The redtail garra, a fish that feeds on algae, has recently been discovered and described as a new species by researchers led by Larry Page, a curator of ichthyology at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Despite its popularity in the aquarium trade since the early 2000s, the redtail garra was unknown to science until now.
The fish is found in a small stretch of river along the border between Thailand and Myanmar, specifically in the Ataran River basin. It had been previously thought to be more widespread in Myanmar due to its popularity in aquariums. However, the researchers discovered that it is restricted to this particular region.
The redtail garra belongs to the genus Garra, which is known for its diversity and wide distribution across different parts of the world, including Africa, the Middle East, India, and Asia. Despite their ubiquity, there has been limited research on the group, and little is known about their natural history or relationships with other species.
Redtail garras have a unique biology. They live in fast-moving water and have a modified lower lip that forms a disclike structure, which they use as an adhesive pad to cling to rocks while feeding. They primarily feed on algae and occasionally eat arthropods by scraping detritus off rocks with specialized mouth parts. They lack stomachs and have a snout covered in modified and hardened scales called tubercles, which are permanently attached and may serve as weapons during aggressive encounters.
The redtail garra can be distinguished by its elongated snout covered in tubercles and its red tail. These distinct characteristics, coupled with their ability to clear away algae, have made them highly sought after in the aquarium trade.
The delayed scientific description of the redtail garra and similar species highlights the need for increased research on biodiversity in understudied regions. Many fishes in Southeast Asia have been mistakenly referred to by names given to species discovered in other geographic areas, leading to a significant underestimation of their diversity.
The newly described species was named Garra panitvongi in honor of Nonn Panitvong, the author of a book on Thailand’s fishes and a prominent advocate for biodiversity conservation in Southeast Asia. Panitvong, a businessman and naturalist, has dedicated himself to raising awareness about the deteriorating environments and declining native fish species in Thailand.
The discovery and official naming of the redtail garra contribute to our understanding of biodiversity and help us gain a clearer picture of our place in the natural world. Each new species discovered adds a dot to our knowledge and brings us closer to understanding our position as a species.