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Seeing a ghost for the first time

A gradual increase in the detection of these stunning little fish called cling gobies has been occurring in the Australian Wet Tropics over the past decade as a function of TropWATER fish ecologists snooping around in rainforest streams. Ebb and James Donaldson have encountered a ninth species in Australia based on glimpses of this fish grazing on rocks immediately beneath a waterfall just south of Cairns. On one trip they even roped in fish guru, Dr Gerry Allen, to help out with things since he has encountered cling gobies more widely in streams of the Pacific region. Ebb commented that ‘it was a pretty exciting day when observing two giant cling gobies at a whopping 18 cm and 20 cm in length. Most adult cling gobies are more typically around the three to ten centimetre mark.’

A second trip involved using a network of ten video cameras to record the behaviour of this secretive species. The species has a red eye, and the ladies are little and brown whereas, the male is brown with black and gold patterns on the upper body. However, in the lead up to courtship the bucks display an overall luminescent white sheen with two thick black stripes resembling chop sticks on each pectoral fin, and some aqua-blue touches at the base of the tail. This male masquerade stands-out vividly in the darkened rainforest streams, hence it appears like a ghost. The identification was confirmed by the world expert on stream cling gobies, Professor Philippe Keith from the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, in Paris. Professor Keith commented that ‘this species is found elsewhere on tropical Pacific Islands, but is usually much smaller in body size than what has been seen in the case of the range extension to the Cairns region’.

For further information the relevant short paper has just been published in the French ichthyology journal, Cybium:

Ebner, B. C., Donaldson, J. D., Allen, G., and Keith, P. (2017). Testing an underwater video network and first record of Sicyopterus cynocephalus in Australia. Cybium 41, 117–125

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