THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: When a tiny fish dropped out of the tap while he was taking a shower, little did Alappuzha native Abraham A realise he had stumbled upon an important discovery.
As the 55-year-old later learnt, the fish belonged to a yet-unknown subterranean freshwater species. The discovery of Pangio Pathala or Pathala Eel Loach was acknowledged by a team of researchers from Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (Kufos).
Though the discovery was made last year, the world learnt about it only after Oscar-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio, also an environment activist, shared it on his social media page on Tuesday night. DiCaprio shared the discovery of the new fish, found as part of citizen science-backed research in Kerala. With this, the survey done across Kerala since 2015 has received global attention, said Rajeev Raghavan, assistant professor, Kufos.
Abraham A, an ex-serviceman and a stage decorator living in Alappuzha’s Thiruvanvandoor village, recalled noticing a tiny organism in the bucket while he was taking a shower.
Such discoveries are only possible with public support, says Kufos assistant prof
“I thought it was a red thread. However, it was moving. Having read news of the discovery of such creatures in our region, I transferred the organism to a jar and contacted college professor Benny Thomas, who lived nearby. He connected me to researchers in Kufos who urged me to look for more organisms. I checked my water tank which pumps water from a 17-ft-deep well and found three more fish,” he said.
“I am happy my finding helped the youngsters accomplish their research. It made me and my friends learn more about citizen-science surveys. We will continue as informants if we come across similar species,” he said.
Pangio Pathala, or Pathala Eel Loach, is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Pathala’ meaning ‘below the feet’. It is 3.4 cm long. The Kufos research team has already found over five fish species since 2015.
Rajeev is excited about the species getting ‘Oscar’ attention. “The species is found only in water resources in the inner crust of Earth. Finding it and doing research on it is very difficult. Such species can be discovered only with public support,” he said.
Rajeev and his team did a detailed study on the tiny fish at the Kufos lab in Ernakulam. “It doesn’t have eyes or upper fins. Its body is transparent. It hasn’t gone through evolution and has been surviving for millions of years. This factor is beneficial to delve more into the history of our evolution and landscape,” said Rajeev.