It seems the people of Australia have been happily munching away on a species of fish unknown to science. The newly described species is a type of grouper and has been christened Epinephelus fuscomarginatus.
Back in 2000, Queensland Museum fish expert Jeff Johnson was shown photographs of a mystery grouper by a fisherman. Despite seeing more images over the years, he failed to get hold of any physical specimens, as they kept being sold for food. However, in 2017, Johnson came across five of the creatures waiting to be sold at a fish market in Brisbane. He bought the fish and set to work.
“As soon as I saw them, I thought they were probably a new species, so I purchased all five and began the hard work of formally proving they were a new species,” Johnson said in a statement.
“Queensland Museum geneticist Dr Jessica Worthington Wilmer ran some tests in Queensland Museum’s molecular lab and after comparing them with other specimens in various museum collections, had enough evidence to prove it was a new species.
“I’ve been told they are quite tasty,” he added.
The species isn’t that distinctive-looking, which probably explains why it slipped through the net for so many years. It looks pretty unremarkable, sharing similarities with other groupers of the genus Epinephelus. What made it stand out to Johnson, however, was a lack of markings on its body and dark edges around some of its fins – fuscomarginatus means “dark-edged” in Latin.
The new grouper is a fairly big fish, measuring 70 centimeters (27 inches) in length, and lives at depths of about 220-230 meters (720-755 feet) off the central section of the Great Barrier Reef. The researchers concluded it was a new species by analyzing its DNA and comparing it to the DNA of other similar species of fish. The grouper is the 92nd member of the genus Epinephelus and is described in the journal Zootaxa.
Strangely, this isn’t the first time a new species has been identified from a creature destined to be someone’s dinner. Back in 2011, a new species of 90-centimeter (3-foot) shark was spotted at a fish market in Taiwan, while an elusive shark not seen for decades was rediscovered at a Mumbai fish market just last year. In 2010, a new species of monkey, which apparently sneezes when it rains, was discovered by scientists in Myanmar, but not long before their specimen was eaten by the locals who caught it.
It seems our love of all things tasty can lead to exciting new discoveries. Unless the specimens get eaten first, that is.