Clive Roberts and one tiny iota fish

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Clive Roberts is a fish biologist who joined the National Museum in 1990, shortly before it evolved into Te Papa. He has particular interests in the identification and distribution of New Zealand fishes within the wider Pacific region. This has included surveys of deep reefs, oceanic ridges and seamounts, and cataloguing the diversity of deep-sea fishes.

Clive Roberts during a Chatham Islands fish survey, c.1994. Image: Te Papa

Clive Roberts during a Chatham Islands fish survey, c.1994. Image: Te Papa

Most of the 23 fish species named by Roberts and his collaborators have names based on physical characteristics, including colour, markings and size. These include the pygmy sleeper (Thalasseleotris iota), which is New Zealand’s smallest marine fish at just 36 mm long. The name ‘iota’ refers to small size. The sayings ‘not one iota’ and ‘not one jot’, meaning ‘not the smallest amount’ are derived from iota being the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet.

Thalasseleotris iota, Mokohinau Islands. Image: Kendall Clements

Pygmy sleeper (Thalasseleotris iota), Mokohinau Islands. Image: Kendall Clements

Among the few species that Roberts has applied more abstract or obtuse monikers to are the yellowtail triplefin (Forsterigion profundum, now Matanui profundum) and the cryptic hagfish (Eptatretus cryptus). The yellowtail triplefin lives at greater depths than its relatives (down to almost 500 m). In English, ‘profound’ refers to deep thinking, but that is a metaphorical extension from the Latin profundus, meaning ‘deep’.

Yellowtail triplefin (Matanui profundum). Image: Te Papa

Yellowtail triplefin (Matanui profundum). Image: Te Papa

Cryptic as a description for wildlife usually refers to species that are well camouflaged or that remain hidden among structurally complex habitat, e.g. birds that live in swamps. In the case of the cryptic hagfish, it was hiding in plain view among the similar-looking common hagfish (Eptatretus cirrhatus), until genetic research undertaken at Te Papa revealed it to the world.

Cryptic hagfish (Eptatretus cryptus). Image: Carl Struthers, Te Papa

Cryptic hagfish (Eptatretus cryptus). Image: Carl Struthers, Te Papa

Clive Roberts has himself been honoured in the names of four fish species – three from the northern Tasman Sea, and one from the Ross Sea, Antarctica.

Roberts’ eelpout (Seleniolycus robertsi), Ross Dependency. Image: Andrew Stewart, Te Papa

Roberts’ eelpout (Seleniolycus robertsi), Ross Dependency. Image: Andrew Stewart, Te Papa

Help us name a new species

For 150 years, Te Papa scientists have been working to discover, describe, and name new species. Now it’s your turn. Celebrate 150 years of science at Te Papa by helping us name a new species. You might just go down in history. Suggest a name for this Acanthoclinus rockfish. We’ll seriously consider your idea.

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You can make a submission in the exhibition or by emailing youcalledmewhat@tepapa.govt.nz. Please include why you chose the name. See our website for terms and conditions, and helpful hints on making a suggestion.

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One Response

  1. Chrissy

    Fish can have some beautiful surface textures, & mesmerizing hues.

    Reply

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