Corazon's Damselfish
Corazon’s Damsel or Pomacentrus vatosoa. Photo by Y.K. Tea

Scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of Sydney have identified a previously unknown species of damselfish from Madagascar.

The new species, named Corazon’s Damsel or Pomacentrus vatosoa, is described by co-authors Ben Frable and Yi-Kai Tea in the June 10 issue of the scientific journal Copeia.

Damselfishes are a diverse group of small- to medium-sized fishes that occur throughout the tropics and subtropics.

Measuring approximately two inches, the distinctive damselfish described in the new paper has a pear-white body and two prominent black spots—one situated behind the pectoral fin near the middle of the body, and the second saddled on the upper edge where the tail fin connects to the body.

Its striking features caught the eye of commercial divers working a reef off the northeastern coast of Madagascar in December.

After collecting the unknown fish, the divers contacted Tea, an expert on coral reef fishes. Tea had not seen anything like it before so he reached out to several veteran ichthyologists, eventually contacting Frable in San Diego

The ichthyologists worked together to compare specimens and genetics of potentially closely related species and confirmed that this damselfish is a previously undiscovered species.

“I think the most exciting aspect about this description is that Corazon’s Damsel doesn’t look very similar to any previously known fish species,” said Frable. “It was also collected near a city and at a relatively accessible depth of 45-60 feet. Most new reef fish discoveries are coming from much deeper,”

The authors noted their surprise that the stunning fish remained undetected for so long in a region that has been surveyed extensively in the past.

“The fact that a new species with distinctive coloration can go unnoticed is a stark reminder that there’s still much to learn about coral reef diversity and our oceans as a whole,” said Tea.

The authors decided to name the species Pomacentrus vatosoa because vatosoa is a Malagasy word meaning “beautiful stone,” a term sometimes used in reference to opals or pearls that seemed fitting to describe the appearance of the fish. The common name was selected in honor of Corazon Sibayan Shutman, wife of Barnett Shutman, who provided the researchers with the fish specimens.

One of the four specimens used in this study is now housed at Scripps Oceanography’s Marine Vertebrate Collection, an archive of approximately 2 million alcohol-preserved specimens representing more than 5,600 species of fishes.

Frable said that in the past year alone, collection staff have described five new fish species—three of which he worked on.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.