Science
Scientists say that the species could have modified its physical features to adapt to life underground, much like the character ‘Gollum’ in the 'Lord of the Rings' series.
Aenigmachanna Gollum | V.K. Anoop

Scientists from India and the United Kingdom have discovered the existence of “Gollum” in the state of Kerala. No, we’re not talking about the fictional character, “Gollum”, from JRR Tolkien’s famous “Lord of The Rings”, but a snake-headed fish found in the paddy fields in Kerala. Scientists have identified this species of fish as a new one that has not been seen before.

The fish which has been given the scientific name, “Aenigmachanna Gollum”, is named so because the scientists say that it could have modified its physical features to adapt to life underground, much like the character ‘Gollum’ in the LOTR series.

The fish, which is 9.2 centimetres in length, caught the attention of a research team after pictures of the fish were posted on Facebook by 25-year-old Mohammed Ajeer, who is a native of Malappuram and a fish enthusiast.

TNM got in touch with Rajeev Raghavan, Assistant Professor at Kochi’s Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (KUFOS), who is a part of the team which submitted a research paper on this particular snake-headed species of fish in the International Journal Zootaxa on Thursday.

Speaking to TNM over the phone from Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu, Rajeev said that when they came across the pictures of the fish, they realised it was one that has not been seen before.

“On seeing these photographs, we contacted the person who uploaded those photographs (Mohammed Ajeer). Finally, he got us two specimens, on which we did our research,” said Rajeev.

According to Rajeev, the fish, discovered in the paddy fields of Vengara in Malappuram, could have reached terrestrial waters, following disturbances in the aquifer habitat as a result of the devastating floods in Kerala in August last year.

As per a statement put out by the Natural History Museum (NHM), snakeheads are native to Africa and Asia and are distinguished by their long dorsal fins, large mouths and ability to breathe air using what is known as a suprabranchial organ in their gill cavity.  

The research team which Rajeev was a part of also comprised of Ralf Britz, a noted fish taxonomist and scientist in the department of life sciences with the Natural History Museum (NHM); VK Anoop, a research student at KUFOS; and Neelesh Dahanukar from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune.

Ralf Britz, according to the NHM statement, was quoted to have said that, “As soon as I saw higher quality images it became pretty clear that it was a snakehead. But having a snakehead from a subterranean habitat is an exciting find. This fish is very unusual.”

Rajeev states that this species of fish though is different when compared with other snakehead fish. The NHM statement says that A. Gollum has an incredibly long and eel-like body; numerous scales along its body, a very long anal fin running along its belly and tail and has lost the ability to maintain buoyancy in the water column. “It is possible that some of these aspects could be adaptations to their underground existence,” the statement adds.

According to the researchers, this is now the eighth subterranean fish that has come out of the aquifers beneath Kerala and they believe that there must be a hidden ecosystem existing over 40 metres below the surface.