They're equipped with their own purple armor and hide in a secretive African enclave. That's led scientists to name the newly discovered fish after the fictional nation of.
Diving researchers spotted the boldly colored fairy wrasse with brilliant purple scales in the deep, dimly lit coral reefs of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania. Fairy wrasses are a genus of tropical fish native to Indian and Pacific Ocean reefs and popular in aquariums.
The new species held its purple color even after being removed from the water and preserved for research, which typically causes similar species to lose their pigment.
Putting all its characteristics together, the researchers were inspired to name the new species Cirrhilabrus wakanda or the "Vibranium Fairy Wrasse," nods to the mythical kingdom of Wakanda and the fictional metal vibranium that powers its other-worldly technology.
"When we thought about the secretive and isolated nature of these unexplored African reefs, we knew we had to name this new species after Wakanda," explained Yi-Kai Tea, ichthyology Ph.D. student from the University of Sydney and lead author of a paper reporting the discovery, in a release. "We've known about other related fairy wrasses from the Indian Ocean, but always thought there was a missing species along the continent's eastern edge. When I saw this amazing purple fish, I knew instantly we were dealing with the missing piece of the puzzle."
The paper was published Thursday in the journal ZooKeys.
The scientists believe part of the reason this species went undiscovered until now is that it swims among reefs at depths below where most divers can go. Exploring the so-called mesophotic coral reefs requires intense physical training and specialized diving gear, enabling divers to explore the deep reefs for just a few minutes before having to make an extended journey to the surface that takes hours.
"Preparation for these deep dives is very intense and our dive gear often weighs more than us," said Luiz Rocha, a member of the team from the California Academy of Sciences' Hope for Reefs initiative. "When we reach these reefs and find unknown species as spectacular as this fairy wrasse, it feels like our hard work is paying off."
Being so inaccessible means that the reefs aren't often included in marine reserves, and Rocha hopes their discoveries will help to change that. So far there's no indication that the fairy wrasses possess any other-worldly vibraniumn-based technology they're trying to keep secret.