After receiving online acclaim from Hollywood icon Leonardo DiCaprio, an Indian man who discovered a rare new species of fish almost three years ago has experienced a surge in popularity.
In 2020, Abraham A, a former paramilitary soldier from Kerala in southern India, discovered a brand-new species of underground fish known as the Pathala Eel Loach.
The fish’s name, Pathala, which means “below the feet” in Sanskrit, refers to its underground habitat.
The little species that resembles a snake lives in aquifers, which are substantial deposits of permeable rock and silt that store groundwater.
Mr. Abraham, who resides in the Alappuzha region, said the discovery was discovered by accident when he noticed “a red thread in the bucket” while taking a bath.
He scooped it out to take a closer look since he was curious and saw the thread was in motion.
Mr. Abraham put it in a glass jar and got in touch with Dr. Binoy Thomas, a lecturer at a nearby college, who connected him with scientists at the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (Kufos), who were able to identify the new species.
They discovered four more fish of the same species in Mr. Abraham’s well and water tank over the ensuing few weeks.
The remarkable finding came back into the public eye this week when environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio commended Mr. Abraham and shared a colorful Instagram photo of the Pathala Eel Loach.
“The wild is all around us, and sometimes all it takes to discover a new species is going about a normal day,” the actor remarked.
The revelation, according to DiCaprio, “how citizen science” was the “key for researchers to study these unknown, underground ecosystems”.
Fish often reside in rivers, lakes, or other bodies of surface water, but the Pathala Eel Loach is a type of underground fish that inhabits groundwater.
In India, there are 17–18 of these species, at least 11 of which are found in Kerala, according to Dr. Rajeev Raghavan, an assistant professor at Kufos, who spoke to BBC Hindi.
These fish are special since they can only be found in a few countries, including Mexico, China, and India, which has the greatest diversity of groundwater fish.
Since these fish live in groundwater, the only time they can be caught is if they unintentionally escape through taps, according to Mr. Raghavan.
The aquifers are interconnected by wells, and the fish occasionally show up there when the wells dry up in the summer. With around seven million houses in the state’s highland and midland regions, Kerala boasts India’s greatest density of homestead wells.
The fish in Mr. Abraham’s case might have migrated from the groundwater into the well, then into the water tank on the roof, before ending up in his bucket via the faucet.
“It is an accidental opportunistic kind of sampling,” Dr. Raghavan remarked.
According to the expert, before the 1950s, nothing was known about fish that live in groundwater. Only in 2015, when Kufos began researching them as part of a state-funded project, was their existence in Kerala established.
The university then established a Citizen Science Network to inform the public that such fish could end up in dry wells or up through taps.
“We instructed them to phone or message us. This is how we amassed more than 150 specimens of each of the 11 species, according to Dr. Raghavan.
According to experts, the finding of the Pathala Eel Loach is also significant in terms of evolution.
According to Dr. Raghavan, “most groundwater fish are ancient,” and a study of one of the 11 species discovered in Kerala revealed that its origins date back 125 million years, during the time that dinosaurs were still active on the planet.
According to him, all fish that are imprisoned in subsurface systems have existed for millions of years.
The discovery was important to Mr. Abraham right away.
But with DiCaprio’s post, it became even more noteworthy. Such an enormous man has adopted my name. I’m overjoyed and overjoyed,” he declared.
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