Blackline fangblenny

Aquatic scientific names in the news …

31 March 2017

A report in the March 30 issue of Current Biology indicates that Fangblenny fish venom most likely causes a sudden drop in blood pressure in would-be predators that have been bitten by blennies.

The Blackline fangblenny is a species of Blenny belonging to the Family Blennidae, its one of a number of similar small species (generally ranging from 4 -10 cms in length, the Blackline being at the upper end of the range) sometimes referred to as saber-toothed blennies. Their distinguishing characteristic is the possession of a pair of large curved canines, mounted at the front of the lower jaw, which have a prominent groove associated with venom glands, that they use for defence against predatory fishes. Interestingly a number of non-venomous blennies have evolved similar colour patterns and swimming behaviour enabling them to mimic their venomous relatives, a process known as Batesian mimicry.

Image: Richard Field

When researchers analysed extracted fangblenny venom, they found three components – a neuropeptide that occurs in cone snail venom, a lipase similar to one from scorpions, and an opioid peptide. Surprisingly, when they injected the fangblenny venom into lab mice they found it to be apparently painless, as usually fish with venomous dorsal spines produce immediate and blinding pain, this indicates a different mechanism at work; although, as the researchers used rodents for the pain test, they can’t entirely rule out the possibility of blenny venom causing pain in fish, but it seems plausible that the neuropeptide and opioid components may cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, most likely leaving any attacker disorientated and unable to give chase giving the fangblenny a chance to escape. While the feeling of pain is not produced, opioids can produce, at least in mammals, sensations of extremely unpleasant nausea and dizziness.

An incidental finding from the study was evidence suggesting that fangblenny fangs evolved before the venom whereas usually, as in snakes for instance, some sort of venom secretions evolved first, before the elaborate venom delivery mechanism.

Meiacanthus nigrolineatus Smith-Vaniz, 1969 – Blackline fangblenny


Meiacanthus – Greek, Mei-, meion (meiωn), lesser, less; -acanthus, akantha (ακaνθα), thorn. Name alluding to the relatively few dorsal-fin spines in most species.

nigrolineatus – Latin, nigro-, niger, black, sable, dark, dusky; -lineatus, line. Name referring to the narrow black stripe extending from the rear of the eye along the base of the dorsal fin to the base of the tail which is the most distinctive characteristic of the species.

Invasive aquatic species

Aquatic scientific names in the news …

29th March.
Invasive Species Week

As 27 March – 2 April is Invasive Species Week 2017 in the UK I thought I’d take a look at the etymology of a few of the more important aquatic invasive species.

Invasive species week is an initiative of the Non-native Species Secretariat (NNSS) and the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) with the aim of raising awareness about invasive species in the UK.
Among the invasive species listed on the NNNS website there are 39 aquatic, semi-aquatic, or aquatic associated species, these range from fairly large mammals such as the Chinese Water Deer and American Mink, through a number of aquatic associated birds, various amphibians, numerous aquatic plants and seaweeds, and invertebrates including crustacea and molluscs

Non-native species are plant or animal species that are found outside of their natural past or present distribution (introduced species). The term ‘non-native species’ is the equivalent of ‘alien species’ as used by the Convention on Biological Diversity. Generally speaking It refers to species and subspecies introduced through human action, “hitchhiking”, or other means.
An invasive non-native species is any non-native animal or plant that has the ability or potential to spread to a degree that might cause damage to the environment, the economy, our health and the way we live, or reduce biodiversity.

At the time of writing there seems to be a disappointingly poor coverage of this story by the media with only the Guardian reporting on it in any depth.

It’s difficult to tell from the NNSS website which species are of most concern, so for this exercise I’ve chosen to use the species listed under the NNSS species alerts issued as part of the GB rapid response protocol. All these species have been found in the UK and are of obvious concern.

Water Primrose – Ludwigia grandiflora

An invasive non-native plant from South America which has become a serious pest in other countries, including France, where it smothers water bodies reducing the numbers of native species and potentially increasing the risk of flooding.

Ludwigia – Eponym, honouring Christian Gottlieb Ludwig (1709-1773); genus named by Carl Linnaeus
grandiflora – Latin, grandi-, grandis, large, great; -flora, the goddess of flowers; grandiflora, with large flowers

Quagga Mussel – Dreissena rostriformis bugensis

A highly invasive non-native freshwater mussel from the Ponto-Caspian region, very similar to Zebra Mussel. It can significantly alter whole ecosystems by filtering out large quantities of nutrients and is also a serious biofouling risk blocking pipes smothering boat hulls and other structures.

Dreissena bugensis (Andrusov, 1897)
Dreissena – Eponym, honouring M. Driessens, a pharmacist at Mazeyk, from whom Van Beneden, had received a consignment of live molluscs
bugensis – etymology unknown, -ensis, indicates name is a toponym

“Killer shrimps” – D. haemobaphes and D. villosus

Invasive non-native freshwater gammarid crustaceans that have spread from the Ponto-Caspian Region of Eastern Europe. They are both voracious predators that kill a range of native species, including young fish, and can significantly alter ecosystems.

Dikerogammarus villosus (Sowinsky, 1894)

Dikerogammarus, – Greek, Di-, di (δι), two; -kero-, keras, horn; -gammarus, kammaros (καμμαρος), lobster
villosus, Latin, hairy, shaggy, rough

Dikerogammarus haemobaphes (Eichwald, 1841)

(No image available)

Dikerogammarus, – Greek, Di-, di (δι), two; -kero-, keras, horn; -gammarus, kammaros (καμμαρος), lobster
haemobaphes, -Greek, haemo-, haima (αιμα), blood-red; -baphes (βαφη), a dipping in dye, dyeing, dye

Carpet Sea-squirt – Didemnum vexillum (Kott, 2002)

Thought to be originally from Japan, it has become a pest in other countries by smothering native species and interfering with fishing, aquaculture and other activities.  It has recently been found in some marinas in England and Wales and there are strong concerns that it will spread more widely.

Didemnum, Greek, Di-, di (δι), two; -demnum (δεμνιον), bedstead, mattress, bed, bedding;
vexillum, Latin, a military ensign, standard, banner, flag.

Sightings of any of these species should be reported through either the appropriate reporting page on the NNSS website or by email with a photograph and location details to:

All images courtesy of


Aquatic scientific names in the news …


Haddock featured in the media on the 16th March with various stories indicating that the fish, a popular choice in the UK, was “being taken off the menu” owing to lack of sustainability (see: Guardian). As a result of a change in scientific advice the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) downgraded the sustainability ratings of Haddock on its Good Fish Guide website of three haddock fisheries in the North Sea and West of Scotland area. The two North Sea haddock fisheries are now rated 4 (amber), and the third has dropped from being a good choice (rated 2) to one to eat only occasionally (rated 3), meaning they’re no longer on the MCS recommended green list of fish to eat.

Image: MCS

Haddock are members of the Gadidae, a family of marine fish included in the order Gadiformes, known as the cods, codfishes or true cods. This family contains many commercially important species including cod, haddock, pollock, and whiting.

Similar to Cod in appearance, although smaller reaching sizes of up to 1.1m (Cod reaches up to 2m), it has a dark coloured lateral line and features a prominent dark blotch over the pectoral fins that’s sometimes referred to as the “Devil’s thumbprint” or “St. Peter’s mark”. Found in the North Atlantic Ocean at a depth of between 80 to 200 m, at temperatures between 4° and 10°C, it’s a demersal feeder, feeding mainly on small bottom-living organisms such as crustaceans, mollusks, echinoderms, worms and fishes.

Haddock is fished all year round and is a very popular food fish, along with Atlantic Cod and Plaice. It is one of the mainstays of the British fish and chip shop, and is also often enjoyed smoked.

Image: Wikipedia

The reporting of this story in the media appears to have resulted in a certain amount of misinterpretation of the situation with various fishing organisations being very vocal in response to any suggestion of a lack of sustainability and the similarly acronymed Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) also querying the MCS’s actions (see: BBC).

The MCS has since issued a response to the media coverage of this story (see: MCS)

Melanogrammus aeglefinus (Linnaeus, 1758) – Haddock


Melanogrammus – Greek, Melano-, melanos (μελανος), black, dark; –grammus, gramma (γραμμα), that which is drawn, stroke of a pen, a line; lined – likely referring to the presence of the dark lateral line.

aeglefinus – etymology uncertain, may be derived from the French word for Haddock, aiglefin, which may, in turn be derived from the Greek, aigle (αιγλη), sunlight, gleam; shining, gleaming.