The Irish singer Enya has had the rare honor of having a new living species named after her. And yes, it does live in the Orinoco river.
To non-South Americans, the Orinoco may only be familiar because of the laziest member of the Wombles and Enya's massive breakout hit “Orinoco Flow”. It is, however, one of the truly great rivers of the world – fourth largest by volume of discharge – and host to stunning biological richness. Yet it was only in 1951 that the source of the 2,100-kilometer-long (1,300 miles) river was identified. Consequently, there is still plenty for us to learn about this might body of water and its ecosystem.
A team at Oregon State University are working to address this, comparing fish species captured in the Orinoco with those from Guyana's Essequibo River and tributaries of the Amazon. Inevitably, one of the graduate students, Ben Frable, had Orinoco Flow on high rotation in the lab while they were working.
“I heard the song so often in the lab it got stuck in my head,” co-author Marcus Chatfield said in a statement. “Then I just started listening to it on purpose when I was taking measurements of the specimens. When the time came around for choosing names, it just felt right to name this new beautiful fish from the Orinoco after the artist who wrote that beautiful song.”
The fish in question is 20-25 centimeters (8-10 inches) long, and has been reported in Neotropical Ichthyology under the name Leporinus enyae.
The team discovered a second member of the highly diverse Leporinus genus in the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon. They named it Leporinus villasboasorum, after the brothers Cláudio and Leonardo Villas-Bôas, who worked to protect the Xingu catchment and the rights of Indigenous people who lived there.
Both species are distinguished from other Leporinus fishes by bottom teeth that are particularly long, even in a genus named for its rabbit-like dentition. These are thought to be used to forage for plants and invertebrates on the river bottom. The newly discovered pair needed to be differentiated from the superficially similar species Leporinus desmotes and Leporinus jatuncochi, which live in other tropical South American rivers, and the paper attempts to map the complex family relationships.
The researchers fear the newly built Belo Monte Dam, the fourth largest in the world, will threaten L. villasboasorum, since much of the fish's habitat has been turned from a free-flowing river into a giant reservoir.
No word has been received on what the reclusive singer thinks of the new fish's moniker.