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OSU names new species of fish after Irish singer Enya

Leporinus enyae - Photo courtesy Oregon State University

CORVALLIS, Ore. – What does Irish singer Enya’s 1988 hit “Orinoco Flow” have to do with fish?

There is the obvious lure of the catchy chorus she repeats (“sail away, sail away”) but now there’s a new line connecting the two.

Oregon State University researchers have named a new species of fish after the songwriter, the Leporinus enyae – which means beautiful little fish.

The name stems from the waterway where the team of scientists discovered the new species.

The fish was found in the Orinoco River drainage, located in Brazil’s Xingu River. OSU doctoral candidate and lead project author Michael Burns said they would play the song whenever they started working on the fishes.

“I heard the song so often in the lab it got stuck in my head,” co-author Marcus Chatfield said. “Then I just started listening to it on purpose when I was taking measurements of the specimens. When the time came around for choosing names, it just felt right to name this new beautiful fish from the Orinoco after the artist who wrote that beautiful song.”

Both types of fish are about 8 to 10 inches long, which is relatively small compared to others in the Leporinus family that can grow to be two feet long. The omnivorous species prefers living in moving water, so they can feed and escape predators.

OSU’s curator of fish Brian Sidlauskas said the Leporinus is a diverse genus of fish that includes many “poorly understood” species complexes.

“We thought it would be fairly straightforward to look at populations of similar fishes from the Orinoco River basin in Venezuela, the Essequibo River of Guyana, and several of the tributaries of the Amazon River in Brazil and see if they are taxonomically the same or different,” Sidlauskas said. “It turns out that there are at least two new distinct species, and there may be more.”

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