Big Fuss Over Small Fish

The gloves have come off in the fight to produce evidence of the world's smallest animal with a backbone, with two sets of scientists sparring over two different fish species, both of which are less than a centimetre long.

The latest contender, touted in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, is a 7.9mm fish from a peat swamp in Asia. Its opponent, hailing from Philippines, is a 6.2mm long male anglerfish. The anglerfish is supported by Ted Pietsch, who published his findings in Ichthyological Research last September.

His candidate is of a species where males are parasitic on females - they have relatively big eyes and big noses to find females, and a huge set of sex organs to fertilise her eggs. They bite onto any female they find, and spend the rest of their lives getting all their bodily requirements from her in return for allowing her to reproduce.

It is estimated that in 25-30 years of life, some 80 percent of female anglerfish fail to hitch up with a male. The specimen that Pietsch studied had a 6.2mm male attached to a 46mm female, beating the swamp contender by almost 2mm.

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