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New electric fish discovered in South America

Last Updated: Thursday, September 26, 2013 - 18:40

Toronto: Scientists have identified a previously unknown genus of electric fish in a remote region of South America.

The Akawaio penak, a thin, eel-like electric fish, was discovered in the shallow, murky waters of the upper Mazaruni River is northern Guyana.

The team of international researchers, including University of Toronto Scarborough professor Nathan Lovejoy, analysed tissue samples collected during a recent expedition by researchers led by Hernan Lopez-Fernandez at the Royal Ontario Museum.

By sequencing its DNA and reconstructing an evolutionary tree, the team discovered the fish is so distinct it represents a new genus, the taxonomic classification level above species.

The upper Mazaruni River is a hotspot for biological diversity, yet remains largely unexplored because of its remote location.

The area contains countless rivers on top of a series of uplands that have remained isolated from the rest of South America for more than 30 million years.

"The fact this area is so remote and has been isolated for such a long time means you are quite likely to find new species," said Lovejoy.

Like other electric knifefish, Akawaio penak has a long organ running along the base of the body that produces an electric field.

The electric field is too weak to stun prey but is instead used to navigate, detect objects and to communicate with other electric fish. This trait is advantageous given the murky habitats of the fish.

The species is named in honour of the Akawaio Amerindians that populate the upper Mazaruni.

"The Mazaruni contains many unique species that aren`t found anywhere else in the world. It`s an extremely important area in South America in terms of biodiversity," said Lovejoy.

The results of the discovery are published in the journal Zoologica Scripta.


First Published: Thursday, September 26, 2013 - 18:40
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