A newly discovered small parasitic crustacean blood feeder in the Caribbean has been named after late reggae singer Bob Marley. The crustacean infests certain fish that inhabit the coral reefs of the shallow eastern Caribbean. The crustacean has been named Gnathia marleyi
. Juvenile gnathiids, pictured above, feed on fresh fish blood.
Paul Sikkel, an assistant professor of marine ecology and a field marine biologist at Arkansas State University, discovered the crustacean. He says, "I named this species, which is truly a natural wonder, after Marley because of my respect and admiration for Marley's music. Plus, this species is as uniquely Caribbean as was Marley."
is a new species within the gnathiid family, and the first new species to be described in the Caribbean in more than two decades. By concealing themselves within coral rubble, sea sponge or algae, juvenile Gnathia marleyi
are able to launch surprise attacks on fish and then infest them. Adult Gnathia marleyi
do not feed.
Sikkel says, "We believe that adults subsist for two to three weeks on the last feedings they had as juveniles and then die, hopefully after they have reproduced."
Sikkel says the creatures are similar to land-based ticks or mosquitoes. He says, "Gnathiids, in general, are the most common external parasites found on coral reefs and are ecologically similar to land-based blood-sucking ticks or disease-carrying mosquitoes. Gnathiids live on the ocean floor from pole to pole, and from shallow reefs to the abyss--and everywhere between. They are also the most important food item for cleaner fishes and thus key to understanding marine cleaning symbioses."
The researchers are studying which fish harbor these blood parasites and whether or not gnathiids are a vector in the transmission of coral and sponge diseases. Sikkel suspects that Gnathia marleyi
may be a vector in transmission of these diseases.
Sikkel says, ""We are determining the role of Gnathia marleyi, which will help us understand the impacts of changes in coral reef habitat on the transmission of a fish disease called haemogregarines--a type of fish malaria that may weaken their immune systems through a reduction in certain blood cells."
All of the life stages of Gnathia marleyi
are described by Sikkel and his research team in the June 6th issue of Zootaxia. The research was partly funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Top/Middle Photos: Ann Marie Coile, Department of Biology, Arkansas State University
Bottom Photo: Elizabeth Brill/National Science Foundation