Many of you know I am something of a tropical fish enthusiast. And indeed, I doubt any of you can blame me considering the wondrous beauty and grandeur many of these species display. Recently a new species of Anthias was discovered off the coast of Brazil. I thought I would use the newly found species to illustrate how the scientific description process works and why species are different than kinds.
Anthias are beautiful schooling species of fish that are very popular in the pet trade because of their gorgeous, sometimes outlandish color patterns. Some species occur in the wild in massive, free swimming shoals, segregated into smaller units called harems controlled by dominant males. Some other species live in smaller harems, apart from other groups. They are hermaphrodites, able to change from female to male if the dominant male dies. Males will defend their territory against Most anthias species feed on zooplankton, which are microscopic or near-microscopic animals that live and feed in the water column.
The new species was named Tosanoides aphrodite. It is the first species from the Tosanoides genus found in Brazilian waters. It is a small fish, barely making three and a half inches in the largest, dominant males. It was described by a team of scientists supported by the California Academy of Sciences.
When it comes to describing a new species of organism, no detail is too small to take into account. The placement of a single ray in a fin, for example, might be enough to qualify it as a new species depending on who is writing the article. It used to be that morphological features, ability to interbreed, and color patterns were the entirety of what scientists used to determine if a creature was a new species. However, with the newfound ability to sequence the DNA of organisms, it is also possible to take into account genetic data as well.
Describing Tosanoides aphrodite involved making use of all these tools. There were three other species of Tosanoides before this recently discovered one, including one discovered in Hawaii and named for former President Obama. The genus is a deepwater genus endowed with incredibly flash colors as you have seen above. The color pattern of Tosanoides aphrodite was significantly different than other members of the genus, leading the researchers to proceed on and examine its other characteristics.
Upon collecting the Tosanoides aphrodite specimens, the researcher’s hard work began. They counted how many rows of scales were above and below the lateral line of the fish using a microscope. They then counted the number of rays in each of the fins using the microscope and x-ray technology. They then dissected the fish and counted the number of vertebrae. These examinations revealed a number of differences from established Tosanoides species. The new species exhibited a smaller snout and a larger eye socket than the most recently discovered species named for former President Obama, though it was the most similar to this species. It exhibited ten separate differences in fin structure and appearance from the other three members of the genus as well.
However, physical morphology alone was not the basis for the new species. The researchers used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and compared the Tosanoides aphrodite mtDNA sequence with the mtDNA sequences of the other members of the genus. Specifically, the study focused on the Cytochrome C component of mtDNA. Tosanoides aphrodite was just over 12% different from the aforementioned Tosanoides obama and ranged from 14-20% different from the remaining members of the genus. The researchers had met all the criteria to describe and publish a new species.
Now what does all that mean in terms of origins? Step back and consider what these researchers discovered. This species is a member of an already established genus. Is it a new kind in the Biblical sense? No, it is a member of family Anthiadinae. Are all members of family Anthiadinae the same kind? Without a detailed comparison of their genomes and interbreeding data its hard to say. However, I think it is fair to say that it is the same Biblical kind as the rest of the genus Tosanoides. That said, I suspect, were researchers to attempt it, all members of that genus would freely interbreed. Whether this grouping goes any higher it is difficult to say without digging much more deeply into Biblical kinds than this article has space for. Be on the lookout for much more detailed coverage of Biblical kinds in the near future.