Digital scans help find new many-toothed clingfish

Source: Xinhua| 2017-04-21 08:02:18|Editor: MJ
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SAN FRANCISCO, April 20 (Xinhua) -- A team of researchers have discovered and named a new genus and species of clingfish after stumbling upon a specimen preserved in a jar dating back to the 1970s.

Confirmed with findings using a computerized tomography (CT) scanner, the fish was different from the other 160 known clingfishes, named for the disc on their bellies that can summon massive sticking power in wet, slimy environments.

A specimen of the new species, named "duckbilled clingfish," for its broad, flat snout that houses an impressive number of tiny, conical teeth, was caught off the coast of Southern Australia in 1977 and preserved in jars at the Western Australian Museum in Welshpool, Australia.

Clingfish is known for its ability to stick to rough surfaces. The finger-sized fish uses suction forces to hold up to 150 times its own body weight.

Understanding the biomechanics of these fish could be useful in designing devices and instruments to be used in surgery, or to tag and track whales in the ocean.

Even though the fish is only as big as a pinky finger, its unique teeth structure caught the attention of Kevin Conway, a fish taxonomist and associate professor at Texas A&M University and Glenn Moore of the museum, who later worked with Adam Summers of the Friday Harbor Laboratories of the University of Washington (UW) to publish a paper in the journal Copeia.

Moore actually found another specimen with similar features on the museum shelves. Together, the specimens are thought to be the only two of this new species that exist out of water.

Using the CT scanner and 3-D printing parts of the fish in larger-than-life size, the researchers were able to capture even finer details of the new clingfish than would be possible through manual dissection and analyze the mouth and jaw structures.

"This CT scan allowed us to take a completely noninvasive look at the entire skeleton of the fish, and it produced a gorgeous set of morphological photos that you couldn't get from dissection," said Summers, who studies clingfish and is actively working to scan and digitize every fish species in the world. "It's a testament to the importance of using these noninvasive methods of data collection."

The scans allowed the researchers to hone in on the fish's skeletal structure from many different angles and digitally dissect parts of the fish.

They estimate the tiny fish has between 1,800 to 2,300 individual teeth, or 10 times what all other known clingfish have.

The teeth point backward, which would suggest a gripping function, Conway said, but the researchers can't be sure since the fish has never been observed in the wild.

"This fish has characteristics we just haven't seen before in other clingfish. It's the teeth that really gave away the fact that this is a new species," he was quoted as saying in a news release from UW.

The duckbilled clingfish joins the ranks of hundreds of new fish species that are described each year.