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For a long time, Filipino schoolchildren were taught that the world’s smallest fish was a species exclusively found in the Philippines:ย Pandaka pygmaea, or the dwarf pygmy goby. Recent findings, though, have shown that this isn’t necessarily the case, depending on how you define “smallest.”ย They’ve also revealed that our country’s waters aren’t the only home of this speciesโ€”and that this tiny freshwater fish isย dangerously close to disappearing completely from the Philippines.

First described byย American ichthyologistย Albert William Herre in 1927,ย P. pygmaea are nearly transparent, with black markings that help conceal them from hungry predators. Males of the species are known to grow up to 0.35 in (9 mm), while females reach a maximum length of 0.59 in (15 mm). Thus, based on maximum species size,ย P. pygmaea is certainly a contender for the “smallest fish” moniker. However, Paedocypris progeneticaย andย Schindleria brevipinguis reach maturity at smaller lengths: 0.31 in (7.9 mm) andย 0.26 in (6.5 mm), respectively.

P. pygmaeaย used to beย common in the Malabon River; however, experts say that due to pollution, the species has been extirpated (meaning it no longer exists in that area). Specimens were also found in Culion Island, Palawan. It’s no longer considered an endemic species, though, as it also lives in the brackish waters and mangrove areas of Indonesia and Singapore.

Curiously, P. pygmaea sometimes getsย mislabeled as theย sinarapan, which is a different species of goby (Mistichthys luzonensis). Often called the world’s smallest commercial fish,ย M. luzonensisย is endemic to the Philippines, and is found (in sadly dwindling numbers) in the bodies of water around Lake Buhi in Camarines Sur. The species is known to grow up toย 0.98 in (25 mm) in length, about twice the size ofย P. pygmaea.

In 2004, researchers expressed concerns that P. pygmaeaย may have already gone extinct in the Philippines, though this was not officially published.ย Based on the IUCN’s last formal assessment of the species on August 1, 1996โ€”more than two decades agoโ€”the species is critically endangered. As of now, it’s hard to say with certainty just how many of these small wonders are still swimming in our waters.


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References

  • https://news.mb.com.ph/2016/11/25/chemicals-in-tilapia-feeds-changes-in-temperature-cause-lake-buhi-fish-kill-town-in-state-of-calamity/
  • https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/900168/keeping-worlds-smallest-edible-fish-alive
  • https://web.archive.org/web/20101023084607/http://vivaldi.zool.gu.se/Fiskfysiologi_2001/Course_material/Introduction_fish_evolution/Panadaka_pygmaea.htm
  • https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/15939/5324338
  • https://www.fishbase.se/summary/Mistichthys-luzonensis.html
  • https://www.fishbase.in/summary/Pandaka-pygmaea.html