentiates it from other pipefish, while also keeping it camouflaged on the reef’s shallow coral heads and in gorgonian sea fans.


Chrysiptera ToBeDetermined – Considered the gems of the coral reef, brightly-colored Chrysiptera damselfish are found exclusively in areas of healthy coral. Although small, these fish can live up to 15 years and produce copious numbers of offspring — with the males actually taking the primary role in tending the eggs. The beautiful species on auction is known only from Sebakor Bay in the Bird’s Head and was discovered in April 2006.


Paracheilinus ToBeDeterminedConsidered the most spectacularly colored of all coral reef fishes, flasher wrasse derive their common name from the unique courtship behavior of the males – which rise up in the water column and suddenly “flash” electric neon colors while simultaneously erecting their fins to draw the attention of potential mates. Photographing a male in full courtship display is considered a “holy grail” for accomplished underwater photographers. This species is arguably the most stunning of all the flashers (there are 16 known species), and was discovered in April 2006. It is known only from the southern Bird’s Head Seascape, from Raja Ampat to Triton Bay.

New Cichlid Species – Ptychochromis loisellei

The Wildlife Conservation Society has announced that one of their ichthyologists from the New York Aquarium received the ultimate honor recently, when a freshwater fish discovered on the African island nation of Madagascar was named after him.

Dr. Paul Loiselle, who has dedicated much of his career safeguarding Madagascar’s little known freshwater fishes, received the honor from a team of biologists from the American Museum of Natural History, after they named a new species of cichlid Ptychochromis loisellei. The announcement was made in a recent edition of American Museum Novitates. [pdf]

The authors of the paper wrote that the new species was “named for our colleague Paul Loiselle in recognition of his many contributions to the understanding and conservation of Madagascar’s freshwater fishes.”

The newly described black and gold cichlid is about five inches long, and known locally as a “garaka.” It can be found living in several river systems in the northeastern part of the country.

Ptychochromis loisellei
(Photo courtesy WCS)

Loiselle himself has discovered fifteen freshwater fishes during his fourteen years of field work in Madagascar. He is considered one of the world’s experts on cichlids – a family of perch-like fishes comprising nearly 2,000 different species. Many cichlids are popular in aquarium trade, including angelfish, oscars, and discus.

Large-scale deforestation and other kinds of human impact have put Madagascar’s unique wildlife at great risk. Despite limited resources, the Malagasy government has made conservation a priority in recent years, announcing plans to set up new protected areas. To educate and inspire the public about its efforts to save this island-nation’s amazing wildlife, the Wildlife Conservation Society will open a new Madagascar exhibit in 2009 at the Bronx Zoo, as part of a newly announced $650 million capital campaign called “Gateways to Conservation.”


(Photo by Paul Loiselle.)

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Perciformes
Family: Cichlidae

The Batman Fish – Otocinclus batmani

Otocinclus batmaniIchthyologist, Pablo Lehmann, honors the caped crusader by naming a new species after him. Otocinclus batmani aka “The Batman Fish” is a catfish from Colombia and Peru. It’s small and measures under 2 inches so put those recipes away!

HINT: If you are wondering why this little critter was named after Batman take a closer look at the tail.

You can read Lehmann’s paper published in the journal Neotropical Ichthyology online here: Otocinclus batmani, a new species of hypoptopomatine catfish (Siluriformes: Loricariidae) from Colombia and Peru [pdf].

On a side note, if you have a fresh water aquarium and need help with algae problems keep an eye out for O. batmani’s cousins for sale at your local aquarium. They are often sold as “oto cats” or “dwarfed sucking catfish” and are fantastic algae eaters. They do much better than the commonly sold chinese algae eaters who actually tend to stop eating algae as they get older.

Da nuh nuh nuh na nuh nuh na nuh … BATFISH!

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Siluriformes
Family: Loricariidae
Genus: Otocinclus

Ogilbia suarezae, a Caribbean Fish.

Check out these two articles about the recent discovery of a caribbean fish named Ogilbia suarezae.

The Ithaca Journal: Fish species named for Cornell scientist, 30 years after her thesis

Cornell University Chronicle: A fish called Suarez is named for biomedical professor

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Ophidiiformes
Family: Bythitidae
Genus: Ogilbia

Four New Snailfish Species found off the Aleutian Islands

 Allocareproctus unangasScientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently published a paper describing four new snailfish species they found on various survey studies done around the Aleution Islands.

Snailfish are usually tadpole shaped with soft, scaleless skin that is covered with a jellylike mucus. They are so slimy they are sometimes referred to as snotfish!

The official names of the newly described species are:

Allocareproctus kallaion – from the Greek word for comb in reference to its teeth.
Allocareproctus ungak – from the Aleut word for “whiskers” because it has so many whisker-like papillae on its head.
Allocareproctus tanix – unlike its cousins, this critter has a bald forehead so takes the Aleut word for forehead.
Allocareproctus unangas – Named in honor of the people of the Aleutian Islands. Unangas is the word for the Aleuts of Atka Island, a major island near the center of the new species’ known range.

The meaning behind the genus name, Allocareproctus, is a little funny. It is derived from greek, “Allo” meaning “other” and “Careproctus” meaning “head” and “anus” – So, sounds like you can safely call them Snotty Butthead fish!?

You can read the researchers’ full report, Revision of the snailfish genus Allocareproctus Pitruk & Fedorov (Teleostei: Liparidae), with descriptions of four new species from the Aleutian Islands [pdf] which was published in Zootaxa.

Photo courtesy of NOAA

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Scorpaeniformes
Family: Liparidae
Genus: Allocareproctus

New Hammerhead Shark Species

The discovery of a cryptic species of scalloped hammerhead shark species has recently hit the press.

Cryptic species are groups of species that are anatomically indistinguishable but are reproductively isolated and usually have been differentiated by genetic analysis.

Scalloped hammerhead sharks, known scientifically as Sphyrna lewini, are found all over the globe but the new species seems to live primarily off the east coast of the US and claims the waters of South Carolina for nursery grounds. The 2 species look virtually identical but they are genetically distinct and their numbers of vertebrae differ.

The new species hasn’t been officially described or named yet. However, a likely name is S. gilberti after Carter Gilbert who first noticed the variation in vertebrae among the scalloped hammerhead sharks. Information about the discovery can be found on USC News site, What’s swimming in the waters off the coast? USC scientist finds ‘genetically distinct’ shark.

Also, a brief interview with one of the researchers can be found on South Carolina’s Homepage, Shark! USC researcher helps find new species of hammerhead.

For lots of great information on scalloped hammerheads check out this FACT SHEET.

Hammerhead Shark
(photo University South Carolina)

Researchers have submitted a paper for publication:
Stoner, D. S., J. M. Grady, W. B. Driggers, K. A. Priede and J. M. Quattro. Molecular Evidence for a Cryptic Species of Hammerhead Shark (Genus Sphyrna). Marine Biology.

River Dwelling Stingray Discovered in Thailand – Himantura kittipongi

A new species of freshwater stingray has been discovered in a river in western Thailand, but its chances for long-term survival are slim, warns WWF.

Himantura kittipongiThe new species of stingray, measuring 60 centimeters (23.6 inches) in width, was first observed two years ago but has only now been confirmed in detail as a new species by researchers from WWF-Thailand and the US-based Smithsonian Institute.

WWF Thailand’s Senior Freshwater Biologist, Dr Chavalit Vidthayanon along with Smithsonian Research Associate, Dr Tyson Roberts, have described in detail the new freshwater stingray, known as Himantura kittipongi, found in the Mekong Basin of western Thailand.

Thai rivers, including the Mekong River where the ray is found, have been plagued by serious pollution, overfishing and dam building which have taken a deadly toll on Thailand’s once diverse and abundant river life. The ray is believed to exist in only small numbers.

The new species was named Himantura kittipong after prominent Thai fish expert Kittipong Jaruthanin who first observed the ray in 2004. *

The researcher’s described their discovery in the Natural History Bullitin of the Siam Society, however, no recent information about the publication is available online.

Also see The Nation’s article, New ray discovered in Kanchanaburi.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Chondrichthyes
Order: Rajiformes
Family: Dasyatidae
Genus: Himantura

* text used with permission © 13 Apr 2006 WWF – the environmental conservation organisation . Some rights reserved.

Fossilized Fish Might Have Walked on Land – Tiktaalik roseae

In two related articles highlighted on the April 6 cover of the journal Nature, Dr. Ted Daeschler of The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, co-leader of an expedition 600 miles north of the Arctic Circle, and his colleagues announced the discovery of 375-million-year-old fossilsCover of Nature with numerous features that place them squarely at the evolutionary transition from fish to limbed animals. The new species has a skull, neck, ribs and part of a fin like the earliest limbed animals, but also has fins and scales like a fish. For about a century, scientists have been able to trace the broad outline of the millions-of-years-long transition of lobe-finned fish to limbed animals (tetrapods). The new species, named Tiktaalik roseae, however, is the most compelling evidence yet of an animal that was on the verge of the transition from water to land. It shows that the evolution from life in water to life on land happened gradually in fish living in shallow water.

T. roseae was a predator with sharp teeth, a crocodile-like head, and a flattened body that lived in what was then a subtropical climate. The quality of the fossils allowed the team to examine the joint surfaces on many of the fin bones and figure out that shoulder, elbow and wrist joints were capable of supporting the body like limbed animals. “Tiktaalik blurs the boundary between fish and land animals,” said Dr. Neil Shubin of the University of Chicago, the other co-leader. “This animal is both fish and tetrapod; we jokingly call it a fishapod.”

The fossils were recovered from the layered rock of the so-called Fram Formation, the deposits of meandering stream systems formed some 375 million years ago when North America was part of a supercontinent straddling the equator. These fossils and previously known fossil relatives suggest the evolution from fish to tetrapod occurred on this landmass. “This kind of shallow stream system seems to be the place where many features of land living animals first arose,” said Daeschler.

Tiktaalik roseae
Dr. Ted Daeschler of The Academy of Natural Sciences and his new limbed Arctic fish.
The Academy of Natural Sciences

The skeletal structure of T. roseae and the nature of the deposits where it was found suggest an animal that lived on the bottom of shallow waters and perhaps even out of the water for short periods. “The skeleton of Tiktaalik indicates that it could support its body under the force of gravity whether in very shallow water or on land,” said Dr. Farish A. Jenkins of Harvard University, another collaborator. “This represents a very critical early phase in the evolution of all limbed animals, including us.”

Instead of using the traditional Latin or Greek to name the fossil, the team consulted Nunavut residents, who suggested Tiktaalik (tic-TA-lick), the Inuktikuk word for large, shallow water fish. The second part of the name, roseae, honors an anonymous supporter.

Tiktaalik has a flattened, triangular-shaped skull reminiscent of the earliest tetrapods. Although the lower jaws and snout have fish-like features, the rear portion of the skull looks more like a limbed animal. The skull is significantly shortened behind the eye sockets and has deep notches in its rear margin. The bones that connect the skull to the shoulders in fishes are not found in Tiktaalik, also hinting at its tetrapod-like nature. An intermediate stage in the transition from fin to limb is also seen in the bones of the pectoral fins, which show robust skeletal elements indicative of powerful and mobile appendages, flexible at shoulder, elbow and wrist, while retaining a reduced set of the thin rods found in fish fins. The wide, flattened body of Tiktaalik is also tetrapod-like but is covered by scales as in fish.

Tiktaalik roseae Tiktaalik roseae diagram

Photo of fossil by Daeschler
Illustration by Kalliope Monoyios

T. roseae has already inspired artists, check out TrollArt for some funky drawings! There’s also an entire website dedicated to Tiktaalik roseae over at the University of Chicago. There’s a video interview and more information about the expedition that lead to the discovery.

World’s Smallest Fish, Paedocypris progenetica

A new species of fish called Paedocypris progenetica, has been discovered in highly acidic peat swamps on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The new species belongs to the carp family and is possibly the world’s smallest vertebrate animal with females maturing at 7.9 mm.

(photo by Maurice Kottelat)

“This is one of the strangest fish that I’ve seen in my whole career”, said Ralf Britz, zoologist at the Natural History Museum in London who helped analyze the skeleton and pelvic fin structure of the fish. “It’s tiny, it lives in acid and it has these bizarre grasping fins. I hope we’ll have time to find out more about them before their habitat disappears completely.”

The new fish was discovered by fish experts Maurice Kottelat (from Switzerland) and Tan Heok Hui from the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research in Singapore, while working with their colleagues from Indonesia and with Kai-Erik Witte from the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

P. progenetica is so tiny that researchers initially thought  the specimens were baby fish until someone noticed the females were carrying eggs. The tiny, see-through fish also has a reduced head skeleton, which leaves the brain unprotected by bone. They live in dark tea-colored waters with an acidity of pH3, which is at least 100 times more acidic than rainwater. Their peat swamp homes were once thought to harbor very few animals, but recent research has revealed that they are highly diverse and home to many species that occur nowhere else in the world. The peat swamps were damaged by large forest fires in 1997 and are threatened by logging, urbanization and agriculture. Several populations of Paedocypris have already been lost.

Paedocypris progenetica

Although announcement of this new species claims it to be the world’s smallest fish, the Australian Museum Fish Site has a fun article that tells of 2 other contenders to the title of ‘World’s Smallest Fish’.

Hungry for more information? Check out budak’s Blog with lots more pictures and discussion. Also, the researchers’ report was published in the British journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society B. You can read the abstract but for full access you’ll need to check it out from a library that subscribes to the journal: Paedocypris, a new genus of Southeast Asian cyprinid fish with a remarkable sexual dimorphism, comprises the world’s smallest vertebrate.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Cypriniformes
Family: Cyprinidae