- Redtail garras, known for their bright orange tails and elongated snouts, are popular aquarium fish, but information about their biology has been scarce until recently — when they were described as a new species.
- Redtail garras primarily eat algae and arthropods by scraping them off rocks using specialized mouthparts. They have unique features like a snout covered in tubercles, which are hardened scales used as weapons.
- The species was named in honor of Nonn Panitvong, a Thai businessman and naturalist recognized for his efforts in biodiversity conservation.
- The late recognition of the redtail garra emphasizes the need to better understand biodiversity in understudied areas, and reflects the underestimate of fish diversity in Southeast Asia.
With their bright orange tails and elongated snouts, redtail garras are a popular aquarium fish. Yet while these fish have graced aquariums for decades, information about their biology has been hard to find — because they were just recently described by science.
During his fieldwork, Larry Page, a curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History, found a few redtail garras (Garra panitvongi) limited to a small section of the Kasat River on the border between Thailand and Myanmar. Their habitat is isolated and hard to reach, so, despite being a globally recognized aquarium fish, redtail garras are rather obscure in the wild.
“When we first collected specimens, we thought it must be widespread in Myanmar because of its popularity in the aquarium trade,” Page said. “But it turns out it’s not. It’s only in the Ataran River Basin.”
The official description of the redtail garra has now been published in the journal Zootaxa. This new species adds to the nearly 200 species of fish in the Garra genus, one of the most widely distributed globally. Garras are found from the Middle East to India, West Africa and Asia. However, research on their natural history and relationships within the genus is lacking.
“There’s surprisingly little information on their natural history,” Page said. “Most of them live in fast-moving water, and they have a disk-like structure formed from a modification of the lower lip, which they use as an adhesive pad to cling to rocks and maintain their position in the water column as they feed.”
Redtail garras primarily eat algae and sometimes arthropods, scraping them off rocks using specialized mouth parts. This “cleaning feature” makes them good aquarium fish. They have a unique snout covered in tubercles, which are hardened scales used as weapons. Their elongated snout and red tails make them distinct.
The authors say the late recognition of the redtail garra as a new species highlights the need to better understand biodiversity in less-studied areas. Many fish in Southeast Asia have been misidentified as species from other regions, leading to a significant underestimate of their diversity.
The new species name is Garra panitvongi, in honor of Nonn Panitvong, a Thai businessman and naturalist recognized for his efforts in biodiversity conservation. Panitvong developed a passion for nature at a young age and created the platform Siamensis.org to share information about Thailand’s flora and fauna. He said his father’s fishing trips sparked a deep admiration for Thailand’s aquatic life.
“Over the years, I found that in many of the places we went fishing, the environments were getting worse. There were fewer fish overall, and the fish assemblage changed for the worse, with a decreasing number of native species and more invasives,” Panitvong said.
He said finding and describing new species, like the redtail garra, contributes to our understanding of the world’s biodiversity and helps us appreciate our place as a species in the larger natural context.
“I like to imagine humanity in a big room, painted in white. As we turned around, we would have no conception of which direction we were facing,” Panitvong said. “With each new discovery, a dot is added, a point made, and we know more and more about where we stand as a species.”
Banner image of Redtail garra fish from Tangjitjaroen et al. (2023).
Tangjitjaroen, W., Randall, Z. S., Tongnunui, S., Boyd, D. A., & Page, L. M. (2023). Species of Garra (Cyprinidae: Labeoninae) in the Salween River basin with description of an enigmatic new species from the Ataran River drainage of Thailand and Myanmar. Zootaxa, 5311(3), 375-392. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.5311.3.3
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