Discovery Files

Scientists discover new isopod species in the Florida Keys

Tiny crustaceans are named after singer-songwriter the late Jimmy Buffett

Scientists at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science and North-West University in South Africa have discovered a new species of marine cryptofauna in the Florida Keys. Cryptofauna are the tiny, hidden organisms that make up most of the biodiversity in the ocean.

The roughly 3-millimeter-long isopod is one of only 15 species from the genus Gnathia known in the region. The newly discovered species, Gnathia jimmybuffetti, is a member of a group of crustaceans called gnathiid isopods.

The findings are published in the journal Bulletin of Marine Science. The study was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

"It's a species that was previously unknown to science," said marine biologist Paul Sikkel of the Rosenstiel School. "It's the first new Florida gnathiid to be discovered in 100 years."

The tiny animals, found throughout the world's oceans, lead curious lives. The juveniles are most active at night and feed on the blood of fish, similar to how mosquitoes or ticks feed. The adults do not feed and live hidden in rubble on the ocean floor. They are grouped as parasites, organisms that require a living host for survival.

The severe marine heat waves off the coast of Florida and other regions that host coral reefs are concerning for species like Gnathia jimmybuffetti, which cannot swim to cooler waters. At above average water temperatures, mortality rates increase, and the abundance of gnathiids on reefs decreases significantly. These effects are likely similar for other small invertebrates that live in or near the bottom, which may have major impacts on coral reefs.

Since the species was discovered in the Florida Keys and the late Jimmy Buffett's music is synonymous with the region, the researchers named the new species Gnathia jimmybuffetti.

"By naming a species after an artist, we want to promote the integration of the arts and sciences," said Sikkel. "All species in an ecosystem play an important role and all species have something to teach us. As we discover new species, we are reminded of how many undiscovered species there still are."