New African fish unveiled for Commonwealth Day

09 March 2010

A new African fish was unveiled at Commonwealth celebrations yesterday in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen.  It goes on display at the Natural History Museum later this week.

The species, named Nannocharax signifer, is new to science and was scientifically described by Museum scientist Dr Timo Moritz. A specimen will be on show in Dinosaur Way.

Nannocharax signifer was used as an example of a new species to launch National Science and Engineering Week's 'What on Earth' campaign.  The fish was unveiled alongside an example of an endangered UK species in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen at the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey.

Details of fish

Moritz discovered this new species when doing fieldwork in West Africa. The fish was collected from the Ouémé River basin in Southern Benin.

Moritz noticed its unusual bright red-orange colours on its dorsal fins and this inspired the 'signifier' name as 'Signifers' were Roman soldiers who carried the standard.


To determine whether the fish was a new species, Moritz measured the number of fin rays and scales and analysed the colour patterns and compared these to other similar fishes. Moritz also took radiographs to analyse the fish in more detail (radiographs are photos taken by exposing film to X-rays that penetrate the body and make the skeleton visible).

The results showed that the fish was indeed a new species of Nannocharax, of which there are 28 species worldwide. 

'Creating' new species

If a scientist thinks they have identified a new species, they write up their detailed analysis, with suggested names for the new species, and then send this to a scientific journal.

Other experts in that scientific field review the manuscript and once they are in agreement, the description can be accepted and published and the newly-named species is 'created'.

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