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New in the autumn collection of Naturalis: Mola tecta

Posted on 31-10-2017 by Toine Baken

The vast collection of Naturalis keeps on growing! In this short blog series we present the newest additions to our collection. Today: the ocean sunfish! 

Well new…the big sunfish in the collection of Naturalis is not exactly a new addition! In the winter of 1889, this sunfish washed ashore on Ameland, one of the Dutch islands. She (it’s a female sunfish) was determined to be the species Orthragoriscus mola at the time, by researcher Lidth de Jeude, which is an old name for Mola mola. Earlier this year, a study was published in which researchers described a new sunfish species within the genus Mola: Mola tecta. Previously, only two species of sunfish were known: Mola ramsayi and Mola mola. A good reason to have another good look at the enormous and historical sunfish of Naturalis!

And guess what? It turns out that Naturalis’ Mola mola is actually Mola tecta! Important features on which this sunfish is now recognized as the newest addition to the genus are the slender body, the absence of humps and bumps on the body and a flatter face than the other two species. So far, the other sightings of individuals that are known to be Mola tecta have been recorded in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. So, the fact that this individual has been found on a beach in The Netherlands is quite remarkable, to say the least: Ameland seems to be quite the change of destination! For now, researchers have just concluded that this individual sunfish had a broken GPS and drifted off-course…

Mola tecta fotostudio

The sunfish of Naturalis in our photo studio.

So, apart from the rare sighting so far up north, what makes this sunfish so special? Firstly, this individual, even for a sunfish, is huge! She measures 2.73 meters tall and 2.23 meters long! Secondly, it’s a very old and beautiful collection piece – she has been in the collection for almost 130 years. The fact that only after such a long time, it has been discovered that she is another species than was initially thought, highlights the importance of historical collections such as the one of Naturalis around the world. Regularly, new species are discovered in historical collections: specimens that have simply not been described yet, but also specimens that (perhaps following new recently described species) appear to be another species than the one previously allocated to the specimen. So in short: it’s important to blow away some dust off old collection room shelves every now and then. Just like your grandparents’ attic, you never know what hidden treasures you’ll find! Perhaps even a whole new species!