Aquatic scientific names in the news …

Millions of glowing sea creatures called pyrosomes have started to “bloom” off the coast of the Pacific Northwest of the US and Canada.

The creatures are filling up fishing nets, clogging hooks and research gear and befuddling scientists who have no idea why populations of the tube-like organisms are exploding.

“Call it the invasion of the pyrosomes,” writes Michael Milstein in a post on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Northwest Fisheries Science Center website.

They started to show up in the spring and in the past month or two, swarms of the animals been spotted all over the region.

Video: National Geographic

Pyrosomes are pelagic colonial tunicates. A colony can grow up to 60 cm in length, forming a distinctive rigid tube that may be colorless, pink, grayish or blue-green. One end is closed and tapered, with the opposing open end having a diaphragm. The colony comprises of numerous individual organisms known as zooids around 8.5 mm long and is capable of emitting a bright bioluminescence.

Image: Show ryu

Tunicates are curious creatures and include numerous species with different forms and lifestyles including the sessile Sea squirts and Sea tulips along with the mobile Salps. Although at first glance they would appear to be some form of invertebrate they are classified as belonging to the Phylum Chordata making them related to vertebrates such as mammals, fishes, reptiles, and birds. The reason for this classification is that the mobile tunicate larvae possess a structure called a notochord which, in the vertebrates, develops into the vertebral column, more widely referred to as the backbone or spine.


As the species responsible for the current bloom has not been specifically named, for the purpose of this edition of “Aquatic scientific names in the news …” I’m exploring the etymology of the type species of pyrosome, Pyrosoma atlanticum which is likely the species in question.

Pyrosoma atlanticum Péron, 1804

Pyrosoma – Greek, Pyr- (πυρ), fire; -o-, connective vowel, -soma (σωμα), body. Name referring to the bright bioluminescence characteristic of the species.

atlanticum – Latin, atlanticus, of the Atlas mountains – Atlas, Atlantis, western limits of the classical Old World; of or from the Atlantic Ocean (modern).



Aquatic scientific names in the news …

The coccolithophore Emiliania huxleyi

A sudden change in the colour of the Bosphorus Strait has been reported from Istanbul, Turkey. The usually blue waters of the Bosphorus have been transformed to a milky turquoise since the weekend reportedly alarming some residents. This colour change is the result of a surge in a species of plankton across the Black Sea. The species responsible is Emiliania huxleyi (sometimes referred to as Ehux), a type of phytoplankton known as a coccolithophore and the most abundant and widespread of coccolithophore species.

Nasa describes the phytoplankton bloom as being an annual occurrence driven by a seasonal increase in reflectivity of the Black Sea, with peak brightness occurring in June, and that it’s consistent with recent years, although this manifestation would appear to be the brightest of the past five years.

Mosaic satellite image of the phytoplankton bloom in the Black Sea. Image: NASA

Emiliania huxleyi  is named after Thomas Huxley and Cesare Emiliani, who were the first to examine sea-bottom sediment and discover the coccoliths within it. Emiliania huxleyi is plated with white calcium carbonate coccoliths and, when present in large numbers, gives the water a milky sheen, changing its colour.

Emiliania huxleyi. Image: PEACE

Coccolithophore – any of the many minute, mostly marine, planktonic organisms with brown chromatophores and complex calcareous shells. Coccoliths are the individual plates of calcium carbonate formed by coccolithophores, single-celled algae such as Emiliania huxleyi, which are arranged around them in a coccosphere. The name was coined in 1868 by Thomas Huxley to describe the minute round or oval disk-like organic bodies found in deep-sea dredging, and also fossilized in chalk.



Coccolithophore – Greek, Cocco-, coccos (κοκκος), grain, seed: -litho-, lithos (λίθος) stone; -phore, phoros (φορος), bearing.

Emiliania huxleyi (Lohmann) W.W.Hay & H.P.Mohler, 1967

Emiliania – Latinized surname. Honouring Italian-American geologist and micropaleontologist Cesare Emiliani, (1922 – 1995), the founder of paleoceanography.

huxleyi – Latinized surname. Honouring English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, (1825 – 1895), popularly known as Darwin’s Bulldog for his advocacy of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Ember Goby

Aquatic scientific names in the news …

10th June 2017

The Ember Goby

This new species, subsequently described as Palatogobius incendius, was observed and collected over the course of several submersible dives off the coasts of Curaçao and Dominica between 2013 and 2016 as part of the DROP project (see below). During this same time lionfish predation of the then undescribed species of goby was also observed and recorded by the Curasub submersible. The description of both the new species and the lionfish predation can be found in “A new mesophotic goby, Palatogobius incendius (Teleostei: Gobiidae), and the first record of invasive lionfish preying on undescribed biodiversity” at PLOS One.

Palatogobius incendius, live in an aquarium. Image: Barry Brown.

Specimens of Palatogobius incendius, were collected by the Curasub using the two hydraulic arms, one equipped with a quinaldine-ejection system to anesthetize fishes, and the second equipped with a suction hose to collect immobilized individuals. Captured specimens were stored in a vented acrylic container for transport to the surface. The depth range from which these fishes were collected from is termed mesophotic, a term used to describe coral reefs growing from around 30 m down to around 150 m in both tropical and subtropical water.

Mesophotic, a modern scientific term derived from ancient Greek, Meso-, mesos (μεσος), middle; and phot- (φωτ-, φῶς), light; -ic, suffix meaning after the manner of, of the nature of, pertaining to, of.

Image: School of Palatogobius incendius at type locality, sta. CURASUB15-30, 152 m depth, Curacao.

Palatogobius incendius has been collected on deep reefs at depths of 88 to 200 metres from Curacao and Dominica and observed off Roatan, Honduras. The species occurs exclusively in hovering schools ranging in size from as small as 5 to 10 individuals (rare) up to 50 to 200 individuals. Schools are most frequently found at the top or bottom of vertical walls off Curaçao and Dominica, but off Roatan more than a dozen schools of P. incendius were observed collectively comprising as many as 1000 individuals over a long, gradually inclining stretch of sand and small rocks from around 150 to 170 m depth. Schools of P. incendius generally comprise individuals at multiple life stages, ranging from moderately developed larvae to adults. Off Dominica larger swarms of minuscule fish (about 5 mm TL) were also observed, possibly very recently recruited P. incendius larvae, given their size, abundance and depth range. Individuals in these swarms were too small to be captured, and were observed traveling only a few cm off the bottom rather than hovering in a cloud well above the substrate. These schools of post-larvae were 1–2 m wide and up to 5 m long, and moved steadily upslope at approximately 0.15 m/s, navigating laterally around obstacles in a fashion superficially similar to a wide chain of marching army ants.

The schooling behaviour of Palatogobius incendius may be leaving them open to the danger of lionfish predation, with their schools being easily  driven or corralled by the lionfish into corners of the reef where they are vulnerable to predation.

Curasub Image: Nuytco Research

In recent years the Smithsonian’s Deep Reef Observation Project (DROP) has contributed a significant body of information on the taxonomic makeup of deep-reef fish communities in the Caribbean. Through the use of Substation Curaçao’s ( manned submersible, the Curasub, DROP researchers have described many new species of deep-reef fishes, including several that may be susceptible to lionfish predation due to their body size, shape, and behavior.

That a previously unknown species was collected for the first-time whilst simultaneously being found to be susceptible to predation by invasive lionfish species raises the question of how many other new species are in danger before they’ve been discovered. The greater depths where these new species are being discovered is also the reason behind their discovery. Depths beyond the range of conventional scuba diving are being opened up to discovery through the new technology of submersibles such as the Curasub and through new advanced diving techniques, unfortunately these greater depths also represent an environment where the lionfish feels at home.

Image: NOAA

Lionfish are invasive species from the Indo-Pacific, likely introduced into Atlantic waters through the marine aquarium trade either as escapees or as released specimens. They are primarily crepuscular hunters, and hunt more actively on overcast days with less light and at greater depths. In the western Atlantic lionfish are tolerant of, and thrive at, the cooler temperatures of the deeper reefs, where they have become locally abundant. This is especially concerning for native deep-reef fishes that occur from 50–300 m, where reduced light conditions may make them more susceptible prey for actively hunting lionfishes.

The composition of these deep-reef fish communities differs from that of shallow reefs, and is made up primarily of a unique fauna that includes many undescribed species. This results in a community of poorly known or undescribed species that may be negatively affected by invasive lionfish. To date little is known about the lionfish predation on deep-reef fish assemblages.



Palatogobius incendius Tornabene, Robertson & Baldwin, 2017, the Ember Goby.

Palatogobius – Latin, Palat-, palate, roof of the mouth; -o-, connective vowel; –gobius, a fish of small value, the gudgeon (classical); a fish belonging to the family Gobiidae (modern). “The generic name Palatogobius is in reference to the teeth that may be present on the roof of the mouth.”

incendius – Latin, incendium, a burning, fire, conflagration. “The specific epithet incendius is an adjective formed from the Latin root incendium meaning ‘fire.’ The scientific and proposed common names refer to the bright orange, yellow and reddish-pink coloration on the body, head and fins.”

The Faceless Cusk

Aquatic scientific names in the news …

2nd June 2017

The Faceless Cusk

During the course of a new deep-sea research voyage called Sampling the Abyss a fish not seen since the Challenger expedition of 1872–76 has been collected. A species of Cusk-eel that has been described as faceless owing to its lack of visible eyes was collected on day 16 of the expedition. It was brought up from a 4000 metre deep trawl from a sampling site off Newcastle, New South Wales. Initially it was thought to be a new species but the latest from John Pogonoski of CSIRO Australian National Fish Collection seems to indicate it to be the same species as from the Challenger expedition.

Newly acquired specimen of Faceless Cusk. Image: John Pogonoski, CSIRO


Sampling the Abyss is a month-long voyage aboard the RV Investigator exploring the abyss off eastern Australia for the first time – an almost unexplored habitat 4000 metres below the surface. The abyss is the largest and deepest habitat on the planet, covering half the world’s oceans and one third of Australia’s territory, but it remains the most unexplored environment on Earth. Until recently only a handful of samples had been collected from Australia’s abyss. The expedition expects to find a wide range of animals, including new species, of fish, starfish, molluscs, crabs, sponges, marine worms and sea spiders. More information about the expedition can be found at Blogging the Abyss.

Typhlonus nasus. Image: Günther (1887) Rept Sci. Res. HMS Challenger 22(57): Pl. 25


The Challenger expedition of 1872-76 laid the foundations for the science of oceanography. At the behest of Charles Wyville Thomson the Royal Society obtained the use of HMS Challenger from the Royal Navy for an expedition to survey and explore the world’s oceans. The ship was modified for scientific work and equipped with laboratories for natural history and chemistry. The expedition, led by Captain George Nares under the scientific supervision of Thomson himself, travelled around 130,000 km over the course of the voyage.

The results were published as the Report Of The Scientific Results of the Exploring Voyage of H.M.S. Challenger during the years 1873-76. It cataloged over 4,000 previously unknown species and was described by John Murray (who supervised the publication) as “the greatest advance in the knowledge of our planet since the celebrated discoveries of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries”.


Typhlonus nasus  Günther, 1878, the Faceless Cusk

Typhlonus – Greek, Typhl-typhlos (τυφλος), blind; -onus, onos (ονος), hake (classical – Aristotle).

nasus – Latin, nose. Likely referring to the protuberant snout.