Pharyngula

Paedocypris

I saw on Muton, and several readers have mentioned it to me, this article about the world’s smallest vertebrate, fish of the genus Paedocypris. It’s a gorgeous translucent cyprinid, so is somewhat related to my favorite fish, Danio rerio. They live in cool, slow moving water in peat swamp forests of Southeast Asia. One female, only 7.9mm long, contained about 50 eggs, so they know it was sexually mature.

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Living Paedocypris progenetica, CMK 18496, (a, b) male, ca 9 mm; (c) female, ca 8.8 mm.

That size isn’t at all shocking—my zebrafish larvae at about that size are active hunters with functioning visual systems, capable of coordinated bouts of swimming, and they’re also very impressive animals…but they don’t have sex. It takes about 6 months for zebrafish to reach sexual maturity, and they are several centimeters long at that point. I would love to know how old these fertile Paedocypris were, but they were captured in the wild and virtually nothing is reported about their behavior or lifecycle. Ah, to have a fish colony that could be raised in a set of beakers, and could produce a couple of generations of crosses in a single semester…

One other clue that these are fully functioning, sexually mature adults are the presence of some pelvic specializations. Males have a hook and flange widget on their pelvic fins, and an odd prepelvic knob. Again, though, without knowing anything about their behavior, we don’t know how these are used in mating and courtship. Wouldn’t it be cool to put a pair under my Wild M3 scope and watch courtship and mating?

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(a) Paedocypris micromegethes, paratype male, ZRC 49869, 10.4 mm; pelvic fins, anteroventral view, showing hook and flange on anterior ray. (b) Paedocypris micromegethes, paratype, male, BMNH 2004.11.16.1-40, 10.9 mm, ventrolateral view on hypertrophied pelvic arrector and abductor muscles marked by asterisk symbols. (c) Paedocypris progenetica, paratype male, ZRC 43199, 8.5 mm, scanning electronic micrograph of pelvic region in ventrolateral view, arrow points to keratinized prepelvic knob.

Of course, in addition to not knowing their generation time yet, these fish have another drawback relative to zebrafish: tiny eggs. They extracted a range of sizes from the ovaries, but assuming the smallest are immature, they max out at around 0.3mm diameter. That’s respectable, but Danio eggs are about 1mm in diameter.

Can you tell I’d love to get my hands on a bunch of these little fish? Unfortunately, I’ve heard from fish importers that it is agonizingly expensive and time consuming to bring wild tropical fish into the country, and for good reason: to block invasive species, to prevent the spread of new fish diseases, and also to discourage the plundering of native populations. I may not ever see one of these animals, short of making a trip to Malaysia, and even then I won’t be bringing any home.