The new identified shrimp species. (Photo Credit: Guido Zsilavecz)
New shrimp species discovered in South African waters
Monday, November 24, 2014, 01:30 (GMT + 9)
Researchers from the University of Cape Town (UCT) have identified a tiny shrimp specimen with banded, stalked eyes, and gaudy red 'warning' colouring in South African waters.
The small crustacean, a mere 10 to 15mm long called the "stargazer mysid" by divers who first saw it because its eyes seem to gaze permanently upwards, is the latest of several new marine species to be found by UCT researchers in the extensively sampled waters of False Bay.
Scientists explain that the crustacean’s apparently large, upward-staring eyes are just a trick of nature, as the eyes of shrimp don't have a pupil or iris. Instead, they're compound eyes like those of insects and consist of many simple elements that each look in a different direction.
The vivid ringed patterns are thought to be there to make the eyes appear to belong to a much bigger creature, and hence to scare off predators.
Though previously unknown to marine biologists, the pretty shrimp is a common sight among divers, says UCT alumnus Guido Zsilavecz, an avid underwater photographer who brought it to university marine biologist Emeritus Professor Charles Griffiths for identification.
Griffiths was unable to identify the species and felt surprised by the shrimp's bawdy colouring and "fake eyes".
"They act like the eye spots on moths' wings," he explained.
Griffiths sent the samples to international shrimp expert Professor Karl Wittmann of the University of Vienna in Austria, who confirmed it as being a new species and named it Mysidopsis zsilaveczi, after the diver who collected it.
The species is described in a research paper co-authored by Griffiths and Wittmann and published in the journal Crustaceana, and is the ninth Mysidopsis species to be found in Southern African.
When Wittmann found he was dealing with a new species, but only had males among the first few samples sent to him, he asked Griffiths and Zsilavecz to collect and send him female samples of the stargazer mysid. They collected eight more specimens from the same reef, which they thought looked different to the males.
"I thought at least one of them must be a female," Griffiths said.
But each of the first two vials Wittmann opened revealed something else, not females, but two more completely new shrimp species – and there may be more in the unopened vials!
"These can form the topic of another paper next year, but we wanted to get the description of this first species published in the interim," said Griffiths.
Just recently Zsilavecz also found a new species of nudibranch (a soft-bodied sea slug) at Long Beach, a flashy, fleshy little creature with large green lobes and 'wings' that resembles the Sydney Opera House.
"Some 30 new marine species are found in South African waters annually," added Griffiths.