The orange-eyed sea creature purchased at the local market turns out to be a new species. Watch it

Surrounded by vendors and their wares, an orange-eyed sea creature sat at a local market in the Philippines. It had a brightly colored body, “metallic” spots, and a price on its head.

Scientists who visited the market bought the animal, and discovered that it was a new species.

Kent Elson Surgeon bought a fish from a public market on the island of Bohol in 2018, according to a study published Sept. 4 in the journal Raffles Bulletin of Zoology. He realizes it’s a spinyhead, but it doesn’t match any known species.

The fish found in the market had a “large” black and white eye at the end of its dorsal fin, the study said. No other moose fish has this mark.

Interestingly, researchers are starting to look for more fish specimens that have these “distinctive” traits. The study said they bought six more fish from fish markets on other Philippine islands, and found two preserved fish in museum collections in Australia.

The researchers took a closer look at these fish and realized they had discovered a new species: Iniistius bakunawa, or eclipse-spotted spiny wrasse.

The eclipse-spotted spiny wrasse has a “very flat” body with a “pale yellowish to jade green” color, the researchers said. The dorsal fin has “metallic” spots of “yellow green”, blue and orange. The fish is known to be around 6.8 inches in size.

The pictures show the fish colored in the colors of the rainbow. It has an oblong, block-shaped head and bright orange eyes. Its body and fins are covered in an undulating pattern of white, orange, and blue bands. The black and white eye spot is visible at the end of the fish’s upper fin.

Anestius bakunawa, or eclipse-spotted spiny wrasse, from a market on Panay Island, Philippines. Box and lines highlight black and white eye point. photo from e. Motomura

Because the researchers unearthed the eclipse-spotted spinnerfish from local markets and archives, they know nothing about its natural habitat or behaviour.

Other species of spiny wrasse are known to live in “sandy habitats such as seagrass meadows or wide sand channels away from coral reefs,” the study said. However, these habitats are often “overlooked” by divers and during scientific surveys.

Those related fish have also been known to “dive their heads” in the sand and “bury themselves” by rapidly vibrating “when startled or in the presence of predators,” the study said. Researchers don’t know if the eclipse-spotted spiny wrasse possesses this escape mechanism.

A recently dead anestheus bakunawa, or spiny wrasse, from a market in Cebu Island, Philippines.  Image courtesy of JT Williams.

A recently dead anestheus bakunawa, or spiny wrasse, from a market in Cebu Island, Philippines. Image courtesy of JT Williams.

The new species has been found in the markets of the Philippine islands of Bohol, Cebu, Jolo, and Panay and in archive collections in Western Australia. It likely “occurs elsewhere in the Indian Ocean region and western Pacific Ocean,” the study said.

The researchers named the new species bakunawa, “a serpentine or monstrous figure in Visayan mythology believed to be responsible for causing eclipses by devouring the moon.” The name is derived from the black and white spot on the fin of the fish.

The Visayan people are “any of the three ethnolinguistic groups in the Philippines”, according to Britannica.

The study said the new species was identified by its fins, body shape, size pattern, and colour. The researchers did not provide DNA analysis of the new species.

The research team included Kent Elson Surgeon, YKT, Jasmine Mirren, and Cleto Naniola Jr.

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