Red tailed black sharks rediscovered in the wild?

Renewed hope for Red tailed black sharks has been spurred by the discovery of a wild roaming specimen, writes Nathan Hill.

For decades, the decline of Epalzeorhynchos bicolor — the Red tailed black shark — was something that hobbyists were oblivious to. If you own these fish, it is certain that they will be farmed versions. Due to environmental degradation, damming and agriculture and residential expansion, their native range across Thailand has become increasingly devastated. By 1996, after some 50 years of searching, it was declared extinct in the wild, right through until 2011, when a tiny population was discovered in the Chao Praya Basin, on a strictly localised basis.

However, a paper printed recently in the Biodiversity Journal draws reference to a lone individual found in February 2013 by researcher Sitthi Kulabtong, who was investigating the Lower Maeklong Basin of Thailand. The fish was found in a rocky dam, among high flows and in water of 1m depth.

Most fascinating of all, the discovery has also provided our first concrete indication of sympatric species found alongside wild Red tails. These include knifefish of the genus Notopterus; Dermogenys halfbeaks; Barbonymus and Rasbora cyprinids; Homaloptera and Nemacheilus loaches; Mastacembelus eels and Parambassis glassfish.

Though only a sole specimen was found, it cannot be ascertained whether this was a relic from an old population, or whether it could be derived from reintroduction programs, or even accidental release by an aquarist.

What we do know is that the fish remains at a critically endangered level, and that there are certainly more gracing aquaria around the world than there are in native rivers. In that sense, aquarists everywhere provide a valuable gene-pool of the species.

And if that's not a fine reason to put together the best biotope you possible can, then I don't know what is.

For more information, see the paper: Rediscovery of the critically endangered cyprinid fish Epalzeorhynchos bicolor (Smith, 1931) from West Thailand (Cyprini- formes Cyprinidae).

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Four detained after fish poisoning

In a series of events that reads like a bad comedy, four men in the city of Yibin, in the Sichuan province of China, have been held after poisoning more than 50,000kg of fish, reports Nathan Hill.

Let that figure sink in. 50,000kg. That’s fifty tonnes of fish poisoned. Death on that level is somewhat more than an oversight.

Details are scant, but we know that the main protagonist was a man named Xie, who worked outside of the region but had returned home to his village of Gaoxian before a Spring festival.

For whatever reason (accurately translated accounts are not freely available), Xie and three friends purchased nine bottles of unspecified pesticides, and on February 20 they poured two of them into the uppermost reaches of a river in Chuandong village.

After waiting an hour with no response, the group suspected they’d been defrauded and sold fake pesticides, and dumped the remaining seven bottles into the same water. It transpired that they knew nothing about the amassed fish in ponds nestled in the lower reaches of the river.

Subsequently, the pesticides did what pesticides do and wiped out any poor beasts they came into contact with. Later, when the men found they’d inadvertently poisoned 50,000kg of fish they fled Sichuan. I should add that the figure involved could do with some citation, because my only sources are pretty inconsistent pages of Chinese news.

Xie apparently saw the error of his ways (or was perhaps mindful of repercussions, given China’s slightly shaky stance on capital punishment and human rights) and gave himself in along with one other man, while the other two men were promptly arrested when they returned to Yibin.

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PlanetXingu: You did it!

Julian Dignall of has some fabulous news on the PlanetXingu fundraising project, which was set up to help research into the Rio Xingu in Brazil.

About this time a year ago, I began thinking about doing something tangible to support researchers at the Rio Xingu in Brazil. Much has been written about the plight of the river's endemic and migratory species that are immediately imperiled by the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. However, it occurred to me at least, that there were many individual conservation projects going on and indeed fishkeepers and scientists were not joining forces in their respective efforts.

These thoughts condensed into a plan and by March, I had some inkling of what to do to both assist the researchers in the field and those keeping and breeding these animals in captivity. At the Catfish Study Group’s annual convention in Wigan, England, I announced the PlanetXingu initiative.

Soon after that, I launched social media and website based campaigns to raise awareness of the project, its timescales and goals, and how people could get involved. In short, the aim was to raise $11,000 to buy equipment for studying Brazil’s Rio Xingu before, during, and after the dam is built and operational. 

I set out to run this between April and December 2013. This took a bit of research in terms of reaching out more to the scientific community, researching an online crowd funding provider (crowd funding is essentially a collective effort of individuals, who network and pool their money, usually via the Internet, to support a common goal), and organising explanatory documentation, so the project was officially launched in early June.

I am delighted to say that within the timescale set, the PlanetXingu project has raised the targeted $11,000 and with just minutes to spare before the deadline passed. Everyone involved in the project is delighted and it just goes to show the extraordinarily direct and positive effect aquarists can have on research that is being carried out on the other side of the world. I genuinely did not know if this was possible, and I only hoped it would be possible… but now we know it is possible!

Nearly 200 contributors donated over the 32 weeks in 2013 and by midnight at the end of January 1, 2014, $11,000 was reached. A few more donations have since arrived, meaning the total amount raised was $11,452. The entire list of contributors is listed on the fundrazr website and

So many people got in touch and asked how they could help. One magazine ran a feature and provided magazine subscriptions for donations and Practical Fishkeeping magazine ran a large article on the project in lieu of a large donation.

The Facebook group Pleco Sales and Swaps UK collected donations from members at one of their real-world meetings at Rare Aquatics, Crewe. Soon after, the North Wales Aquarists Society asked me to explain the project to them at a society meeting and also collected money for the project from club members. Both organisations then were treated to video from researchers on the shore of the Rio Xingu, name checking and thanking them for their efforts. 

The organisers of the premier L-number catfish event globally, "L-Number Days" in Hanover, Germany also asked me to present a talk on the project, which resulted in a swathe of donations in euros, pounds, and even Brazilian reals.

There are a lot of donors to the project, many remained anonymous but I would like to mention those that have donated. The biggest single donation came from Irwin Phua in Singapore, who started the ball rolling with a whopping 10% of the total project goal.

I do not want to get into the sums donated, because it is relative to where people are in the world and their own circumstances, but that is worth mentioning! Nearly as large were the many donations made by delegates at the L-number event, including such luminaries as Hans-Georg Evers, Ingo Seidel, and many, many other European expert pleco breeders. Long-time PlanetCatfish contributor Andrew White, New Zealander Geoff Haglund, and Rob Graham (who created are also amongst the top contributors. SwissTropicals also gave generously in addition to their other support to the project. The Catfish Study Group (based in the UK) donated at a similar level. Also in the UK, several aquarists pulled together the Midlands Charity (fish) auction and PlanetXingu was a major beneficiary from the proceeds, placing that donation in the top 10.

Andreas Tanke donated perhaps in favour of the less pretty plecs of the Xingu alongside fellow German expert Elko Kinlechner. Allen Repashy (Repashy Superfoods), Rachael O’Leary (, Wet Spot Tropical Fish, Ross Evans, Regina Spotti, Rajanta Sinardja Rahardja at Bellenz Fish Farm, Mats Peterson, Ian Fuller at, Tom Halvorsen at The Pet Outlet, Rupert Collins, Dimitris Lysikatos, who organised the members of Greek fish website into a great amalgamated donation, and Rich Hevesi at just show how international the support was that this project gratefully enjoyed.

Of note in the fundraising activities were two donors. Jostein Kristoffersen donated $82 (among other donations from himself that made a big total) in honour of his beloved L082. I wish I had thought of asking people to donate a sum equal to the L-number of their favourite plec!

Also, Oliver Frank, OF Aquaristik, gave a donation every day there were other donations for quite some time and really helped keep the momentum up. Even researchers themselves and their family members donated, which was really supportive of the whole project. Let us not forget Texan Dave Rinaldo, who got us over the halfway point with his donation and was one of many donors, who found special ways or means to mark their contribution.

I cannot name check anonymous donors and there are many, many smaller but equally significant donations that without which we would not have got even close to this success. Thank you for every dollar. This has been a lot of work, a lot of fun, and, most of all, I am delighted that the global catfish community pulled together to support the research into the fishes of Brazil’s Rio Xingu.

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Video: Aquarium sets up nativity scene in shark tank

An aquarium in Spain has set up its Christmas nativity scene at the bottom of its shark exhibit.

As eight sharks swam around them, the divers at Madrid Zoo carefully placed the figures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in position, followed by the three kings.

The figures will remain submerged in the aquarium with six Grey sharks, a Bull shark and a Nurse shark, plus rays, barracuda, other fish and a large Loggerhead turtle until January 7.

The underwater scene has been part of the park's Christmas celebrations since its aquarium opened in 1995.

There are several other nativity scenes set up around the zoo this year — one of them even features pandas!


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New aquarium will delight Peppa Pig fans!

If you're three years old then Peppa Pig is probably the biggest thing in your world right now - and don't your parents know it! Peppa Pig clothes, DVDs, bedroom furnishings, bath toys, bike, ball and of course the entire range of Peppa Pig toys. You thought you had nearly everything Peppa...until now.

No, not only have Nickelodeon rebranded Nick Jr. 2 as the Nick Jr. Peppa channel for the whole of November, so you can watch every single episode back-to-back, there's one more thing that you can pester mummy and daddy for, and stare at: the Peppa Pig Aquarium.

As you all know, Peppa has a fish of her own called Goldie, who when she does not look happy and is not eating her food, Peppa and Mummy Pig take Goldie on a bus trip to visit Dr Hamster, the vet.

Well, the good news is, if mummy and daddy, (or Father Christmas,) give you a Peppa Pig Aquarium you can have a fish of your own, and call it Goldie, and better still the Peppa Pig Aquarium comes with a special piece of equipment called a filter, to keep the water clear and make Goldie's poo disappear.

There's a book full of information and fun activities that you can read and colour in, and there's also a special liquid which only mummy or daddy should use, called AquaSafe, for when you clean out Goldie, and some high quality food called TetraMin, to make Goldie grow, and stay happy and healthy.

And instead of jumping up and down in muddy puddles, Goldie likes nothing more than to dig in the 800g of gravel which is provided.

Best of all, the Peppa Pig tank comes with a Peppa Pig picture to stick on the back of the tank, and Peppa Pig stickers! Yey!  

And all your friends will want to look at your tank when they come over to play and then ask their mummies and daddies, (or Father Christmas,) to buy them one, which is a very special thing that grown ups call pester power.

If you are very lucky though and you get a Peppa Pig Aquarium, make sure you tell mummy and daddy, and the man in the fish shop, that Goldie's future home is only 18 l total volume, so Goldie must be a tiny type of fish, and one which doesn't get ill very easily.

Some people may even say your brand new aquarium is too small for any Goldies, but that's OK, as you can still cover it in stickers, or put some bath toys in it instead, and that way, no little Goldies will ever be harmed.

So all together, let's say a nice, big, 'thankyou' to Tetra, part of Spectrum Brands, for making it all possible.

1….2….3….. "thank-you-very-much!"

The grown ups at the fish shop would very much like you to enjoy keeping a Goldie all of your own, and hopefully start up a much larger aquarium with lots of fishes when you are a grown up.

This will keep them in a job, which means they will be able to buy more Peppa Pig things for their own little girls and boys, and hopefully they'll grow up to be grown up fishkeepers too.

And if you want your Peppa Pig Aquarium to be even brighter and more colourful, ask mummy and daddy (or Father Christmas,) to buy you an LED light, only a very safe one with a special number on it called IPX7, and maybe even an airpump and an airstone, to make lots of bubbles for you to watch, and to tickle Goldie's tummy.

Oink, oink!

The Peppa Pig aquarium costs about £35, which is the same as seven bottles of mummy's wine, or ten pints of daddy's beer, so tell daddy to stop buying so much beer and it will help his big tummy go down too. Then he will have enough money to buy you one...

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Video: Eels get their own 'show'

More than 630 garden eels at a Tokyo aquarium are to become famous later this week, as the aquarium in which they live is broadcast live on a Japanese video sharing site.

Garden eels live in large colonies in burrows on the sea floor, with only their heads poking out — so a large group ends up looking like plants growing in a garden, or areas of seagrass. They're mesmerising to watch.

The Sumida Aquarium in Tokyo Sky Tree Town has an aquarium specially dedicated to Spotted garden eels, where visitors can watch hundreds of little heads sticking out of the sand.

The 60-hour live webcast begins at 9:00am JST on November 1 on Niconico.

Until then, why not watch the video below?


The Sumida Aquarium opened in 2012 and also features two huge nature aquariums designed by aquascaping guru Takashi Amano, which we reported on last year.

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Inspirational aquariums: The reef of dreams

We came across this stunning reef tank while searching our photo libraries and declared that its stunning beauty deserves to be appreciated by everyone!

It includes some 70 large colonies of SPS corals, all lit by six metal halide lights, and inhabited by more than 25 fish, including an adult Emperor angelfish, Sohal tang and Achilles tang taking pride of place among them.

A tank such as this optimises what can be achieved with the knowledge, experience and finances that sadly may be beyond most of us — although we’re guessing it's pretty heavy on the maintenance.

Its owner must be bordering on the obsessive to be able keep it in such pristine condition while also providing for such demanding fish and corals, but that’s the magnetism of aquascaping for you!

Take a look at some of our other inspirational aquariums:
Discus the centrepiece
Modernist approach
Low maintenance island tank
Planted pico
Zebra plec breeding set-up

Calming moss tank

Rocky cichlid tank
Fun iwagumi
Classic nature aquarium
Medium sized reef tank
Posh nature aquarium

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Best in show: The highlights at AQUA 2013

The PFK team is freshly back from the AQUA trade show in Telford, Europe's biggest aquatic only show. Jeremy Gay looks at this year's trends and some of the new products that are likely to be turning up in aquatic shops soon...

AQUA 2013 was a huge success. Visitor numbers were up 9.3% on 2011, according to the official show blurb, but in terms of how important it was both for the UK's aquatic stores and their suppliers, and eventually us, the hobbyists, you can't put a figure on it. It's such a big deal.

So I'm still buzzing from it now — and why? Because everyone was buzzing about it both before and at the show and everyone fed off that excitement to make it a great event.

Millions of pounds of orders would have been processed over the two-day event at Telford's International Centre, and the products presented, and who bought them, will be shaping the UK aquatics hobby for many years to come.

So what did we see the most of? LED lighting of course, with every man and his dog getting involved in LED, at all specifications, qualities and price points. I must remember to take sunglasses to the next show I attend.

That was no surprise though, and all we can say is that the consumer will have a baffling choice of lighting in the future, the likes of which we've never seen before in the lighting sector.

It used to be just fluorescent or metal halide, with the odd tungsten or halogen lamp here and there. Those were the formats and you just chose your make, model and size from perhaps half a dozen popular brands, who could all use each other's fixtures and light starters, but not any more.

Now everyone has their own model, with its own design, build and power pack and none of them work with anyone's power supply. But with so many models all competing for the same customer, each LED has its own USP (unique selling point), which technical writer Nathan Hill and I will be wading through for the next few years, attempting to narrow down what we recommend to our readers to go out and buy, sorting the wheat from the chaff, and telling people which features are worth bothering with and which features aren't.

Minimalist, optiwhite, rimless aquariums were the next very visible trend. Most of us are aware of the originals — ADA tanks, and the now familiar others like the Signature range from TMC, but this October's AQUA had at least another six significant ranges, from large, well known suppliers, all ready to roll out into the UK.

Aqua One, Evolution Aqua, Arcadia and wholesaler ALF were just a few of the big names to launch beautiful optiwhite aquarium ranges and cabinets, which will be available to buy in the very near future.

And I promise not to do this ever again, but one of the real stand out products of the whole show isn't actually aimed at fishkeeping at all — the biOrb AIR.

Some may feel that PFK has had little to praise about some Reef One products in the past. As practical fishkeepers we tend to much prefer more traditional styles of aquarium and of the many biOrbs we've set up and run long-term over the years, we always thought the light was quite dim, the tanks scratched easily and the view of the fish distorted — that and the fact that newcomers want to put goldfish in them. But take a biOrb carcass, really re-engineer it into a completely new product — a planted terrarium — and the AIR is not only a thing of beauty and incredibly easy on the eye, it's well thought out, well-engineered and, well, a revolutionary product.

So by weird default both Nathan's and my own product of the show is actually not an aquarium! Sorry, fishkeepers - it just wowed us, and we know that so many of you will be wowed by them too.

PFK was a huge part of the show, giving seminars to traders on hobbyist trends, presenting a handful of our Readers' poll winners' awards in front of 660 top industry people at the dinner and basically stopping hundreds of times over the two-day event to chat to all the people who know us — so many people that we didn't even get to see every exhibitor — far from it in fact.

So what I need from all the exhibitors who went to AQUA is a list of their new product launches, the info and pictures, as I'm bogged down in hundreds of leads and if they don't contact me they may get left out of our print magazine coverage. If you want your product launches shown off in a future issue of Britain's biggest-selling fishkeeping magazine by miles, get in touch with me at my usual address.

Back to the products. Aqua One showed off its version of a huge Fluval Edge, which holds well over 100 l/22 gal of water at a guess, and was about 90cm/3' in length. JBL had both a smaller and an extra large external filter to add to its range and one product I spotted near the end of the show was an Eden external filter with an ordinary heater thermostat which sits inside it via the head unit. I'd like to try one of those out for sure.

Marine keepers would have loved AQUA as there were so many great looking, reef-ready aquarium packages, both sumped and without, some incredibly colourful LED lights which will literally transform even an ordinary looking reef display, and loads of new test kits, skimmers, foods, pumps and alternatives to living rock.

There weren't the freshwater shrimp-related products I thought there might be, like on the continent, but still several plant suppliers and some nice decor.

The highlight in pond was the largest fibreglass, pre-formed pond I've ever seen but better still, it's modular and extendable.

The winner for me was the vast range of aquariums though, from tiny, really smart and clever Hugo Kamishi glass tanks up to some much larger, really contemporary and genuinely new reef and freshwater tanks from many suppliers. I'd start saving now If I was you, fishkeepers, as if you're in the market to buy a new tank over the next few months you're going to be in for a real treat.

So much, much more to come in the print version of Practical Fishkeeping over the next few months, and expect to see some real beauties of pond and aquarium products rolling out into the UK's shops and websites very soon.

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New aquarium lets you customise your tank with LEGO!

Fans of LEGO bricks and fish can now combine the two together with a new aquarium called Fishspace.

Fishspace consists of a plastic tank to which you can attach LEGO bricks or Megabloks using the rim across the top, inside and underneath, to create your own scene for your fish.

The tank isn't very big, measuring 30 x 30 x 22.5cm/12 x 12 x 9". It holds two gallons and is recommended by the designers only for use with Fighters, with which they say Fishspace has been tested for months to ensure it's a healthy environment for the fish. It doesn't come with a filter of any sort.

Fishspace says it hopes to encourage children to adopt pet fish but have fun while doing it.

The project is currently looking for funding on the Kickstarter website. See more on the video below.


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Video: Octopus appears from nowhere - then disappears again!

This truly amazing footage of an octopus was taken by marine biologist Roger Hanlon - and he says it made him scream bloody murder at the time as it seemingly appeared out of thin air.

Hanlon and a team of researchers at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole are studying the camouflage ability of cephalopods - and it doesn't get much better than this example.

"The amazing thing is that these animals are colour blind yet they are capable of creating colour-match patterns," he told Science Friday.


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Video: Diver 'hypnotises' shark

A 'shark whisperer' in the Bahamas balances a shark on the palm of his hand, after sending it to sleep.

The diver uses what's known as tonic immobility (TI) to induce a state of temporary paralysis in a shark.

The usual method used to induce TI in shark species such as Blacktip and Whitetip reef sharks, Lemon and Leopard sharks is to invert the animal. According to The Shark Trust the unnatural posture is thought to alter the shark's sensi-motor interchange with the environment, causing it to go limp. The shark usually enters a state of TI in under a minute and may remain immobile for up to 15 minutes.

Some shark species respond in a similar way when hands are placed either side of the nose in the area surrounding their eyes.

TI doesn't cause the shark any harm and is often used by experts when handling them in the field to prevent struggling and possible injury to the animal.

TI is known to occur in other animals, particularly when they are threatened by a predator, but experts are unclear as to why the shark - itself a top predator - would develop such a reflex.

In the video below you can see a diver, known only as Tom, with a shark he has placed in TI.


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Video: The most Avatar tank to date?

James Cameron might not realise the effect he had on aquascaping, but ever since ‘that’ film, every aquascaper and their dog have seemingly been hard at it, recreating a little slice of Pandora at home, says Nathan Hill.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about novelty, but it has to be done right if it’s to be impressive. I noted early on that Hong Kong 'scaper Wu Know Fai Gary had embraced the concept and turned out a couple of gorgeous tanks with floating 'islands'.

Then everyone in the world appeared to have a stab, and some godawful efforts appeared. I still shudder at the eye-pain I’ve endured looking at some.

However, we’ve just stumbled across this oldie, posted up on YouTube back in 2011, and it takes the Avatar concept one step further, and — dare I say it — it’s pretty danged well executed.

All we know is that it was seen at a pet expo, but we know nothing of the creator. What makes this particular take a little special is the introduction of two sandfalls.

Sandfalls are an easy enough concept, usually involving an uplift and airstone principle to pull sand up from a collecting bowl at the foot of the waterfall, and then carry it up to an opening. And you know what? It kind of works here.

I’m undecided as to exactly what the plants are. I see Anubias, Eleocharis, Java moss, and what appears to me to be a Micranthemum species rather than the classic Hemianthus used for this kind of gig.

How are those islands held up? Beats me. At first I thought they were somehow connected to the front glass, but looking closely, they seem to rotate ever so slightly in the flow. That, or my eyes and brain are playing up again. Either way, if they’re moving then it suggests they’re suspended on a monofilament wire; very thin fishing line, perhaps…

If anyone has an artist’s name for me, I’d be appreciative, as I’d like to credit the maker properly.

In the meantime, get stuck in and offer your thoughts. You might want the audio off, though, unless you like that whole feely-good, triumphant, indigenous alien style music. Personally, I wanted to ram white-hot knitting needles in my ears, but what the hey — the aquarium still looks great.



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Video: Divers almost swallowed by Humpback whales!

Two divers had an encounter with a pair of Humpback whales that was rather too close for comfort.

Shawn Stamback and his scuba diving partner, Francis Antigua, were whale watching in the water near their boat off the coat of California on July 20 when they suddenly became surrounded by hundreds of sardines. The fish seemed to be trying to get out of the way of something — but before the divers had the chance to react, two Humpback whales breached the surface, swallowing huge mouthfuls of the fish.

The YouTube video below shows just how close the whales came to the divers — and just how fast Stamback can swim!


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Dog wears its own fish pond!

Check out the coat of this dog, which has been 'creatively groomed' to produce the effect of a pond complete with colourful Koi.

Not to everyone's taste, we know — but this bizarre trend is big in the U.S.

Groomer Catherine Opson designed this style for her dog Renegade for a creative grooming competition in California. Her other dog was styled to look like a panda…

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'Punk rock snail' named after Joe Strummer

A new species of sea snail has been named after the lead singer of The Clash, Joe Strummer.

Alviniconcha strummeri is one of five new species of Alviniconcha described by a team from Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). The snails live in the hottest and most acidic waters near hydrothermal vents. The conditions are so extreme that the shells of the snails are severely degraded, covered or spikes — or even non-existent.

The genus was originally described as monotypic with A. hessleri as its only member, but DNA sequencing has revealed there are actually six species.

Alviniconcha strummeri is named to highlight the 'hardcore' nature of these snails from the Indo-Pacific, while also recognising the spiky surface of the snail's shell, which researchers say resembles the fashion of punk rock bands.

The Clash formed in 1976 and were part of the original wave of British punk. Joe Strummer died suddenly in December 2002 from an undiagnosed congenital heart defect.