Getting to name new species must be one of the small pleasures of being a biologist. And if you’ve spent much of your Ph.D. painstakingly breeding thousands of hybrids of tiny fish, then flown with them to the Bahamas, you might as well have some fun with the naming, too.
Chris Martin, a graduate student working with Peter Wainwright in the Department of Evolution and Ecology, has been studying species of pupfish in some small lakes on the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas. There are about 50 species of pupfish across the Americas, and they are all pretty much the same — except in these lakes, where Martin found some oddities including a pupfish that crushes snails in its jaws and a fish that eats scales off other fish.
The rate of evolution among these fish is much higher than in other pupfish environments,
Martin found. In a follow up paper published in Science this year, he mapped the ‘adaptive landscape’ by breeding hybrids, releasing them into the lake and measuring which adaptations fared best.
Martin has now named two of his new fish species. Both are in the genus Cyprinodon: The scale-eater is C. desquamator, from the Latin for “one who peels off scales,” and the shell-feeder is C. brontotheroides, for its protuberant nose.
Martin named C. brontotheroides after a brontothere, an extinct Pleistocene mammal with a bony protuberance on its nose (unlike the modern rhino, whose horn is made of keratin).
It might be the first time a fish has been named after a giant, extinct mammal, Martin acknowledges.
Chris Martin is now pursuing postdoctoral research at UC Berkeley. Follow him on Twitter at @fishspeciation.