Dracula is in top 10 species list

21 May 2010

A tiny fish called the dracula minnow that was identified by Natural History Museum experts has been voted one of the top 10 species of 2009 by the International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE) today.

The tiny fish, Danionella dracula, got its name because it has jaw structures that look like huge teeth or fangs. It was voted one of the top 10 because it was the first record of these teeth-like structures found in the Cyprinidae, the largest family of freshwater fishes. It is also featured in today’s Species of the day, the Museum’s celebration of the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity.

Each year, the IISE compiles its top new species list and nominations come from the public as well as experts. The final top 10 are chosen by an international group of taxonomists.

There are plenty of new species to choose from as thousands are uncovered every year. And there are still many more to discover as only 1.8 million of the estimated 5-50 million species have been named so far.

Remarkable fish

The tiny 17mm-long dracula minnow, which is from a stream in northern Myanmar, was scientifically named and identified by Museum fish experts (ichthyologists) Dr Ralf Britz and Dr Lukas Rüber, and Dr Kevin Conway from Saint Louis University, USA.

'I am very happy that Danionella dracula has been chosen for two reasons,' says Dr Britz. 

'Firstly it shows us that every single species on our planet, even the smallest ones, may hold interesting and scientifically important secrets. 

'And secondly it highlights the significance of Myanmar as a freshwater fish biodiversity hotspot.'

By studying its skeleton and using DNA analysis, the team was able to identify the specimen as a new species, and they found that it had evolved many unique and unusual characteristics.

D. dracula belongs to the group of carp-like fishes, Cypriniformes, and none of the 3700 other species in this group has any teeth. This makes D. dracula and its teeth-like structures unique.

Other characteristics of this amazing miniature fish are its transparent body, larval-like skeleton and the fact that it has more than 40 bones less than its closest relative the zebra fish.

Identifying new species

To be able to identify new species, whether plant or animal or microbe, you need to understand the science of taxonomy. Dr Britz, and many of the other scientists who work at the Museum, are taxonomists. They name and describe living and fossil organisms and try to determine how they are related to one another.

Taxonomy is the first step in understanding the huge diversity of life (biodiversity) on our planet. Knowing what is there and how it interacts with other species and their habitats is even more crucial at this time when we are losing so many species, many before they have even been identified.

Others in top 10

Other species in this year's top 10 list include a killer sponge, a bug-eating slug and a far-out frogfish.

  • by Yvonne Da Silva
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