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New Fish Species is Electrifying

The Akawaio penak (top photo by Nathan Lujan; bottom photo courtesy Hernán López-Fernández)
A previously unknown species of electric fish has been discovered in the so-called “lost world” of northeastern South America.

Researchers at the University of Toronto Scarborough say the Akawio penak, a “thin eel-like” fish was discovered in shallow, murky water in the upper Mazaruni River area in northern Guyana.

“The fact that this area is so remote and has been isolated for such a long time means you are quite likely to find new species,” said Professor Nathan Lovejoy.

The upper Mazaruni River is a hotspot for biological diversity, yet remains largely unexplored because of its remote location. The area contains countless rivers on top of a series of uplands that have remained isolated for more than 30 million years.

Lovejoy’s team sequenced the fish’s DNA and discovered that is was so different from other similar fish that it represented a new genus, a taxonomic classification level above species.

Different views of the Akawaio penak. ( photo courtesy Hernán López-Fernández)
Different views of the Akawaio penak. ( photo courtesy Hernán López-Fernández)
While the Akawio penak does produce an electric field, it is not to stun prey but rather it is used as a navigational aid. The field also detects objects and is used to communicate with other fish, the researchers say. Given the cloudy waters in which the fish lives, the electric field is advantageous.

The species is named in honor of the Akawaio Amerindians that populate the upper Mazaruni.

“The Mazaruni contains many unique species that aren’t found anywhere else in the world. It’s an extremely important area in South America in terms of biodiversity,” said Lovejoy.

The results of the discovery are published in the recent edition of the journal Zoologica Scripta.