Renowned all over the world for their association with beautiful jewelry and their aphrodisiac connotations, oysters are synonymous with fine dining and expensive tastes. Now, a new species of pearl oyster has been described after samples were collected from the east coast of Phuket Island, Thailand.
The new species – Pinctada phuketensis sp. nov – is a member of the Pinctada genus, with both morphological and molecular data backing up this decision. The new species is closely related to the Sharks Bay pearl oyster (Pinctada albina) and Pinctada nigra.
The discovery is described in a paper published in the journal ZooKeys.
There are around 20 species in the genus Pinctada, distributed in tropical and sub-tropical regions across the Indo-Pacific and Western Atlantic. Many species are used in pearl aquaculture, and while the pearl farming industry is growing, understanding of the Pinctada species has remained somewhat limited.
In their new paper, marine biologists collected 15 pearl oyster species from around the Dok Mai Island off the western coast of Thailand while scuba diving. A small sample from each of the oysters was taken for DNA analysis and careful morphological examinations were made. The team describe the new species as smaller than related pearl oysters, lacking hinge teeth, and with brownish stripes on the external surface.
While pearl oysters get the most praise for creating the white pearls used in jewelry, it is actually a common misconception, as all mollusk species, including clams and even mussels, can make pearls.
One diner even found an 8.8-millimeter (0.3 inch) pearl said to be worth thousands in his clam appetizer, which is considerably more beneficial than the plastics and pathogens that are contained within some edible oysters.
The team suggest that further work on the Pinctada genus is needed to discover more about their evolution, diversity, and genetics.