Scientists Discover Fish With a “Lord of the Rings”-Inspired Name

High fantasy meets aquatic herbivores

Pacu fish
Imagine this, but with the Eye of Sauron on its side.
ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images

What looks like a pirhana, has teeth like a human and also resembles the Eye of Sauron from The Lord of the Rings? The answer might be “that terrifying thing from my nightmares last week,” but it is definitely a fish that calls the Amazon River home. Myloplus sauron, to be specific — and yes, that name is very much a reference to a certain J.R.R. Tolkien archvillain.

Live Science’s Harry Baker has more details on this bizarre aquatic specimen, which falls into the type of fish known as pacu. The main difference between these types of fish and their carnivorous cousins the pirhana comes into focus when you examine their teeth. Pirhana teeth are sharp, as befits their penchant for eating meat; pacu teeth are blunt and resemble those of humans. Their diet, by and large, centers around plants.

A paper recently published in the journal Neotropical Icthyology details the process by which this new Sauron-esque species was discovered. According to the scientists behind it, research into one species of pacu — Myloplus schomburgkii — revealed that what scientists had believed was one species of fish was actually three distinct species.

The paper’s authors wrote that the points of divergence among the species include “the shape of the vertical bar, shape of females’ anal fin, number of total vertebrae, [and] number of total branched dorsal-fin rays.” And there’s a distinct marking on its body that resembles Sauron’s all-seeing eye that so vexed Frodo and company.

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Sauron isn’t the only ominous pop-culture figure to share its name with a wild animal. In 2020, a crustacean living deep below the surface of the ocean was given a scientific name paying homage to Metallica, and a number of birds, fish and insects have names inspired by mythology or classic works of supernatural literature. And if the researchers who named Mylopus sauron are ever looking to name a new species of spider, they won’t have to look far to find a suitable reference.

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