A team of researchers from the Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates has revealed two new species and a new genus of unusual electric fish as a result of 13 years of research in Gabon. Using preserved DNA from the three specimens, the team sequenced their genetics and revealed that they did not belong to the known genus of electric fish, "Mormyridae," despite being close relatives.
"That left us no choice but to describe them as a new genus," John Sullivan, lead author of the paper, said in a press release.
The researchers named the new genus "Cryptomyrus" after the Greek words meaning "hidden fish," referring to their rarity, and named to two new species "Cryptomyrus ogoouensis" and "Cryptomyrus ona."
"It's unusual to describe a new genus and two species with only three specimens in hand, but no one knows when more specimens will become available and we felt this shouldn't wait any longer," Sullivan said.
The unusual new family of fish communicates with electric origin discharges (EODs) that stem from an organ in front of their tails and "electrolocate" using the specialized receptor cells in their skin, allowing them to sense nearby objects in the water due to the distortion that they create in their self-produced electric field.
Although the first specimen was collected back in 2001 and a second in 2013, it took the discovery of the fourth specimen in 2014 for the team to put the pieces together and identify them as a part of the same family.
"This is why we need natural history collections, to keep these specimens and their DNA samples in good condition, because it can take years or even decades to connect the dots," Sullivan said.
The findings were published in the Feb. 8 issue of ZooKeys.