Two new dwarf snakeheads described

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Two new species of dwarf snakehead have been described from Myanmar.

The new species, which are unusually colourful for snakeheads, have been named Channa ornatipinnis and C. pulchra by snakehead expert Dr Ralf Britz, of the Natural History Museum, London.

Both species were obtained during a recent collecting trip to Myanmar by Britz and James Maclaine, Curator of Fishes at the Natural History Museum, and are described by Britz in the latest edition of Ichthyological Explorations of Freshwaters.

Channa ornatipinnisChanna ornatipinnis, named for its highly colourful (ornate) pectoral fins (pinna) was collected from a small, fast running forest stream in the Rakhine State of Myanmar.

Channa ornatipinnis by Ralf Britz

It can be distinguished from all other snakeheads by features of its unique colour pattern, including: numerous large black spots on the cheeks, golden-orange lips, a red posterior rim of the opercular flap, five-seven narrow alternating white and dark brown to black semicircular bands on the pectoral fins, three dorsal fin blotches and red and bluish-grey scales with numerous black dots on the body.

Juvenile specimens of this species (~4cm in length) also show the large black dorsal-fin blotches present in adults, suggesting that this colour pattern is probably diagnostic of the species.

Juvenile Channa ornatipinnis by Ralf Britz

Channa pulchraChanna pulchra, also from the Rakhine State, is named for its beautiful or pretty (pulcher) appearance.

Like the other new species, C. pulchra is also distinguished from other snakeheads by features of its colour pattern, including: numerous black spots on the cheeks and body, usually four semicircular white bands on the pectoral fins, one anterior dorsal fin blotch, and a series of reddish-orange blotches and numerous black spots on the body.

Channa pulchra by Ralf Britz

Interestingly, one specimen of C. ornatipinnis and several of C. pulchra exhibit bulging of the cheek region behind the eye.

Britz speculates that this strange condition is likely a feature of adult males and might point to a reproductive behaviour involving oral brooding, a reproductive strategy exhibited by another dwarf snakehead, C. gachua.

Though new to science, the two species have been placed in the Channa gachua species group, a group name coined by Britz for other species of snakehead with a varying number of semicircular alternating dark and light bands on the pectoral fin, which in addition to the two new species includes: C. orientalis, C. gachua, C. bleheri, C. burmanica and C. barca.

Due to their smaller size and highly unusual colour pattern it is likely that these two new species will be highly sought after by fishkeepers.

For more details see the paper: Britz R (2007) - Channa ornatipinnis and C. pulchra, two new species of dwarf snakeheads from Myanmar (Teleostei: Channidae). Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters, Vol. 18(4):335-344.