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New species of spiny eel identified

By Shwe Yinn Mar Oo
July 19 - 25, 2010
The golden spiny eel (Macrognathus aureus)
The golden spiny eel (Macrognathus aureus). Pic: Supplied, Hein Aquarium

A NEW species of spiny eel discovered at Indawgyi Lake in Kachin State has been formally identified, a local ornamental fish exporter involved in its discovery and naming said last week.

The golden spiny eel (Macrognathus aureus) was first found by researchers in 1998 in a market on the lake but its discovery was not confirmed until 2009, U Tin Win, the managing director of Hein Aquarium in Yangon’s North Dagon township, said.

“The new species of spiny eel was discovered by Ralf Britz [of London’s Natural History Museum] and Sven Kullander in Lonton village market in Kachin State in 1998. But they only had one specimen and it was not presentable for research,” U Tin Win said.

“In October 2009 I gave them two specimens of the golden spiny eel, which were collected by Hein Aquarium staff in the small hill streams in Mogaung township in Kachin State and sent to me as live specimens,” he said.

“As soon as I saw that spiny eel I knew it would be a new one because of its gold colouration and that’s where the common name, golden spiny eel, comes from.”

A scientific paper published in the June 2010 issue of Zootaxa, a zoological taxonomy journal, identified the new species with the scientific name Macrognathus aureus.

Dr Britz, who is officially credited with discovering the species, told The Myanmar Times by email that the golden spiny eel’s “beautiful golden colour” meant it could become a popular export item, provided it could be collected and exported easily.

He said an adult golden spiny eel is about 20.3 to 22.9 centimetres (8 to 9 inches) in length and almost the whole body is gold coloured. The golden spiny eel, which is actually a freshwater fish, also has a series of large, white-rimmed, dark-brown to black blotches along its dorsal fin and even larger blotches along the lateral line.

Dr Britz said the golden spiny eel immediately stood out from the other identified spiny eels of the Macro-gnathus genus of freshwater fish that live in Myanmar.

“When I did my revision of Myanmar Macrognathus, there was one large specimen that differed from all the rest. It was one that Sven Kullander and I had collected back in 1998 at the market in Lonton village at Indawgyi Lake. As I had only a single specimen, I did not want to describe a new species just based on that,” Dr Britz said.

“Then luckily during my last visit to the country in 2009, U Tin Win presented me with another two specimens, one of which was still alive, so that I could take a photo of its live colouration. I was very surprised by the beautiful golden colour of this fish. When I was back home and had established through comparisons that it was a new species and that it was the same fish as the one we had collected from the market in 1998, I decided to name it after its colour, hence the name Macrognathus aureus,” said Dr Britz. Aureus was the name of a gold coin used in ancient Rome, and its name comes from the Latin word aurei, which means golden.

The golden spiny eel is the fourth species of spiny eel identified in 2010 and the fifth species of the Macrognathus genus found in Myanmar.

With 12 spiny eel species identified here so far, Myanmar has the highest number of any Asian country, Dr Britz said.