KOCHI: Researchers have discovered yet another subterranean snakehead species from Kerala.
The newly discovered fish, a cousin of the well-known varaal and cher meen, is characterised by an elongate body, small size, a very large mouth, and most remarkably, the fin rays of the pectoral fin being greatly elongated as filamentous extensions. It is hypothesized that these extensions may be sensory in nature and used by the fish to find its way in the dark by touch. Resea-rchers at the Peninsular and Marine Fish Genetic Resources Centre of National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources (NBFGR), Kochi have described the species as Aenigmachanna mahabali. The fish was collected by Arun Vishwanath, a native of Thiruvalla from the well in his house in April, 2018.
The discovery of this species comes on the heels of Aenigmachanna gollum, that was discovered earlier this year from Malappuram.
It is remarkable that two species of Aenigmachanna have been discovered almost simultaneously, within a distance of over 200 km separating them.
Rahul G. Kumar, a researcher with the NBFGR who discovered the species said nearly 250 species of fish are known from subterranean habitats across the world, with more being added to the list every year.
Some of these species have been discovered by explorers visiting underground caverns, but many have been accidentally discovered when wells are dug or cleaned, he said.
Researchers opined that Kerala is truly blessed with a variety of freshwater resources which are home to over 300 species of fish, about a third of which are endemic to the region.
At the same time an equally varied and wonderful ecosystem exists, unrecognised and out of sight, in the extensive water bodies that lie below the ground, they said.
In India, Kerala is an undisputed hotspot of subterranean fish diversity, with nine species known mostly from Central Kerala in Pathanamthitta, Kottayam, Ernakulam and Thrissur districts.
“These subterranean fish species are characterised, for the most part, by adaptations which include a small adult size, red colour due to blood vessels near the skin, and reduced eyes and fins”, they said.
According to Rahul, the discovery of fish, as well as crustaceans and other life forms, from subterranean waters is a reminder of the vast diversity of life which still remains to be discovered, studied and understood....