A team of scientists has discovered a new freshwater fish species and genus, Waikhomia Hira, from rivers in regions along the Western Ghats in north Karnataka.
The genus, Waikhomia, has been named for Vishwanath Waikhom, a taxonomist from Manipur University who has discovered more than 100 freshwater fishes in India.
The research was jointly conducted by scientists at Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (KUFOS), Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research (IISER) and the Modern College of Arts, Science and Commerce in Pune.
Waikhomia Hira is more commonly found in northern upstreams of the Western Ghats.
Since its discovery first in 1953 in Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra, the popularly known Maharaja Barbs was represented by a single species, Puntius sahyadriensis. Thereafter, 44 species of freshwater fish of Puntius genus were traced in the wetlands and rivers of South and Southeast Asia.
Specimens of Wiakhomia were collected mainly from the upper catchment of westward-flowing Kali River, located in the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka.
The team studied the anatomy and genetics of the specimen using an integrative approach and realised that it was no longer matching the Puntius genus.
“Waikhomia Hira has distinctive diamond shaped spots and blotches on its body. Its size ranges between 29 mm and 59 mm,” said Rajeev Raghavan, from the School of Ocean Science and Technology from KUFOS.
The Western Ghats offers a unique habitat for freshwater fish and conservation of forests will alone help such species survive, said Neelesh Dahanukar, a team member and scientist at IISER, Pune.
“Freshwater fish thrive in habitats that offer clear water and dense forest surroundings. Any degradation to this habitat, due to human activity or otherwise, will endanger their existence,” Dahanukar said.
Though Waikhomia Hira is currently known to exist in the northern Western Ghats, Raghavan said that this fish could also be living in adjacent river habitats in the locality.
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