Scientists from the Philippines and Japan have discovered three new species of goby fish, one in the province of Palawan in the Philippines and two in the island of Okinawa in Japan.
The new species found in Palawan has been named Lentipes palawanirufus, which means “red Lentipes goby of Palawan.” Meanwhile, the species found in Okinawa have been named Lentipes kijimuna and Lentipes bunagaya, inspired by the red-colored wood spirits, Kijimuna and Bunagaya, from Okinawan folk mythology. (Read: Researchers Discover New Plant, Animal Species in Davao Oriental)
Lentipes kijimuna was the first species discovered by Dr. Ken Maeda, the first author of the study and staff scientist in the Marine Eco-Evo-Devo Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST), in 2005. He found an unfamiliar-looking male goby fish while carrying out fieldwork.
“I was surprised by its fiery redhead and lower body. The shape was similar to Lentipes armatus, which until now, was the only known Lentipes species in Japan, but the color pattern was completely different,” Dr. Maeda recalled in a press release.
Color patterning is an easily observable characteristic, but the relationship between body color and species is not “clear-cut.” In some cases, two different fish species can look identical in color pattern. At other times, fish from the same species can show many variations in color pattern, with each variant of fish known as a color morph.
In 2010, Dr. Maeda found three more male fish in Okinawa with the same unique red coloration and collected one for later study. Then in 2012, he discovered another one, a second color morph, which is also male. It had two bands of red on the lower body.
In a collaboration project between OIST and the Western Philippines University way back in 2015 to 2018, Dr. Maeda found males that displayed the third variation in color with a bright red head and a reddish-brown lower body. (Read: Scientists discover new snake species, names it after a Harry Potter character)
The scientists believe that the different color patterns of the Lentipes males play an important role in maintaining their separate lineages. The team reported that males displayed a more vivid color during courtship than normal and exhibited special behavior that highlighted their specific color pattern when approaching females. They suggest that the female may not accept males of the other species with different color patterns. However, further studies are needed to verify this.
The scientists also hope to locate more specimens of Lentipes kijimuna and Lentipes bunagaya on other islands in the South-East Asia region. Although Lentipes adults live and reproduce in small freshwater streams, the larvae are carried downstream into the ocean and can be transported by ocean currents to different remote islands. (Read: How Fossil Discoveries Are Proving the Need to Invest in the Sciences)
More studies and observations are still needed to discover these new goby species fully. You can watch the video of Lentipes armatus followed by a new male species, Lentipes kijimuna, and a female Lentipes of unknown species here.