Clever camouflage helps bearded fish avoid detection

19 February 2010

Bearded velvetfish Bearded velvetfish

Fish curators Sue Morrison from the Western Australian Museum and Jeff Johnson from the Queensland Museum have identified a new species of fish as a result of the recent field work they undertook in the far north Kimberley.

The team of scientists, led by the WA Museum and partnered by Woodside, travelled to Adele Island and Montgomery Reef to collect and document the marine flora and fauna of the area.

Over both locations they found a total of nine specimens of the previously unidentified Bearded Velvetfish.

This species had not been found before due to the remoteness of the region and the fish’s ability to camouflage itself within its surroundings.

Using its sinuous body and fins the Bearded Velvetfish camouflages itself in shallow rock pools amongst the weedy surrounds of the brown macroalgae, Padina species.

Jeff Johnson is currently describing and naming the new species.

“At this stage the Bearded Velvetfish is only known from the Kimberley area of Western Australia.

Bearded velvetfish Bearded velvetfish

“Velvetfishes are generally quite cryptic and their biology poorly known so it is very exciting to find nine specimens in a relatively small area,” Mr Johnson said.

“This discovery has only been made possible through Woodside’s ongoing support of the WA Museum,” Sue Morrison said.

It is named after its bearded chin and velvety feel due to a soft, thick skin covering modified spiny scales on its body.

The new species is also distinguished by its fin shape and number of fin spines. It is sluggish in its movements, ambushing small crustaceans and fishes that venture near the aquatic plants in which it lives.

The species is only the second of its genus. Its closest relative Pseudopataceus taenianotus was recently described in 2004 by Mr Johnson and found only in a small area off the Queensland coastline.

Sue Morrison said the new species was an exciting find and more research was required to fully understand the Bearded Velvetfish’s distribution.

“Woodside support is funding our next expedition to the Kimberley coast in late 2010 we’ll be collecting and documenting the marine life on Cassini Island and Long Reef and hoping to find further evidence of the Beaded Velvetfish.

“The remoteness of the Kimberley means researchers do not get to this region on a regular basis, so there are potentially many species there that have not been found or identified,” Ms Morrison said.

Through the three-year $700,000 Woodside Kimberley Collection project museum scientists hope to gather substantially more information on the marine biodiversity of this remote coastline.

Media contacts:

Renae Woodhams 
Manager, Media and Communications  
Western Australian Museum 
Tel: 9212 3860   Mob: 0439 948 779

Louise Sturgess
Manager, Corporate Communications & Marketing
Queensland Museum
Tel:  07 3842 9388  Mob: 0417 741 710


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