uShaka Sea World records first wormfish discovery in South African waters

The wormfish, Parioglossus, discovered for the first time in South African waters by uShaka Sea World aquarists

uShaka Sea World aquarists diving in the Durban harbour discovered a shoal of wormfish, the first record of this fish family in South African waters.

At first the divers mistook the fish – which they had never seen before – for a species of goby, but these fish were swimming above the reef and not behaving as benthic  gobies usually do, which is to sit on the sea bottom. 

Benthic gobies are commonly seen in estuaries, inter-tidal zones and on coral reefs with their distinctive elongated bodies, but these fish were more characteristic of the group known as swimming  gobies, which feed in the water column by hovering just above the reef. When they are alarmed, this species retreats quickly back into holes in the reef.

The aquarists collected about 200 of the tiny 5cm-long little fish and brought them back to uShaka Sea World’s Curator, Simon Chater, for identification.

A shoal of tiny wormfish found in Durban harbour


Simon had also not seen the fish before and promptly phoned Dennis King, a well-known underwater photographer, and asked him to photograph them. Simon sent his pictures to renowned local fish experts, Elaine Heemstra and Allan Connell, for identification.

At first glance, Allan thought they might be pennant gliders but their mouths were not “grumpy” enough and the distinctive caudal spot on the tail was missing. It was finally established that the cryptic creatures were in fact not gobies at all, but wormfish belonging to the family Microdesmidae. They were identified by Elaine as belonging to the genus Parioglossus.

Wormfish are goby-like fish found in shallow tropical waters, both marine and brackish. There are 27 species, the largest of which grows to 12cm.

After spending a mandatory period in quarantine, they were introduced into the echinoderm exhibit in the Aquarium, where they have all settled down and are doing well.

Look out for these special little fish next time you visit the Aquarium and don’t hesitate to ask one of the uShaka Sea World educators to assist you in finding them if you cannot spot them yourself.

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