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Ocean parasite named after Jamaican Bob Marley

July 11, 2012|By Thomas H. Maugh II | Los Angeles Times
  • A Caribbean fish, the French grunt, infested with gnathiids.
A Caribbean fish, the French grunt, infested with gnathiids. (Elizabeth Brill / National…)

It is not clear how big an honor it is, but Jamaican reggae guitarist and singer Bob Marley has had his name attached to a blood-sucking parasite that infests fish living on coral reefs in Jamaica. The naming is not meant to be a sign of disrespect, said marine biologist Paul Sikkel of Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, who coined the name Gnathia marleyi to honor Marley. "I named this species, which is truly a natural wonder, after Marley because of my respect and admiration for Marley's music," Sikkel said. "Plus, this species is as uniquely Caribbean, as was Marley."

The new species belongs to a family of parasites called gnathiids, which are ocean-based analogs of blood-sucking ticks and disease-carrying mosquitoes. They live throughout the ocean and are the most important food source for cleaner fish, which eat them off the skin of other fish.

Sikkel and his colleagues have been studying the ecological effects of commercial fishing and degradation of coral reefs and had previously observed G. marleyi throughout the region, assuming that they had already been characterized and classified. On a hunch, however, Sikkel sent specimens to Nico J. Smit of North-West University in South Africa. Sikkel, Smit and their colleagues reported in the journal Zootaxia that the parasite had never been named and conferred the honor on Marley.

Juvenile gnathiids hide within coral rubble or algae so they can launch surprise attacks on fish and infest them. Once the parasites turn adult, they stop feeding and live for two to three weeks attempting to reproduce.

Other celebrities have been similarly honored, although perhaps with slightly less offensive species. President George W. Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Beatles all had beetles named after them; President Obama has a California lichen named in his honor; comedian Stephen Colbert has two insects named after him; and singer Beyoncé is the namesake of a horsefly with a golden rear end.

 LATimesScience@gmail.com

Twitter/@LATMaugh

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