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New fish find in NT waters

The male Cirrhilabrus hygroxerus, or monsoon fairy wrasse, has a black body speckled with iridescent blue, and large red pelvic fins.
The male Cirrhilabrus hygroxerus, or monsoon fairy wrasse, has a black body speckled with iridescent blue, and large red pelvic fins. Contributed

SCIENTISTS have discovered a new colourful tropical reef fish in Northern Territory waters.

The monsoon fairy wrasse, from the eastern Timor Sea, was discovered in the NT by scientists from the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) and the Western Australian Museum. The new species, Cirrhilabrus hygroxerus, is a small elongated fish that reaches a size of about seven centimetres.

Like many reef fish, it displays spectacular colours and has a peculiar life cycle.

Wrasse species typically start out as females, and then a dominant fish will transition into the male, each phase with a different colour.

The females of the monsoon fairy wrasse are a peachy red with blue body stripes, while the male has a black body speckled with iridescent blue, and large red pelvic fins.

Unique colour combinations help to distinguish the monsoon fairy wrasse from close relatives isolated in pockets of habitat in the western Timor Sea in Western Australia and Timor-Leste.

Curator of Fishes at MAGNT, Dr Michael Hammer, has been collaborating with Territory company Monsoon Aquatics to help identify fish being brought in from offshore waters, many of which have turned out to be new records for the Northern Territory region.

"We had been looking at a range of weird and wonderful reef fish to help build a better knowledge of local marine biodiversity; on one occasion a small wrasse did not match any information in guide books or papers,” Dr Hammer said.

Dr Hammer sent specimen images to Dr Allen, a Research Associate at the Western Australian Museum and world renowned expert on coral reef fishes.

Dr Allen instantly recognised the fish as unusual and the pair undertook a formal taxonomic process, which concluded the species was new.

Dr Hammer said both the common name and scientific name reflected the tropical monsoon climate in the region where the fish was found.

He said it was also a specific tribute to industry partner, Monsoon Aquatics, who found the fish and worked with the scientists to ultimately name a new species.

Topics:  northern territory


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