The Smithsonian Deep Reef Observation Project (DROP) captures a new species of deep-reef fish (Varicus lacerta), its common name the Godzilla goby, using the Curasub submersible. The lead scientist on the sub was Carole Baldwin and the pilot was Bruce Brandt. The species is in the process of being described by Luke Tornabene, Carole Baldwin, and Ross Robertson.
It’s not everyday that we get to witness the actual collection of a newly discovered species, but, thanks to the efforts of the Curasub and a team of Smithsonian researchers, we can join along as the brand new Godzilla Goby was first happened upon. With some help from a squirt of anesthetic and a suction tube, this pint-sized fish was ever-so-carefully extracted from the inside of a bright yellow, vase-shaped sponge at the bone-crushing depth of 130 meters!
Varicus lacerta is just the latest in a long list of newly discovered gobies from the mesophotic reefs of the Caribbean. It’s attractive patterning of yellow and orange, along with its large eyes, ridged head and ferocious row of sharp teeth, gives this species a somewhat lizard-like appearance and led to its unusual moniker and scientific name. The epithet lacerta derives from the Latin for “lizard”, while the common name of Godzilla Goby is obvious enough. Granted, this barely inch-long fish might not strike quite the same imposing figure as its namesake radioactive counterpart, but it is eminently more suitable for a home aquarium. Of course, given how hard this fish is to collect, don’t expect to see it at your local fish store anytime soon.
The Smithsonian lead Deep Reef Observation Project took a research cruise aboard the R/V Chapman to the west coast of Curacao in October 2015. The manned submersible Curasub was used to catch new and rare species from deep reefs down to 1000 feet. This particular fish specimen represents a new species of goby (family Gobiidae).
Varicus belongs to what has until recently been a rather poorly known lineage of gobies endemic to the Western Atlantic and Eastern Pacific Ocean—the Nes subgroup of the Tribe Gobiosomatini. Few of these species are ever collected for aquarists, mostly on account of their frequently drab appearance and their usually cryptic behavior in the wild. With this newest addition, Varicus now has eight species to its name, though one of these still awaits a formal description. Most hail from deeper waters and all sport attractive stripes and spots; the Twilight Goby V. adamsi is a particularly attractive species known from reefs as deep as 400 meters and, with its white and orange striped patterning, is a dead ringer for the Indo-Pacific Amblyeleotris randalli. The half-dozen species in the sister genus Psilotris are morphologically quite similar, but tend to be found in shallower water.
Nes longus, the only member of its genus, is one of the more noteworthy relatives of the Godzilla Goby, as it is one of the few gobies in the Atlantic known to form a partnership with a pistol shrimp. This fish is a rarity in aquariums and tends to go unappreciated relative to the gaudy shrimpgobies of the Indo-Pacific, but it does offer something unique to the more discerning fish connoisseur. And even more distantly related is the hugely diverse genus Elacatinus, which includes the familiar Neon Goby (AKA Cleaner Goby) E. oceanops, as well as many other similar species that, like Varicus, often reside within sponges.
The lionfish, Pterois volitans, is an invasive species in the Caribbean that preys on native coral reef fishes. While many of the Lionfish’s victims are juvenile reef fishes, adults of small species like gobies are frequently consumed as well. Populations of native reef fishes are now in rapid decline in places where lionfish are abundant.
Hopefully with the increased attention this group of gobies is now receiving, we might at last begin to see more of these attractive nanofishes trickle into the aquarium trade. I, for one, am eager to start a Gobiosomatini-themed biotope reef tank, replete with Nes shrimpgobies, Elacatinus cleanergobies and the enigmatic and beautiful Godzilla Goby.
- Tornabene L, Robertson DR, Baldwin CC (2016) Varicus lacerta, a new species of goby (Teleostei, Gobiidae, Gobiosomatini, Nes subgroup) from a mesophotic reef in the southern Caribbean. ZooKeys 596: 143-156.doi: 10.3897/zookeys.596.8217