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Scientists investigate mystery of ‘alien’ catfish

Alien catfish has scientists stumped.
Alien catfish has scientists stumped.
Mark L Riccio/Cornell University BRC CT Imaging facility/MSN

Scientists are investigating an “alien” catfish that is surrounded in mystery. The “alien” catfish got its name from researchers who said the small, toothy fish looked like the creature from the movie Alien.

The mysterious catfish, Kryptoglanis shajii is a small subterranean catfish. It has a bulging lower jaw similar to a bulldog’s and a strange, bony face. The fish’s appearance has made it difficult for scientists to classify the species.

The fish is so rare that it is only found in one area of the world. It’s found in the Western Ghats mountain range in Kerala, India making it one fish that humans rarely if ever see. The fish lives underground however it does emerge once in a while in the area springs, wells and flooded rice paddies.

The weird fish is so rarely seen that it wasn’t even categorized as a new species by scientists until 2011. It was then that Emeritus curator of ichthyology at the Academy of natural Sciences of Drexel University John Lundberg began studying the fish.

Lundberg said, “The more we looked at the skeleton, the stranger it got. The characteristics of this animal are just so different that we have a hard time fitting it into the family tree of catfishes.”

Lundberg said that the crazy looking fish actually looks similar to other catfish on the outside but it’s the inside bone structure that makes it different. The fish is missing several bony elements though that isn’t all that uncommon. What was uncommon was the unique shapes of some of the bones of the fish.

According to Lundberg’s statement, the catfish’s face is compressed with a jutting lower jaw. The fish also has four rows of conical, sharp-tipped teeth. Lundberg speculated that the unique bone structures serve some functional purpose.

Lundberg said, “In dogs, that was the result of selective breeding. In Kryptoglanis, we don’t know yet what in their natural evolution would have led to this modified shape.” Find out more about this incredibly strange fish in a new study by Lundberg published in the 2014 issue of the “Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.”

©Kelly Cozzone, All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without prior permissions from the author. The first two sentences may be reposted with a link back to the original article.

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