New Crustacean Named after Bob Marley

Biologists have discovered a new species of coral reef crustacean and named it after Bob Marley, the late popular Jamaican singer and guitarist.

A Caribbean fish known as the French grunt that is infested with gnathiids (Elizabeth Brill)

The new species, Gnathia marleyi, is a small parasitic crustacean blood feeder that infests certain fish that inhabit the coral reefs of the shallow eastern Caribbean. G. marleyi was found by Dr Paul Sikkel, an assistant professor of marine ecology and a field marine biologist at Arkansas State University.

“I named this species, which is truly a natural wonder, after Marley because of my respect and admiration for Marley’s music,” Dr Sikkel explained. “Plus, this species is as uniquely Caribbean as was Marley.”

G. 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. All of the life stages of the species are described by the team in the July 6th issue of the journal Zootaxa.

By concealing themselves within coral rubble, sea sponge or algae, juvenile G. marleyi are able to launch surprise attacks on fish and then infest them. Dr Sikkel said 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,” Dr Sikkel said.

A close-up of an adult male gnathiid (John Artim / Arkansas State University)

“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,” Dr 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.”

Dr Sikkel explained that his research group is interested in the combined ecological effects of fishing pressure and reef degradation. “We suspect that coral degradation leads to more available habitat for external parasites to ‘launch attacks’ on host fishes,” he said. “And as the number of potential host fish decreases, each remaining host will become more heavily parasitized.”

“Our current work is focused on how changes in coral reef environments, such as coral bleaching, influences interactions between hosts and parasites,” Dr Sikkel said. “We’re including in our studies any effects on cleaning organisms that remove parasites from hosts.”


Bibliographic information: Farquharson C, Smit NJ, Sikkel PC. 2012. Gnathia marleyi sp. nov. (Crustacea, Isopoda, Gnathiidae) from the Eastern Caribbean. Zootaxa 3381: 47–61 (6 Jul. 2012)