Yet more news on Gnathia marleyi, the recently-discovered coral reef crustacean parasite. Apparently, specimens of Gnathia marleyi will be housed indefinitely at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Here are excerpts of “New Blood-Sucking Coral Reef Crustacean Named after Late Reggae Performer Bob Marley; ‘Uniquely Caribbean’”:
President Barack Obama has one. Comedian Stephen Colbert has one. Elvis Presley has one. Even computer software magnate Bill Gates has one. And now, Bob Marley–the late popular Jamaican singer and guitarist–also has one. So what is it that each of these luminaries has? The answer: they each have a biological species that has been named after them.
Paul Sikkel, an assistant professor of marine ecology and a field marine biologist at Arkansas State University, discovered and just named after Marley a “gnathiid isopod”–a small parasitic crustacean blood feeder that infests certain fish that inhabit the coral reefs of the shallow eastern Caribbean. Sikkel named the species Gnathia marleyi. [. . .] Sikkel said, “I named this species, which is truly a natural wonder, after Marley because of my respect and admiration for Marley’s music. Plus, this species is as uniquely Caribbean as was Marley.”
Gnathia marleyi is a new species within the gnathiid family, and the first new species to be described in the Caribbean in more than two decades. By concealing themselves within coral rubble, sea sponge or algae, juvenile Gnathia marleyi are able to launch surprise attacks on fish and then infest them. Sikkel explained that adult gnathiids do not feed at all. “We believe that adults subsist for two to three weeks on the last feedings they had as juveniles and then die, hopefully after they have reproduced.”
There have been increasing numbers of reports that the health of Caribbean coral reef communities is declining due to diseases. “We are currently researching the relationships between the health of coral reef communities and gnathiid populations,” said Sikkel. “Gnathiids, in general, are the most common external parasites found on coral reefs and are ecologically similar to land-based blood-sucking ticks or disease-carrying mosquitoes,” Sikkel said. “Gnathiids live on the ocean floor from pole to pole, and from shallow reefs to the abyss–and everywhere between. They are also the most important food item for cleaner fishes and thus key to understanding marine cleaning symbioses.” Sikkel explained that his research group is interested in the combined ecological effects of fishing pressure and reef degradation. [. . .] Our current work is focused on how changes in coral reef environments, such as coral bleaching, influences interactions between hosts and parasites.”
Sikkel initially discovered Gnathia marleyi about 10 years ago in the U.S. Virgin Islands where it is relatively common–so common, in fact, that Sikkel had assumed for years that the species had previously been described. Nevertheless, compelled by a hunch, Sikkel ultimately sent a specimen of the species to Nico J. Smit of North-West University in South Africa, a member of Sikkel’s research team, who confirmed that the species had, in fact, previously been overlooked by taxonomists.
[. . .] And by the way, if you are wondering, President Obama has a lichen named after him; Colbert has a beetle; Gates has a flower fly, and Elvis has a wasp.