Do you remember the rainbow fish with glittery scales who taught generations of children about sharing? Marcus Pfister's classic children's book The Rainbow Fish tells the story of how sharing the gifts we are given is a beautiful act. While they might be literary famous, rainbow fish do in fact exist. Scientists in the Maldives have formally described a new species of rainbow-colored fish—the rose-veiled fairy wrasse or Cirrhilabrus finifenmaa—and published their findings in ZooKeys.
According to their research, the brilliantly-toned fish live in the “twilight zone” of the ocean in the deep waters off the coast of the Maldives. Yellow, red, orange, and violet give these little fish a flame-like appearance. First documented in the 1990s, the fish were originally thought to be the adult version of the red velvet fairy wrasse (Cirrhilabrus rubrisquamis). However, comparing the two species in recent research has shown the rose-veiled fairy wrasse to be its own species. It has a different appearance and different DNA. “What we previously thought was one widespread species of fish, is actually two different species, each with a potentially much more restricted distribution,” says lead author and University of Sydney doctoral student Yi-Kai Tea in a statement. “This exemplifies why describing new species, and taxonomy in general, is important for conservation and biodiversity management.”
The rose-veiled fairy wrasse is also the first fish to be formally described by a Maldivian scientist. The description process establishes a new species. “It has always been foreign scientists who have described species found in the Maldives without much involvement from local scientists, even those that are endemic to the Maldives,” says co-author and Maldives Marine Research Institute biologist Ahmed Najeeb. “This time it is different and getting to be part of something for the first time has been really exciting, especially having the opportunity to work alongside top ichthyologists on such an elegant and beautiful species.”
The new species’ scientific name also derives from the local Dhivehi language. Finifenmaa means “rose”—perfect for a rosy fish from near an island whose national flower is the rose. This research is part of a collaboration with the California Academy of Sciences and thier Hope for Reefs Initiative.