Scientists have discovered a small ‘hitchhiking’ coral reef crustacean species in Indonesia, and named it after English composer and singer Sir Elton John.
While exploring the remote coral reefs of Raja Ampat in Indonesia, Dr James Thomas from the Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography, Florida, and his colleagues from Naturalis Natural History museum in the Netherlands, stumbled across the crustacean living inside another reef invertebrate in a commensal association (without causing any harm, nor benefit to its host).
In his amazement to the amphipod’s unusual form, Thomas called it L eltoni after composer and singer Sir Elton John.
“I named the species in honour of Sir Elton John because I have listened to his music in my lab during my entire scientific career,” said Thomas.
“So, when this unusual crustacean with a greatly enlarged appendage appeared under my microscope after a day of collecting, an image of the shoes Elton John wore as the Pinball Wizard came to mind,” he said.
Taxonomists, scientists who study and name new species, have the choice to pick names that are relevant to locations, features of the animal, or people the scientist admires.
In an interesting twist L eltoni is now reported from Hawaiian waters as an invasive species, researchers said.
“Several years ago I was contacted by scientists from the Bishop Museum in Honolulu to help identify an unusual amphipod they had collected,” said Thomas.
It proved to be the same species as the one from Indonesia.
The most likely scenario for its introduction into Hawaiian waters was as a hitchhiker inside its host sponge or tunicate that was attached to a large floating drydock transported to Hawaii from Subic Bay, Philippines.
Recent studies by Thomas in the Philippines during a California Academy of Science expedition in 2014 have shown this new species is also found there.
Marine animals can have unknown effects when transported to other ecosystems where they can compete with native species.
In most cases these “invasions” go unnoticed. However, because scientists at the Bishop Museum had established a baseline of species over the years the presence of this invasive amphipod was quickly noted.
“Such studies show the importance of regular environmental monitoring, especially in tropical environments,” Thomas said.
He also pointed out that even though their tiny size, crustaceans such as L eltoni provide crucial information about reef health.
The research was published in the journal ZooKeys.