A new species of fish has been put on the list of Top 10 New Species of 2011: the Louisiana pancake batfish. Originally thought to be part of a known species of batfish, it was recently concluded that this indeed was its own species.
The pancake batfish is a member of the anglerfish family. This diminutive fish only measures about 4 inches long, making it easily fit into the palm of your hand. It is flat, resembling a pancake in shape (hence the name), and its skin is mottled with bumps and color variations, providing excellent camouflage within the sandy, ocean debris littered area it inhabits. It subsists on a diet of plankton, small crustaceans, and gastropods, many of which can be found in the coral reef systems that comprise its habitat.
The most remarkable feature of the pancake batfish is its fins, which are used more for “walking” than swimming. The “batfish” part of its name comes from its gait resembling that of walking bats. Because this fish is a bottom dweller, its fins have adapted to become almost arm-like; it uses them to push and skip about the ocean floor. Due to the extraordinary camouflage of its body and its propensity to dig into the sea floor, the pancake batfish is rarely seen, and collection of samples for study has been limited.
The pancake batfish is only known to reside within the Gulf areas, the tropical coasts of the lower eastern US states and territories, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central and South America. The problem scientists face in trying to learn more about this species is that it is already endangered, a result of the massive oil spill of 2010. It is not only direct contact with the oil that can kill off the fish; the indirect effects like their main source of food dying or being poisoned, along with egg sacs being destroyed by the spill’s damage pose a very serious threat to the longevity of this newly discovered species.
As with all forms of life, the Louisiana pancake batfish does play a role in the balance of our planet’s ecosystems. It is hoped that this species will find a way to persevere, so we may not lose a species so soon after its discovery.