Meet the redtail garra, a popular species of aquarium fish from the border of Thailand and Myanmar:

Redtail garra fish. Image: from Tangjitjaroen et al. (2023).

Redtail garras have bright red tails and long snouts. Their snouts are covered in tubercles, which are hardened scales used as weapons.

Many Garra species have faces and snouts encrusted with barbed nodules called tubercles, which may be used to attract mates or to fend off adversaries. Image by Tangjitjaroen et al. (2023), CC-BY

Redtail garras are popular in home aquariums because of their diet of algae. A redtail garra attaches itself to a surface using its modified lower lip that acts as a suction cup. In the wild, the garra scrapes algae off rocks. In aquariums, it scrapes algae off walls and other features. The redtail garra provides a free aquarium cleaning service!

Because redtail garras are popular in the aquarium trade, people assumed that they were common in their natural habitat in rivers of Southeast Asia, especially in Myanmar. But upon closer exploration, scientists discovered that this was not true at all!

Despite being a globally recognized aquarium fish, redtail garras are hard to find in the wild.

Larry Page, a curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History, did find a few redtail garras in a small section of the Kasat River on the border between Thailand and Myanmar. Their habitat is isolated and hard to reach.

This is the natural habitat of the redtail garra:

(A) The type of habitat where the redtail garra is found. (B) Redtail garra in their home in the Kasat River, Kanchanaburi Province, Thailand. Photos in B by Nonn Panitvong.

“When we first collected specimens, we thought it must be widespread in Myanmar because of its popularity in the aquarium trade,” Larry Page said. “But it turns out it’s not. It’s only in the Ataran River Basin.”

Redtail garras have only been found where the black dot is in the map below:

Populations of redtail garra have only been found where we see the black dot on the map, in a  river basin that crosses the border between Thailand and Myanmar. Image by Tangjitjaroen et al. (2023) CC BY.

Larry Page and his colleagues determined that the redtail garra is a unique species that had not been previously described by science. They wrote a formal description of the redtail garra in a scientific paper.

As part of the species description process, they gave the redtail garra a scientific name: Garra panitvongi. The new species name is in honor of Nonn Panitvong, a Thai businessman and naturalist recognized for his efforts in biodiversity conservation. 

Adapted for Mongabay Kids by David Brown. Based on an article by Liz Kimbrough, published on on 14 July 2023: