Aenigmachanna gollum, the bony fish named after Gollum, from ‘The Lord of the Rings’

Aenigmachanna gollum, the bony fish named after Gollum, from 'The Lord of the Rings'

Aenigmachanna gollum belongs to an ancient family of fish, called dragon serpent heads , which retains its primitive characteristics. Scientists have named him after the dark character from JRR Tolkien’s epic saga The Lord of the Rings .

It looks like a dragon, nothing like an eel, and has lain in hiding for a hundred million years. Following a post on social media, it piqued the curiosity of a researcher in Kerala. And this is what he discovered .

Living fossil

The discovery of a new family of fish is very rare. Dragon snakeheads have eluded scientists until now because they live in underground aquifers and come to the surface only after heavy flooding caused by rain.

According to their study , the closest relative of the Aenigmachannidae family is the Channidae , of which at least 50 species can be found in the streams and lakes of Asia and tropical Africa. According to molecular analyzes, the two families separated 34 million – 109 million years ago.

Based on computed tomography, molecular genetic and morphological methods, Ben’s study was able to detect several significant differences between the Aenigmachanna and other snakehead fish of the Channidae family.

It is suggested, then, that Aenigmachanna is a lineage of Gondwana , that has survived the rupture of the supercontinent, with India separating from Africa about 120 million years ago.

We are, then, before a living fossil .

Lack of evolution can be seen in the shortened swim bladder of dragon snake heads, as well as fewer ribbed vertebrae. These indicate that the family is less specialized than normal snake heads. The family also has eyes and reddish-brown pigmentation, which is unusual as most subterranean fish are pale and do not have eyes. Unlike the Channidae , the Aenigmachannidae also lack the suprabranchial organ that allows them to breathe air and proliferate widely.