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A&M researcher’s description of species makes WoRMS’ top-10 list

Image: Barry Hutchins and Kevin Conway, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

A tiny bright green species of clingfish described in 2019 by Kevin Conway, Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist and associate professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has been named one of the 10 remarkable marine species described in 2019.

Each year the World Registry of Marine Organisms, or WoRMS, selects 10 remarkable species of marine organisms described by taxonomists in the previous year.

The brightly colored green rat clingfish lives in algae in shallow marine water along the coast of southern Australia. This species was discovered in the 1980s by an Australian ichthyologist, Barry Hutchins, for whom Conway and his team derived the clingfish’s scientific name Barryichthys algicola.

Clingfish are found all over the world and known in particular for the suction disk on the underside of the body that allows the fish to cling to nearly any surface.

Clingfish are some of the most abundant fish in intertidal areas but are often overlooked because of their expertise in camouflage. The green rat clingfish, for example, would be almost invisible if placed on a background of green algae, and it also exhibits cryptic behaviors, explained Conway.

Most are small and, of course, eaten by other fish, but they are also important micro-predators, feeding on smaller invertebrates including crustaceans, mollusks and echinoderms. Some clingfish also act as cleaners and remove ectoparasites from other fish, he said.

“Specimens of the green rat clingfish sat on the shelves of museum collections waiting for someone to work on them,” Conway said of the clingfish discovered by Hutchins. “We got the chance to do this in 2017 and 2018 with financial support from the Australian Museum in Sydney and the Western Australian Museum in Perth.” 

With hundreds of new species of marine fish being described every year, Conway and his team are honored that the green rat clingfish made the WoRMS top 10 list, he said.

“Like most taxonomists, most of the species I describe usually do not get into the public spotlight and remain relatively unknown outside of scientific circles,” he said. “It is just a nice feeling to know others also found one of the species I described interesting enough to make it into the top 10 list.”

Conway made this description along with Adam Summers, associate director of the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories and Glenn Moore, curator of fishes at the Western Australia Museum.