So a few blog posts back, eagle-eyed readers might remember I mentioned plans to write detailed overviews about each sunfish species… but then an entirely new species was discovered, so of course I got carried away with a shiny new sunfish and neglected my original plans! So please accept my apologies and prepare for some sunfish trivia!!
Today’s star is the slender sunfish, less commonly known as Ranzania laevis. The slender sunfish is a beautiful creature, the colourful cousin of our favourite Mola mola, and easily identified by its more elegant, elongated shape, typically with stunning stripes and spots along the silvery body. The species was first described in 1776 by Thomas Pennant, a Welsh naturalist and explorer whose works influenced other important figures of the time, including Georges Cuvier and Samuel Johnson, who said he was “the best traveller I ever read”. Praise indeed!
The species was later moved to the taxonomic group ‘Ranzania’, which forms a genus all of its own, named in 1840, after the famous Italian priest and naturalist Camillo Ranzani who was director of the Museum of Natural History in Bologna from 1803 to 1841. As with the other sunfish species, very little is known about the slender sunfish’s life history. It is suggested to occur in subtropical regions, up to 140m deep, with the largest specimen to date reaching 1m in length. The IUCN currently lists the species as of ‘Least Concern’ due to its broad distribution, high abundance in parts of its range and no known major threats. Of course this sounds like great news for Ranzania, but after working with Mola I have learned to be cautious… the extensive bycatch of sunfish species across the world is likely to affect other species and I would be really interested to learn if there is mass bycatch of Ranzania in areas where it is thought to be abundant, (as there is with Molas).
The IUCN recommends genetic analyses of Ranzania, and after the recent discovery of a third Mola species (with suggested further cryptic species!), I would love to know more about their population genetics to see if the species Ranzania laevis is actually made up of one homologous group, discreet stocks or potentially new species…
As it stands, I believe it is fair to say that this species could benefit from further research, and as I have had a few emails over the last couple of months from keen students looking for advice on interesting sunfish studies… this could be a great place to start!
As always, if you would like to ask any questions about PhD life, fishy science or if you spot a sunfish (esp. a stranded specimen) please get in touch using the comments section or via Twitter: @SunfishResearch or email: firstname.lastname@example.org