New genus of electric fish discovered in 'lost world' of South America

Sep 25, 2013
This is an Akawaio penak small. Credit: Hernán López-Fernández

A previously unknown genus of electric fish has been identified in a remote region of South America by a team of international researchers including University of Toronto Scarborough professor Nathan Lovejoy.

The Akawaio penak, a thin, eel-like , was discovered in the shallow, murky waters of the upper Mazaruni River is northern Guyana. Lovejoy's team at UTSC analyzed collected during a recent expedition by a researchers led by Hernán López-Fernández at the Royal Ontario Museum. By sequencing its DNA and reconstructing an , Lovejoy's 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 , 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," says Lovejoy. Like other electric , 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.

This is the Akawaio penak. Credit: Nathan Lujan

The species is named in honour of the Akawaio Amerindians that populate the upper Mazaruni. The region is increasingly suffering from freshwater as a consequence of gold-mining in the area.

"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," says Lovejoy.

This is the Akawaio penak. Credit: Hernán López-Fernández

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

Explore further: Insect mating behavior has lessons for drones

Related Stories

Fish use electric signals to find the right mate

Jun 11, 2009

Electric knifefish, close relatives of the electric eel, navigate and communicate by projecting electric fields around their bodies. Research at University of Toronto is clarifying how this sense has evolved, as well as providing ...

Electric fish charges up research on animal behavior

Apr 10, 2012

An electric eel can generate enough current to stun its prey, just like a Taser. Weakly electric fish can also generate electricity, but not enough to do any harm. "Weakly electric fish are unique in that they produce and ...

Recommended for you

Insect mating behavior has lessons for drones

19 hours ago

Male moths locate females by navigating along the latter's pheromone (odor) plume, often flying hundreds of meters to do so. Two strategies are involved to accomplish this: males must find the outer envelope ...

Godwits are flexible... when they get the chance

May 29, 2015

Black-tailed godwits are able to cope with unpredictable weather. This was revealed by a thorough analysis of the extraordinary spring of 2013 by ecologist Nathan Senner of the University of Groningen and ...

Do you have the time? Flies sure do

May 28, 2015

Flies might be smarter than you think. According to research reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on May 28, fruit flies know what time of day it is. What's more, the insects can learn to con ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.