New sunfish species discovered

This video says about itself:

20 July 2017

A completely new species of Bali sunfish population in Indonesia.

But when I started my PhD doing population studies on Bali sunfish in Indonesia, I did not expect to discover a completely new species. What started as a side project turned into a four-year treasure hunt, flying thousands of miles to track the evidence with the help of dozens of people. As part of my PhD research, I analyzed more than 150 DNA samples of sunfish. Genetic sequencing revealed four distinct species: Masturus lanceolatus, Mola mola, Mola ramsayi and a fourth that did not fit any known species.

A new species had been hiding in sight for centuries, so we ended up calling it Mola tecta: the deceptive hatter. But back then, in 2013, we did not even know what they were like. All we had were skin samples containing the mysterious DNA. The next step was to try to figure out what these fish might look like. Superficially, all sunfish look the same ie slightly odd. Their bodies are flat and rigid except for their fins. They have no tail; And as they grow larger they usually develop odd punches on the head, chin and nose.

So I started looking for sunfish photos, especially on social networks, looking for something different. I also spent a lot of time establishing a network of people across Australia and New Zealand that could alert me every time a sunfish was found. I finally got a break in 2014. Observers from the fisheries in New Zealand and Australia sent me pictures of sunfish they found in the sea, usually just a fin in the water. But on one occasion they took a small fish on board to free it from a fishing line, and got a brilliant picture of it all along with a genetic sample. This fish had a small structure in its back fin which I had never seen in a sunfish before. Just when I wondered if this was a characteristic of the species, I hit the jackpot when four fish were stranded at one time on the same beach in New Zealand.

See also here.

From the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society:

Hiding in broad daylight: molecular and morphological data reveal a new ocean sunfish species (Tetraodontiformes: Molidae) that has eluded recognition

19 July 2017


The taxonomy of the ocean sunfishes (Molidae) has a complicated history. Currently, three genera and four species are recognized, including two in the genus Mola (M. mola and M. ramsayi).

In 2009, a genetic study revealed a potential third species, Mola species C, in Southeast Australian waters. Concentrating on this region, we obtained samples and morphological data from 27 Mola sp. C specimens, genetically confirmed the existence of this species (mtDNA D-loop and cytochrome c oxidase 1), and established its morphology across a size spectrum of 50–242 cm total length. Mola sp. C is diagnosed by clavus meristics [15–17 fin rays (13–15 principal, 2 minor), 5–7 ossicles, paraxial ossicles separate], clavus morphology (prominent smooth band back-fold, rounded clavus edge with an indent), and body scale morphology (raised conical midpoints, non-branching).

This species does not develop a protruding snout, or swollen dorso- or ventrolateral ridges. Body proportions remain similar with growth. A review of the historic literature revealed that Mola sp. C is a new, hitherto undescribed species, M. tecta, which we describe and diagnose, and that it is the first proposed addition to the genus Mola in 125 years. Its core distribution is likely in the temperate waters of the Southern Hemisphere.

2 thoughts on “New sunfish species discovered

  1. Pingback: Ocean sunfish, new study | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Sunfish beached in Dutch Zeeland | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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