The article is co-authored by the Cuban researchers Lazaro W. Viñola and Logel Lorenzo along with the specialist Richard Carr of Montana State University. In it, the authors provide not only the description of the new species but also a revision of the taxonomy and fossil record of the genus.
The fish of the genus Balistes are most diverse in the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific Ocean, with a few species occurring also in the Mediterranean and western Atlantic. Two species are currently known from the Caribbean: Balistes vetula and Balistes capriscus. The new species, B. vegai, is so far the largest species described. It was named in honor of Johnny Vega Piloto, a member of the Cuban Speleological Society, who in 2013 discovered the first fossil evidence.
|Artistic reconstruction of Balistes vegai by Ethan Schmunk showing |
an adult B. vegai chasing a juvenile megalodon shark (Otodus megalodon) in Cuban waters.
Balistes are peculiar fish characterized by an elongated snout, powerful jaws, and teeth that allow them to prey on invertebrates such as sea urchins. These are often aggressive and territorial fishes. Generally, these are not easily digestible by humans since they tend to be toxic. Nonetheless, people eat them in several parts of Cuba and the Caribbean.
Maybe one of the most relevant aspects of this discovery is its implication for the local fossil record, and Caribbean natural history, geology, and paleontology in general. The presence of triggerfish in the Miocene rocks of Cuba suggests the existence of marine ecosystems similar to those exploited by these fish in the region today. Moreover, it supports the hypothesis that a wide, shallow and warm sea existed in what is today the central lowlands and low hills of the Matanzas region, about a dozen million years ago.
Viñola, L. W., R. Carr, and L. Lorenzo (2019). First occurrence of fossil Balistes (Tetradontiformes: Balistidae) from the Miocene of Cuba with the description of a new species and a revision of fossil Balistes. Historical Biology DOI: 10.1080/08912963.2019.1580278.
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