The Vaquita

Aquatic scientific names in the news …

17th May 2017

The Vaquita

The rarest marine mammal in the world, Phocoena sinus, the Vaquita is in grave danger of extinction as a result of illegal fishing.

Vaquita. Image: Paula Olson (NOAA)

The Vaquita, a 1.4 metre long porpoise, is in danger as a side effect of the illegal trade in Totoabo swim bladders driven by the Chinese black market. The swim bladders are considered a delicacy in Chinese cuisine and are believed by many Chinese to be a treatment for fertility, circulatory, and skin problems. Although those from domestic waters are preferred these are now exceedingly rare having been intensively fished for decades. This has driven a highly lucrative illegal trade in Vaquita fishing to the Gulf of Mexico with the bladders commanding an average price of $20,000 per kilogram making them a more valuable commodity than cocaine or elephant ivory.

The Totoabo, Totoaba macdonaldi, is the largest member of the drum family Sciaenidae, it grows up to two metres in length and is itself a rare endangered species; formerly an abundant species it has been subject to intensive fishing, subsequently commercial fishery was banned in 1975.

Totoaba. Image: FOA

It is believed that there may be as few as 30 Vaquita left in the northern Gulf of Mexico and that they could become extinct within months. The population has been largely eradicated as by-catch of the illegal Totoaba fishing.

The fish, along with the porpoises, are captured in gill-nets, currently banned by the Mexican government. This ban expires at the end of May and on Tuesday the conservation group WWF called on Mexico to introduce and enforce a permanent ban on all gill-nets saying, “The last hope for the species is the Mexican government immediately putting in place and properly enforcing a permanent ban.”

With extinction looming an emergency plan is being put in place to try to round up a few individuals and place them in a sanctuary, the success of the plan is uncertain as the capture and relocation of Vaquita has not been previously attempted.

The common name vaquita comes from Spanish meaning little cow.


Phocoena sinus Norris & McFarland, 1958, the Vaquita.

Phocoena – Greek, phokaina (φωκαινα), porpoise.

sinus – Latin, a bay, bight, gulf. “The specific name sinus was suggested to Norris and McFarland by Carl L. Hubbs and is Latin, meaning bay, referring to the occurrence of the species in the Gulf of California.”

Ref. RL Brownell Jr. 1983 Mammalian Species, No. 198, Phocoena sinus. The American Society of Mammalogists

Totoaba macdonaldi  (Gilbert, 1890), the Totoaba.

Totoaba – Eytmology unknown. Name likely of native American origin.

macdonaldi – Latinized surname. Likely honouring US fisheries scientist Marshall McDonald, (1835 – 1895), commissioner of the United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries (1888-1895).

Land crab migration

Aquatic scientific names in the news …

3rd May 2017

Land crab migration

It’s that time of the year when land crab migrations tend to be in the news. The most recent reports are on the migration of red, yellow, and black land crabs in Cuba marching from the inland forests down to the sea at the Bay of Pigs. The species of land crabs involved in the Cuban migration is Gecarcinus ruricola.

Image: P.Lindgren

After the first spring rains millions of female crabs migrate to the sea to spawn before returning to their burrows in the forests. In around 20 days the reverse will happen with millions of crab larvae emerging from the sea and migrating to the forests to spend the rest of their lives on land.

Image: Jonathan Wilkins

The land crab breeding migration is an annual event but varies in timing and intensity from year to year. It usually starts anytime from mid April to mid May and can last for up to 3 months, sometimes with a peak in mid May, sometimes with no obvious peak in activity. The migrations show some correlation with moon phase but are more strongly influenced by rainfall, though not in any consistent way.


Gecarcinus ruricola (Linnaeus, 1758) variously called the Purple Land Crab, Black Land Crab, or Red Land Crab

Gecarcinus – Greek, Ge-, gh (γη), earth, ground, land; carcinus, karkinos (καρκινος), crab.
ruricola – Latin, that lives in or belongs to the country, rural, rustic.

Note: the proliferation of common names owes to the existence of numerous colour morphs of this species including black, red, yellow, and green.

New Species of Clingfish

Aquatic scientific names in the news …

25th April 2017

The Duckbilled Clingfish

A new species of clingfish has been described in the journal Copeia.

Clingfishes are fishes belonging to the family Gobiesocidae. They possess modified pelvic fins that form a suction disc which enables them to cling to objects such as rocks, algae, and seagrass in areas of surge, and even to the bodies of larger fish.

Generally small fish (most species less than 7cm in length), they inhabit shallow water throughout tropical and temperate seas, and are particularly found in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans.

They typically have scaleless tapering bodies with a single dorsal fin and a flattened head, cryptic colouration, and a thick layer of protective mucus (toxic in some species). A number of species live in association with sea urchins or crinoids.

Image: Conway and Moore

This new species is remarkable for the extraordinary number of teeth it possesses. Whereas previously described clingfishes may exhibit something in the region of 100 to 200 teeth Nettorhamphos radula is estimated to have as many as 1800 to 2300 teeth. These are laid out in 15 regular rows along each side of the upper jaw (40 to 50 teeth per row) and 10 regular rows along each side of the lower jaw (30 to 40 teeth per row), as opposed to the more usual small patch of teeth tapering off to a single row in both upper and lower jaw seen in the majority of other species.

Close up of the teeth. Image: Conway and Moore

Two specimens of the new species were discovered in the collection of the Western Australian Museum. They were previously undescribed specimens collected at a depth of 30 – 40 metres in a 1977 trawl of algae and sponge covered reefs offshore of Fremantle, Western Australia.


Nettorhamphos radula Conway, Moore 2017, the Duckbilled Clingfish.

Nettorhamphos Greek, Nett-, nhtta (νηττα), duck; -o-, connective vowel;rhamphos, ramphos (ραμφος), bill, beak.

radula – Latin, a scraping-iron, scraper. “In reference to the many tiny conical teeth on the lingual surface of the premaxilla and dentary, which are reminiscent of the radula of a snail.”

Ref. Conway, Moore, and Summers 2017. A New Genus and Species of Clingfish (Teleostei: Gobiesocidae) from Western Australia

Pink Floyd pistol shrimp

Aquatic scientific names in the news …

13th April 2017

Pink Floyd pistol shrimp

A new species of pistol shrimp, a small, burrowing crustacean with one oversize claw has been described in the journal Zootaxa.

Pistol shrimps, also known as snapping shrimps, possess a disproportionately large claw, up to half the shrimp’s body in length depending on species. Unlike the usual pincer arrangement of most shrimp claws this features a pistol-like structure made of two parts, a joint allows the hammer part to be cocked backward into a right-angled position, when released it snaps into the other part of the claw creating a high-pressure cavitation bubble capable of stunning small fish and invertebrates, emitting a distinctive “cracking” sound at the same time. The sound produced can be as loud as 210 decibels and is one of the loudest natural sounds in the ocean competing with much larger animals such as whales.

Image: Arthur Anker

Pink Floyd happens to the favourite band of Sammy De Grave (of Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History), one of the researchers, who had always wanted to honour the band if he found a shrimp featuring pink colouration. The new species, around 5.5 millimetres in length, is smooth and semitransparent with a greenish tinge, but does possess a colourful large claw, “an intense, almost glowing pink-red,” hence the choice of name.

Dr De Grave has previously named a species of Eucarid shrimp after Rolling Stones singer, Mick Jagger – Elephantis jaggeri Klotz & De Grave, 2015.

The Oxford team had some Pink Floyd-themed artwork created to mark the discovery, featuring the shrimp in fictitious covers for the Pink Floyd albums Animals and The Wall. The Wall cover shows S. pinkfloydi superimposed over the Museum of Natural History in the style of the original artwork from the album, while the Animals cover shows the crustacean taking the place of a dirigible pink pig floating above London’s Battersea power station:

“Another shrimp in the wall”
Image copyright: Kate Pocklington


“The shrimp”
Image copyright: Chris Jarvis


Synalpheus pinkfloydi was discovered off the Pacific coast of Panama and is closely related to a western Atlantic sister species, S. antillensis, identified in 1909.


Synalpheus pinkfloydi Anker, Hultgren, De Grave, 2015, the Pink Floyd pistol shrimp.

Synalpheus – Greek, Syn-, sun (συν), together, along with: –alpheus, Alpheios (Αλφειος), whitish; a river in Greek mythology; a river-god.

pinkfloydi – Latinized name. “Named after the well-known British rock band Pink Floyd, inspired by the bright pink-red claw of the new species.”

Scientific Terms: Ologies and Ologists

Additions to the Lexicon …

New category added to the Lexicon – Scientific Terms: Ologies and Ologists


It is not just scientific names that are derived from Latin and Greek, in the aquatic sciences you’ll frequently encounter words ending in -ology (plural -ologies) and -ologist, these are words that describe a particular academic discipline or field of knowledge (an ology) or a student or expert in that particular discipline (an ologist).

If you have a question about the scientific name of any species of aquatic animal, please contact AQUATICAL•LATIN via and we’ll do our best answer your query.

First Ever Cave-fish Discovered in Europe

Aquatic scientific names in the news …

5 th April 2017

The discovery of the first cave-fishes to be found in Europe has been announced in a paper published in Current Biology.

Image: Jasminca Behrmann-Godel

The fish, known for the time being simply as “barbatula” or “cave loach”, was discovered in 2015 by Joachim Kreiselmaier, an amateur cave diver who was exploring a hard-to-reach water-filled cave system named the Danube-Aach System which empties into the Rhine in Germany.

Genetic analysis suggests the cave-fishes are closely related to Barbatula barbatula, the Stone loach, which is found in the nearby Danube and the Radolfzeller Aach, a north tributary of the Rhine. It’s unsure at the moment whether they can be classed as a distinct species, comparison of their appearance and genetics with surface fish caught upstream and downstream from the cave suggests them to be a distinct lineage, with their own adaptations.

Although there has been no reason not to expect to find cave-fish in Europe, up until now they have not been seen; there are some 200 species of cave-fish living in various parts of the world with most of the known species coming from North America and China.

Discovering cave-fish in Germany was surprising as cave systems further south in the Balkans feature around 400 different cave-dwelling species, making it more likely that if cave-fish were to be found it would be there.

According to Kreiselmaier, who has so far brought back five live specimens, the section inhabited by the fish is very difficult to reach, accessible only in dry spells when the underground river is sufficiently calm and clear to allow exploration.

The genetic studies along with geological knowledge of the region suggest the cave loach population is comparatively young, diverging from river fish as the glaciers receded 16,000 to 20,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age. In evolutionary terms, this is very recent putting the new discovery at the younger end of the scale of cave-fish worldwide.

Despite the short time span, the fish demonstrate typical adaptions to subterranean life such as pale colouration, smaller eyes, along with larger barbels and nostrils.

Having lost the colouration of the surface population, a mixture of brown, green and yellow, they are pale, with a rose or pinkish tint, as the blood vessels are visible through the skin. The eyes are still there (some species of cave-fish lose the eyes completely) but are around half the size of those of the river fishes. They don’t appear to react to light but it is unclear whether they are still functioning. The larger, longer barbels may be an adaption to tactile sensing in the dark.

These loaches are also believed to be the most northerly species of cave-fish ever discovered.

Barbatula barbatula Linnaeus, 1758 – Stone loach


Barbatula  Latin, diminutive form of barbatus, with a small beard; having a small or foppish beard; name is a reference to the three pairs of mouth barbels.

Name is an example of a tautonym, where both genus and species name are the same.


AQUATICAL•LATIN – the online etymology

AQUATICAL•LATIN – the online etymology, is a new addition to AQUATICAL•LATIN

It is an online alphabetical dictionary comprising genus and species names of aquatic, semi-aquatic, and aquatic associated species. This is a work in progress and it will take some time before it becomes anywhere near comprehensive, which, given the shear number of aquatic species (33,100 described species of fish alone) will be some way in the future.

Contact Us

If you’re curious about the scientific name of any particular species of aquatic animal please contact AQUATICAL•LATIN via and we’ll add it to the entomolgy..

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.