The goby from hell and a new toadlet… perhaps

The goby from hell and a new toadlet… perhaps

It’s still happening in Australia. Right on our own doorstep new species are continuing to be discovered. If you keep your ears open it doesn’t take much to realise that there is a whole lot we don’t know about what lives on this large island. Scientists are working on species that were once thought to be one single, widespread species but are now proving to be a whole complex of them. Others are so new and bizarre they stand out right away. These next two, a Goby and a small Toadlet are somewhere in between. That’s if they prove to be new.

The goby…

The wormlike body of the goby

The wormlike body of the goby

Look at those teeth! The craziest goby ever!

Look at those teeth!

The first one was quite an accident, a happy one at that. Fishing out of the mouth of the Finniss River in the Northwest of the Northern Territory (NT) one of my companions hooked up on the shallow mud. Reeling his lure in, we were surprised to see a five-inch long bloodworm hanging off the hook. I casually went to remove it for him and it started viciously snapping at me with hideous teeth that curved inwards and looked for all the world like shards of glass. Looking at it again I noticed it wasn’t a worm at all but a fish. And what a fish it was. With no visible eyes, a pink wormlike body, long based fins and massive teeth it looked like something from either deep in caves or in the twilight zone under the sea, it was the strangest goby I had ever seen. While I removed it from the hook it bit down on my shirt with all its force and became fastened there until we could find a container to put it in. For the rest of the day it sat there in the icebox in a plastic bag. The wounds from the accidental hooking had killed it. Thank goodness, as I wouldn’t like to have that wriggling around my feet all day…

So is it a new goby?

A side view. Can you see the eyes?

A side view. Can you see the eyes?

All types of Goby have a suction cup formed by the fused ventral fins

All types of Goby have a suction cup formed by the fused ventral fins

Knowing that it was a prize specimen of some sort, I had to keep it to find out what it was, so its next home was a jar of pure alcohol. And that’s where it stayed until December 2011. A chance meeting with the Curator of Fishes at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) Dr M. Hammer (am I the only one thinking MC Hammer here?) brought this fish up in conversation. Highly enthusiastic on determining what it is, as he does not yet know, we shall keep you posted.

We can say a little bit about this fish. It’s not totally unique, in fact it may already be a known species of goby, but it is likely to be a new one. As the conversation at its time of capture was “Rum Pigs” I suggested (actually the captor did) that be somehow incorporated into its Latin description. Unlikely. It lives in the perpetually dark and muddy shallows of the Finniss River mouth, in Fog Bay. As there is no light even in the shallows this fish needs no eyes, or skin pigment. That only wastes energy to produce. So in the name of efficiency it does not have them. It instead has a network of fine sensory organs that detect changes in water pressure to find its prey. This is in line with many other fish of dark places whether they be caves or the deep ocean. Besides, they don’t have to be good looking as they are unlikely to be seen by anyone. We know practically nothing else about them. But that may all be about to change. Stay tuned…

The Toadlet…

The real reason I was in MAGNT on that hot, rainy wet season day was another discovery…

“Hi, how are you going mate…” said Steve Richards, curator of vertebrates at MAGNT

“Yeah, good.” I replied briefly as I had not really slept all night.

“You got the specimens?”

“Yep. Right here.”

“Cool, can you bring them in? I’ll organise the legal papers and permission.”

A side view of the new (?) species

I had, in a jar two unusual little frogs. Not remarkable to look at by any means, but a possible new species. Rewind earlier into the night, and I was in Katherine, NT. While out looking for frogs I heard a short “Chuck” call. And another. Plus a short grunt sound. I knew these were from a group of tiny little nondescript frogs called “Toadlets” because of their resemblance to small toads. Queenslanders have to be different so they call them Gungans. Either way they belong to the group Uperoleia. But the call was unlike the other Toadlets of the area that are already known, and the habitat they lived in was so different too. So I spent the next few hours trying in vain to track one down. They were not calling around a pond, rather scattered about in the forest randomly. To make it harder, they only called in a short burst every ten minutes. The full moon made sneaking up a total impossibility too. Eventually I gave up. As I pivoted around to walk back to camp I nearly stood on one. Right away I knew it was none of the other species I had seen so far. Consulting some texts I discovered that this one did not match the description of any of the known local Toadlets. Although its call was most similar to Uperoleia davisae, the Howard Toadlet, it was much bigger and was 300km out of the Howard Toadlet’s range. I snapped as many photos as possible and then heard another calling only metres away. I caught that too.

The possible new species puffs up in defence

Uperoleia Toadlets are miniature burrowers found over most of Australia. They look like miniature Cane Toads with the massive poison glands behind the eyes and I’m sure many have been killed by mistaken identity. However they are native and totally harmless unless eaten. I doubt you’ll do that. They have little shovel-like appendages under their feet for digging and are better at walking than jumping.

So eventually I did manage to reach MAGNT. It will take some time to determine whether or not this is a new species. What we do know is that the range of most of the smaller frogs in the NT is unknown. Species known only from Western Australia are showing up in the NT as more exploration is done. Sometimes entirely new species are found, like the recently discovered Chattering Rock Frog Litoria staccato from the Kimberley Range. Hopefully this turns out to be one of those new species. There is much lab work to be done…

The second specimen of the new (?) species

Here are the known species from the area and how they differ. None of them are known from this area anyway…

Uperoleia inundata – A floodplain specialist. The “new” one lives on rocky hillsides. Also this Floodplain Toadlet has a longer and deeper call.

Uperoleia davisae – The Howard Toadlet lives on sandflats and is much smaller

Uperoleia borealis – The Northern Toadlet has webbed feet

Uperoleia arenicola - The Jabiru Toadlet is only known from Jabiru, 200km away. It is also much smaller

Uperoleia lithomoda- The Stonemason Toadlet has a short, harsh “click”  call

The Stonemason Toadlet

The Jabiru Toadlet

The Floodplain Toadlet

Another unknown, possibly a weird Jabiru Toadlet

3 comments on “The goby from hell and a new toadlet… perhaps

  1. Nathan on said:

    Postscript:

    The DNA results came back today. It seems that the specimens collected were Uperoleia inundata, the Floodplain Toadlet after all. But the call is still interesting, as there were two distinct calls. I have finally recorded the unusual call. Results expected soon…

  2. Got an email from Michael Hammer to confirm the ID of the goby. It is a sort of new species, but one up until this specimen surfaced was only known from Indonesia. Its proper scientific name is Brachyamblyopus brachysoma. So not such a bad find after all! However, if more specimens come to light it may just prove to be a distinct local form…

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