Endemic fish gets Lankan-flavoured name

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The popular edible fish known to local fishermen as “modha” or “koduwa”, and recently declared endemic to Sri Lanka, has been given a scientific name with a local flavour – Lates lakdiva.

In an article that appeared last week in the scientific journal Zootaxa, Sri Lankan scientist Rohan Pethiyagoda has established that the koduwa is a marine species, not a freshwater fish, and that it is unique to Sri Lanka. The Lankan sea bass was earlier thought to be the same species, Lates calcarifer, found in waters across Asia and all the way to northeast Australia.

Unlike the Lates calcarifer, which live in freshwater rivers and descend to estuaries to breed, the Sri Lanka koduwa or sea bass live in coastal waters and breed in estuaries.

“This was pointed out to me in the early 1990s by the naturalist Cedric Martensteyn,” the Sydney-based Mr. Pethiyagoda says. “I put the Sri Lankan and the Australian specimens side by side to see if they were the same.”

In the article, Mr. Pethiyagoda and fellow scientist Tony Gill demonstrate that the Sri Lankan koduwa is not Lates calcarifer but a different species. Because the fish was discovered in Lankan waters, the researchers have named the koduwa Lates lakdiva.

The Sri Lankan fish is smaller and more slender than its larger, more widely distributed cousin, and there are other anatomical differences. Koduwa figures prominently on restaurant menus in Sri Lanka. Diners prize it for its succulent white flesh, and anglers seek it in fishing spots such as Bolgoda Lake and the Madu Ganga.

Lates calcarifer is known in Australia as barramundi and is the country’s most popular freshwater fish. The Australian fish can reach a weight of over 40 kgs and sell for Rs. 4,000 a kilo. The Sri Lankan fish is much smaller. A five-kilo koduwa would be considered big.

The research paper also described another species of barramundi found in Myanmar. Researchers named it Lates uwisara, in honour of Ven. U Wisara, the Buddhist monk who gave his life in the struggle for Myanmar’s independence from colonial rule.

Published on SundayTimes on 03.06.2012 – www.sundaytimes.lk/120603/News/nws_15.html

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