A newly discovered fish species could shed light on evolution

18 May 2024

A pinkish, eyeless creature has been discovered in an underwater cave in China that scientists claim could provide answers to evolutionary mysteries.

Researchers have announced a new species of blind cavefish that lives deep in the underground rapids of the Wujiang River in China, with eyes that look like black dots under its skin.

The team noted that the creature could provide “exceptional answers for evolutionary studies” and named the cavefish the Guiyang Whiskered Golden Striped (technically Sinocyclocheilus Guiyang).

As many as 66 species of Sinocyclocheilus fish have been found living in the Pearl River Basin in southern Guizhou, but only six species have been found in Guizhou's Yangtze River Basin and the local Wujiang River tributary.

The fish research team thinks there are many more undiscovered fish to be found in Wujiang's vast underwater caves.

The geology of the Wujiang River consists mainly of limestone and other carbonate rocks, known as “karst”, which dissolve easily in water, forming drainages and sinkholes in this region of south-central China.

The creature grows up to about 12 cm in length. Long whiskers are common in Sinocyclocheilus species because long whiskers better detect water flow, aiding foraging in underground water systems with persistent darkness and food scarcity, the researchers wrote.

At the moment, it remains a mystery why this Guiyang cavefish did not evolve with these longer, more useful whiskers, or why it lacks the “horn-like” structure on its head seen on other cavefish cousins.

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