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Around three hundred new species of fishes are discovered each year and they all need names. Usually a name relates to an animal's characteristics, but sometimes they are named after people, in this case two scientists from the Natural History Museum.
Fish experts (ichthyologists) Oliver Crimmen and Dr Ralf Britz have a mighty 63 years of working with fish between them, and the species names Psilorhynchus olliei and Badis britzi were given to honour their work and dedication.
Oliver Crimmen looks after the around 750,000 specimens in the Museum fish collection and has done so for 42 years. He says, 'It’s an honour to have one’s name become part of the vocabulary of natural history. It means my name will be used longer than my own lifetime so it’s something for my family to be proud of too'.
He describes P. olliei, which lives in the torrential mountain streams of Myanmar, 'It’s a torrent minnow that bravely clings to the stones as the river rushes by.' The fish has modified pectoral and pelvic fins that form a gripping device.
'It is difficult to see and catch. In fact we were only able to catch one with local help. The other specimens came from a market nearby, which shows how good local fishermen are. We always work closely with them.'
Dr Ralf Britz has been studying fish for 21 years. He says, 'It is a great honour if your work is recognised by your colleagues this way. On a different level it makes one very humble, as the name will still be used when I am long gone.'
Britz describes ‘his’ fish, which so far has only been found in one small mountain stream in India. 'Badis britzi is small [about 35mm], but very colourful and would make a great aquarium fish. It is the only member of the Badis genus that is endemic to [found only in] one of the most interesting biodiversity hotspots in Asia, the Western Ghats, and therefore really special.' The fish was found in plants and roots that hung into the edge of the stream. ’I need to congratulate my Indian colleagues for their skill in collecting specimens of this secretive little fish.'
Usually species names reflect something about the animals' characteristics. For example Britz discovered the blue-bellied night wanderer fish in 2013. Its species name is Cyanogaster noctivaga, Cyanogaster meaning blue belly and noctivaga meaning night wanderer.
P. olliei and B. britzi live in habitats that are under increasing pressure from the encroachment of hydro-electric dams and other human impacts. Until scientists know more about the biology and distribution of these species, Crimmen and Britz say it is difficult to assess their conservation status.
Asked for some stand-out moments from their work with fish, Britz says, 'The discovery of Danionella dracula and that its ‘teeth’ turned out to be just jaw projections. Also the clarification of what forms the sucking disc in remoras [sharksuckers] and the tail of the ocean sunfish.'
Crimmen says. 'Helping with large specimen preservation projects such as the Thames whale, the giant squid, and helping with Damien Hirst’s large shark artworks. And last year preserving our own rare Greenland Shark, the third largest shark species in the world….and coming into work and finding a fish has been named after you!'