A new species of Snakehead fishes living in underground waters have been found in Kerala. The Kerala Fisheries Marine Study University (KUFOS) was prompted to conduct an investigation on it as they saw the pictures of the new fish species. The team of researchers working on this investigation was led by a renowned fish taxonomist and scientist at the British Natural History Museum, Dr. Ralf Britz. The team also included Dr. Rajeev Raghavan – researcher at KUFOS and V.K. Anoop – a PhD student at KUFOS.
The new Snakehead fish has been named Aenigmachanna Gollum after J.R.R. Tolkien’s Gollum from Lord of the Rings, as they share a common feature of subterranean existence.
It was discovered in the paddy fields belonging to Ajeer from Vengeri, Malappuram. Dr. Rajeev Raghavan explained that due to the torrential flow of the great Kerala floods in August 2018, some of the underground water fishes have come up. The newly found fish have been measured to be 9.2 centimeters long.
Snakehead fishes are usually found in continents like Africa and Asia. They generally tend to live near the surfaces of fresh water rivers, ponds and field streams. Using what is known as a supra-branchial organ, they are able to breathe air. The newly found type of the Snakehead species has adapted to a polar opposite habitat of ground water areas because of which they don’t have the ability to breathe at surface level like other Snakeheads.
Dr. Ralf explained “The surprising part is that - assuming it is subterranean - it doesn't have the typical adaptations you would expect from a subterranean fish. This could mean one of two things. Either the fish only acquired this subterranean mode of life recently, or it is living in some kind of transition zone where it is still moving between the underground and above ground habitats. We simply don’t know and so that is something we'd be very interested in finding out.”
The discovery of this new breed of Snakehead fishes that survive underground will play a significant role in the study and classification of fishes in freshwater according to KUFOS Vice Chancellor Dr. A. Ramachandran. Top researchers now have reason to believe that there may be an ecosystem hidden 40 meters underneath the surface.
The news of the latest discovery of the ‘Gollum’ Snakehead fish in Kerala has been included in the latest edition of an international animal taxonomy journal, Zootaxa, in New Zealand.