Fish from nowhere

Yesterday I mentioned briefly the leopard danio, a small golden fish full of dark spots, apparently a color mutation in the zebrafish Danio rerio, but described in 1963 as a species on its own with the name Brachydanio frankei. The leopard danio is a popular aquarium fish in its own right, which keeps its colors but does not differ in behaviour or size from the zebrafish, and hybridises freely with zebrafish. When it first appeared in the aquarium trade, its origin in the wild was unknown. That should have called for some caution … On the other hand, who could believe other than that the differences in colour pattern was a strong indicator of species distinctness?

Spotted danios are known from the wild, however. There is Danio kyathit from northern Myanmar, in which the spots are more or less irregularly arranged in rows, and many morphological characters distinguish it from other species of Danio. Described by Fang in 1998, based on four specimens she collected herself, she also included two specimens collected in the 1920s that were not spotted but striped. There was simply no way of distinguishing the striped and spotted kyathit other than by colour pattern, and because the rows of spots are merely broken up horizontal stripes, there was room for considering intraspecific variation. How different conclusions can be once you know a little more about the group you are working with!

Here is an image of Danio kyathit, photographed by Fang Fang.

The other spotted danio has no scientific name yet. It is a small fish, similar to Danio rerio but with large spots on the side. It is already available in the aquarium trade where it is called Danio sp. Burma. Will anyone dare to describe it? Is there a striped counterpart already available among the many supposed synonyms of Danio rerio??

A real sunshine story is the that of the “Odessa barb”, one of the major aquarium fish species, and belonging to the large family of cyprinid fishes. Males are marked by a stunning, glowing, deep, exquisitely brilliant red band along the side, and contrasting black spots in the dorsal, anal, and pelvic fins. Females are less colourful. It is or relatively small size, less than 5 cm, and easy to reproduce in aquarium.

The early aquarium history of the “Odessa barb” is not well documented. In 1973, Russian aquarist Dazkewitsch wrote that it originated from a market, not stated where, and arrived in Odessa, Ukraine, in 1971, soon being cultivated in Moscow. So it was named “Odessa barb” although quite evidently a South Asian species. It was a confusing time, a time for much speculation among American and European aquarists, and no information from Ukraine. And how come a small aquarium fish, soon of world fame could first be found in Ukraine, at the time part of the Soviet Union and with no aquarium fish import? Maybe it was also a “form” of some kind, like the leopard danio? Strangely, nobody got the idea this time to describe the new fish as a new species!

So, things remained for 30 years till Frank Schäfer in 2001, working for the German wholesale aquarium fish importer Glaser reported having found the “Odessa barb” in an importation from Myanmar.

Wow! And I and my colleague Ralf Britz (yes, that’s him with the vampire fish), missed it totally on our collecting trip in Myanmar just a little before, in 1998, crossing the country from Yangon in the south north to the foothills of the Himalayas in Putao.

Well, there was still no precise locality. And Ralf then found the fish in 2003, near Mandalay. So, it exists in nature, we know where, and last year we got it described. We named it Puntius padamya. Padamya is the Burmese word for ruby. The ruby barb of aquarists, however, is Puntius nigrofasciatus from Sri Lanka. The description is available online as an Open Access resource from the Electronic Journal of Ichthyology.

The “Odessa barb” freshly collected in the wild, a bit pale in the photo tank. Photograph by Ritva Roesler, from Kullander & Britz (2008: Electronic Journal of Ichthyology, 4: 56-66):

And the stately preserved holotype of Puntius padamya:

The lessons, if any, are: Don’t name fish known only from the aquarium trade. Be patient. And, give nice names to nice fish.