The genus Pseudanthias is growing at a rate of at least one new member per year as the reefs of the Pacific continue to drip feed us with brand new, never before seen species. In 2013 we saw the appearance of the “sunrise anthias” from New Caledonia, and while it hasn’t been yet been described scientifically, it’s pretty clear that it has attained species level from the rest of its peers. In what appears to be friendly competition, we’re now seeing the Coral Sea spit out a rather unusual Pseudanthias, and this too could potentially bring up the species count by another +1.
Like the Quality Marine exclusive “sunrise anthias” from New Caledonia, this unusual looking Pseudanthias is a Cairns Marine speciality from the Coral Sea that has not been found anywhere else yet. Earlier this month we visited Cairns Marine where we had the opportunity to observe this fish in situ. Later on we hand picked a few specimens to bring back to Singapore where I had the chance to take some photos up close and observe the fish more in detail.
We also spoke to deepwater diver Tim Bennett, as well as Fenton Walsh of Cairns Marine regarding the behaviour and biology of the fish. Based on what we’re seeing it’s not surprising that the Pseudanthias in question could potentially be a new species, and it has been tentatively assigned the name Pseudanthias cf. aurulentus for its close resemblance toward P. aurulentus. However we disagree on this naming, and we will go on to explain why in a little bit.
The Coral Sea Pseudanthias is clearly part of a species complex that houses five other closely related members, which we will touch on shortly. Like the others in this species group, this particular Pseudanthias is fond of deeper water. Tim Bennett, deepwater diver and fish collector of Cairns Marine revealed to us that these beautiful fish only start appearing at depths reaching 60m (200ft) and below, where they hover in rather large groups along stronger currents.
They are collected from Holmes Reef, about 240km East of Cairns, and has not been seen or documented anywhere else.
Earlier on we mentioned that we didn’t quite agree with the association of this fish with Pseudanthias aurulentus. In the collage above we feature all the currently known members of the “lori” species complex.
(A) Pseudanthias aurulentus, which is found primarily in the Central Pacific, has a predominantly red body and a white horizontal stripe running from the nape to the caudal peduncle along the mid-dorsum region. Near the tail, the white bar is loosely broken up by very obscure red belts. Often, these are not separated clearly and the white bar appears “toothed”.
(B) Pseudanthias sp “sunrise” is the Quality Marine exclusive known currently only from New Caledonia. It differs from all others in the complex by having a complete row of very distinct and defined red belts from the base of the dorsal fin all the way to the caudal peduncle, where it ends in a larger red blotch.
(C) Pseudanthias flavoguttatus is known primarily from the Indo-West Pacific and unlike the former, has larger red belts that are situated along two thirds of the body. The head is yellow which breaks into a constellation of yellow dots that run lengthways along the body.
(D) Pseudanthias lori is similar to the former, and overlaps in some parts of its range. Unlike P. flavoguttatus, P. lori can be found in shallower depths and lacks the strong yellow slate of the former.
(E) Pseudanthias privitera is found in the Cook Islands as well as Mo’orea, and possibly other parts of the French Polynesia. It is exclusively deepwater and differs from all others in the complex by having no red belts, and only a very thin white horizontal line that breaks up toward the tail region. It has also a much stronger yellow slate than any others in the complex.
(F) Pseudanthias cf. aurulentus “Coral Sea” is the newest member to this group, and could possibly wind up as a distinct species. The association with P. aurulentus is quite surprising, considering how different it looks. In the collage above you can see that it bears a closer resemblance to P. privitera instead, being coloured more yellowish throughout, and having the same thinner and broken white bar along the back portion of its body. The physical appearance of this Coral Sea Pseudanthias puts it in the middle of P. aurulentus and P. privitera, but we tend to skew more towards the latter on this one.
The map above shows a rough idea on where these four species are found, with Pseudanthias cf. aurulentus being found in the Coral Sea region East of Australia. Pseudanthias aurulentus is found primarily in the Eastern Central Pacific, and P. privitera in the Cook Islands and the French Polynesia.
As we speak, the taxonomic status of this Pseudanthias is being investigated. As usual, some scientists will think that this is a distinct and new species, while some prefer to be more conservative and say that geographical variation is the reason for such difference in colour and appearance.
Tissue samples have been collected, and it will be interesting to see how genetically distinct this species is compared to its congeners. Physically speaking, it will also be interesting to see if there are any anatomical and morphological differences between this “species” compared to the others. Both genetic and physical differences are keys to separating this fish and together would make for a very complete and whole understanding of the fish in totality.
As for now, this species is only available through Cairns Marine. Because of its deepwater and rather isolated nature, don’t expect this fish to flood the market like Pseudanthias tuka or P. bartlettorum. Also, do expect the same kind of behaviour and difficulty as the other members of this complex. We have had success with frozen meaty foods such as mysid and brine shrimp, but weaning them on to dry prepared foods will need a little bit of training and patience.
Still, we’re really excited to see another potentially new Pseudanthias appearing in the scene, and a spectacularly beautiful one at that. How nice it must be for Cairns Marine to have this gorgeous little serranid literally in their “back yard”.
We would like to extend a big thank you to our friends at Cairns Marine for the wonderful insight, photo opportunities and valuable information regarding this fish. You can expect a write up on our visit to their facility as well as a little insight of our chat with Tim Bennett in the following days.
For now, we wait with bated breath for more information on this lovely little Pseudanthias species, and we hope to see more of them being offered for the die hard anthias lovers out there.