Rich Ross

Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly

Opportunistic mimicry by a Jawfish – amateur discovery recognized in scientific literature

From Reefbuilders

By Matt Pedersen

It’s a rare event when something discovered by a recreational diver winds up validated in the scentific community.  But that’s precisely what’s happened with a story that first caught attention in July, 2011.  Godehard Kopp, a recreational diver, recorded a video in Lembeh Strait of a Mimic Octopus being followed around by an unidentified fish.  Had Kopp not thought to post this video online, the story may have ended there.  But he did note there was something worthwhile, and uploaded it.  Still, it may have gone no further where it not for aquarist Peter Schmiedel noticing it and bringing it to the attention of his fellow hobbyists, including cephalopod junkie Richard Ross.

The video then made its way around the scientific community, and ironically, while the behavior of a small fish following an octopus around was certainly unusual, it’s fair to say that simply finding an identification for this fish may have actually caused more interest.  The power of collective knowledge and open collaboration,working to solve a problem, quickly paid off, with the fish being indentified as a Jawfish, possibly down to the species level as Stalix histrio as documented by Rich over onPackedHead.  And once again, the story may have ended with a unique fish and a novel behavior that briefly caught the attention of the aquarium hobby world.  But it didn’t.

Dr. Luiz Rocha, who was exposed to this story first by Mr. Ross and Mr. Schmiedel, thinks this jawfish may in fact be a new species, and once again has elevated the story to the next level.  An article titled “Opportunistic Mimicry by a Jawfish” was published in the journal Coral Reefs on December 10th, 2011, in collaboration wtih Ross and Kopp.  While currently labeling the jawfish as Stalix cf. histrio, it leaves the door open for yet more research and more discovery.  The publication is one of the very rare examples in which the academic and scientific community grabs onto and recognizes the discovery of divers and aquarists.

It’s impressive that Coral Reef saw the value of sharing a story that had already made its way through the public literature – it’s my personal understanding that often times, any prior disclosures of information can outright preclude publication in a scientific journal.  We applaud the recognition and sharing of credit, and hope this serves as an example for future collaboration between the professional and amateur communities.  We also applaud the fact that a full text preview of the article as well as a PDF version is available online!