The living fossil eel cannot be identified as a true eel at first sight. (Photo: YouTube/RoyalSociety)
'Living fossil' eel discovered in the Pacific
Friday, August 19, 2011, 18:30 (GMT + 9)
A species of eel has been discovered by scientists, who have called it a “living fossil.” The species has retained characteristics of the primitive eels of the Mezozoic era -- from 200 million years ago.
A US-Palauan-Japanese team from the Natural History Museum and Institute in Chiba, Japan, found the reddish-brown, 1.7 in-long eel in a cave beneath the Pacific Ocean in the Republic of Palau. The team, led by Masaki Miya, reported its findings in the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Due to its anatomical age, scientists are having to come up with an entirely new breed of classification, as none of the other 819 species would be adequate.
The new species has been called Protoanguilla Palau, a mix of Greek and Latin meaning “first eel.” It comprises the first and only example of the newly-created taxonomic family Protoanguillidae, The Daily Mail reports.
"In some features it is more primitive than recent eels, and in others, even more primitive than the oldest known fossil eels, suggesting that it represents a 'living fossil' without a known fossil record," the scientists wrote, BBC News reports.
Some of the primitive features displayed by the eel are a disproportionately large head in relation to its short body, unique gills and iridescent fins with white piping.
“The eel looks so bizarre - large head with relatively short body and various unique, internal characters - that no ichthyologist, including us, correctly identified it as a member of true eel at first sight,” Miya remarked.
The scientists gathered eight specimens of the P. Palau using nets and lamps between 3-4 in in length, and tested the samples’ DNA to ensure they were part of the same genetic family.
It is believed that the 35 m-deep cave in an undersea ridge where the eels were found is between 60-70 million years old, such that the researchers stipulate that the Protoanguilla lineage must have once been more populous and spanned a vaster area.
This is the only cave of its kind, as far as scientists know, which has spawned discussions about making the newly discovered eel an endangered species to protect it from divers and aquariums looking to attract customers.
By Natalia Real