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Scientists describe the world's smallest, lightest fish

Scientists in San Diego have described the earth's smallest, lightest animal with a backbone. H.J. Walker of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, and William Watson of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, in La Jolla have identified the miniscule "stout infantfish," a new species no longer than the width of a pencil.

Found exclusively in the vicinity of Australia's Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea, only six specimens are known to exist.

The largest specimen--and only female--measures approximately a third of an inch (8.4 millimeters) while the males measure just over a quarter of an inch (7 millimeters). Roughly 500,000 of these fish weighed together would barely tip the scales at one pound. A full scientific description of the animal was published in the latest issue of Records of the Australian Museum.

The first stout infantfish was captured in 1979 by the Australian Museum's Jeff Leis during fieldwork in the Lizard Island / Carter Reef area of the Great Barrier Reef. After it was left unstudied for years, Watson and Walker recently analyzed the animal in detail for the first time. They spent roughly six months studying the creature but instantly recognized it as something special.

"It was a really good day when I first looked under the microscope and recognized something that I knew was a new species. I said to myself, 'Wow, this is really great,'" said Walker, a senior museum scientist in the Scripps Marine Vertebrates Collection. "But at the time I didn't realize that I was looking at the world's smallest vertebrate."

The stout infantfish supplants the dwarf goby as the new record holder of the world's smallest vertebrate (animal with a backbone). The scientists developed the animal's name (scientific name Schindleria brevipinguis) to characterize its thick, or "stout," structure as compared with other infantfishes. "Infant" describes the
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Contact: Mario Aguilera or Cindy Clark
scrippsnews@ucsd.edu
858-534-3624
University of California - San Diego
20-Jul-2004


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