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August 16, 2023

New Cryptofauna

NSF-supported researchers at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric and Earth Science have discovered the first new gnathiid isopod in Florida in 100 years.

Credit: U.S. National Science Foundation

Small and mysterious creatures known as cryptofauna have a large presence among the biodiversity in a coral reef ecosystem and for the first time in a century, a previously unknown member has been identified in the Florida Keys. We'll learn about a new species on NSF's "Discovery Files."

The biodiversity of Coral reef ecosystems accounts for an estimated 25% of all marine species according to National Geographic. Hidden among the organisms that call coral reefs home are tiny creatures called cryptofauna.

NSF-Supported researchers from the University of Miami in collaboration with North-West University in South Africa, have discovered a new species of Gnathiid isopod, a parasitic crustacean, hidden among the cryptofauna of the coral reefs in the Florida Keys. These tiny creatures spend their juvenile period feeding on the blood of host fishes like a mosquito while adults live out their days hidden among the rubble of the ocean floor.

This species of Gnathiid is the first new addition to be discovered in the Florida Ecoregion in 100 years. The researchers have named it after an icon of the Florida Keys, musician Jimmy Buffett.

While Gnathia Jimmybuffetti is a parasite, the group is quick to emphasize the honor is tied to the artist's passion for the ocean and preservation of its inhabitants.

The group also notes that the current marine heatwaves could have a significant effect on the tiny isopods, who cannot swim to cooler waters. Similar impacts to other small invertebrates could upset the delicate balance of the coral reef ecosystem.

To hear more science and engineering news, including the researchers making it, subscribe to "NSF's Discovery Files" podcast.

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