ZSI documents another new snake eel species in Odisha

This is the eighth species of the Ophichthus genus found on the Indian coast, and the fifth new species discovered by the Gopalpur-on-Sea centre in the last two years

January 23, 2020 07:06 pm | Updated 08:18 pm IST - BERHAMPUR

A new snake eel species residing in the Bay of Bengal has been discovered and documented this month (January) by the Estuarine Biology Regional Centre (EBRC) of the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) at Gopalpur-on-sea in Odisha.

This new marine species has been named Ophichthus kailashchandrai to honour the vast contributions of Dr. Kailash Chandra, Director of ZSI, to Indian animal taxonomy. Ophichthus kailashchandrai is the eighth species of the Ophichthus genus found on the Indian coast. It is the fifth new species discovered by the Gopalpur ZSI in the last two years.

In 2019, two new species of marine eel, Gymnothorax andamanensesis and Gymnothorax smithi   were been discovered by this ZSI centre.

Dr. Anil Mohapatra, scientist at Gopalpur ZSI, with support of his associate Swarup Ranjan Mohanty and Dipanjan Ray of the Bajkul Milani Mahavidyalaya, West Bengal, and Subhendu Sekhar Mishra of the marine fish section of ZSI Kolkata, after detailed study, have identified the Ophichthus kailashchandrai as a completely new species. Discovery of this new marine snake eel species has also been acknowledged by Zootaxa , an international scientific journal for zoological taxonomy.

Bay of Bengal

Three specimens of the new species were collected from the Shankarpur fishing harbour in the northern region of the Bay of Bengal on the West Bengal coast in 2015. Detailed study for over four years led to the discovery that they belonged to a newly discovered species living in the Bay of Bengal.

The eel family ‘Ophichthidae’ comprises two sub-families — Myrophinae (69 species) and Ophichthinae (276 species). The sub-family Ophichthinae is identified by its hard tail and other osteological (bone) features, and it has 17 genera and 24 species. Out of them, seven species from the Ophichthus genus were earlier identified in Indian waters. The recent discovery is the eighth species of this genus.

The Ophichthus kailashchandrai  lives at a depth of around 50 metres in the sea. According to the studied specimens, individuals of this species are around 420 mm to 462 mm in length. They are light brown in colour, with white fins. They have a well-developed pectoral fin and also have a dorsal fin. Their posterior nostril is a hole covered by a flap on the upper lip opening towards the mouth. There are 180-182 total vertebrae in this new species. Their teeth are moderately elongated, conical and sharp.

Unexplored biodiversity

Ophichthus kailashchandrai feeds on small fish and crabs. The outer surface of their bodies is slimy but they are not poisonous, said Dr. Mohapatra. “The discovery of the new species suggests that the marine biodiversity of the long Indian coastline is still considerably unexplored. More explorations of this biodiversity will help in its conservation and proper utilisation,” said Dr. Mohapatra.

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