Proving a long-held notion “spectacularly wrong” is a scientist’s wet dream. To do it shining a torchlight in a dingy Indian cave, as whiskered fish acquaint themselves with the sole of your boot, is something else entirely.
Yet that is what experts from the UK, Switzerland and India say they did by discovering a new kind of cave fish, similar in anatomy to an endangered mahseer species, in Meghalaya last February. It is “by far the largest known subterreanean fish in the world”, they write in a recent paper.
The biggest specimen they found was longer than 40 cm — way too long to fit in your geometry box. That may still seem small, but the scientists explain that it dwarfs the vast majority of cave fish. (Imagine encountering a human close to 30 feet tall.)
The discovery of the Meghalayan fish, they say, puts paid to the long-held assumption that the paucity of food in caves limits body length to 35 cm or less.
“All previous discoveries of cave fish from India have been of small fish, and this is the largest of the cave fish discovered in the country, and probably from anywhere in the world,” said Rajeev Raghavan, an aquatic conservation biologist and one of the paper’s co-authors.
The other Indian on the team is Neelesh Dahanukar from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Pune.