Second subterranean snakehead species found

Researchers describe species discovered from Thiruvalla as Aenigmachanna mahabali

July 29, 2019 12:33 am | Updated 12:33 am IST - KOCHI

The newly discovered Aenigmachanna mahabali is a cousin of the well-known varaal and cher meen.

The newly discovered Aenigmachanna mahabali is a cousin of the well-known varaal and cher meen.

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 fin rays of the pectoral fin being greatly elongated as filamentous extensions.

It is hypothesized that the extensions may be sensory in nature and used by the fish to find its way in the dark by touch. Researchers 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, said a press release here.

The discovery of this species comes on the heels of Aenigmachanna gollum, found earlier this year from Malappuram. It is remarkable that two species of Aenigmachanna have been discovered almost simultaneously, with 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 were found from subterranean habitats across the world, with more being added to the list every year. Some of the species had been discovered by explorers visiting underground caverns, but many had been accidentally discovered when wells were dug or cleaned, he said.

Varied ecosystem

According to researchers, Kerala is blessed with a variety of freshwater resources, 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 existed unrecognised and out of sight in the extensive water bodies that lay below the ground, they said.

Kerala is an undisputed hotspot of subterranean fish diversity, with nine species 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.

The discovery of fish as well as crustaceans and other life forms from subterranean waters was a reminder of the vast diversity of life which still remained to be discovered, studied and understood, said the NBFGR researcher.

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