Kozhikode is home to a unique new species of miniature well-dwelling subterranean fish, according to a research by scientists of the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (KUFOS) in Kochi.
The new species goes by the name Pangio bhujia. The scientists said it was the first species of eel-loach in the world that has been discovered living in subterranean environments. Such eels are generally found in fast flowing streams in South and South East Asia.
The team of scientists from KUFOS, IISER (Pune), Malabar Awareness and Rescue Centre for Wildlife (MARC), Kannur and Natural History Museum (NHM, London) discovered this fish living in a six-meter-deep homestead used for drinking and irrigations purposes. This specie was also found in a channel connecting a pond to an adjacent paddyfield at Cherinjal in Kozhikode in April 2019.
Following this, studies were undertaken on its anatomy and genetic structure going to prove that it ‘represents a never-before known species of eel-loach".
“This is an exceptional discovery,” said study leader Dr Rajeev Raghavan, assistant professor at the department of fisheries resource management at KUFOS.
“The new species has several unique characters, including the absence of dorsal fin, which has never been encountered in the genus Pangio to which this new species belongs, and is also unique among the order Cypriniformes and highly unusual even among teleost or bony fishes generally,” he said.
The extensive aquifers of the laterite areas in Kerala harboured "one of the most unusual subterranean ichthyofaunas on our planet, most of them found in deep dugout wells". During the last one year, two other remarkable subterranean fish species were discovered by Rajeev Raghavan and his team. Thess included the bizarre snakehead, Aenigmachanna gollum, and the blind shrimp, Eurindicus bhugarbha.
These subterranean species were discovered by "chance encounters because the habitat is difficult to sample with conventional methods", said Dr Rajeev.
Miniaturisation and reduction of characters in Pangio bhujia pointed to a unique evolutionary story of the species, and of the genus Pangio. This would now be studied using advanced molecular and anatomical tools, said Pune IIISER scientist Neelesh Dahanukar, who collaborated on this work. Other members included VK Anoop from KUFOS, CP Arjun from MARC and Ralf Britz from NHM, London.