Echoes of The Wall: The Pink Floyd Pistol Shrimp

SCIENTISTS IDENTIFYING A NEW SPECIES OF PISTOL SHRIMP is interesting but not astounding, since discoveries like this continually advance our understanding of the web of life.

UNLESS…The researchers name the new species after the iconic prog rock band Pink Floyd. That’s what a team of marine naturalists from the United Kingdom, the United States and Brazil did with the newly identified Synalpheus pinkfloydi, which they found in Pacific waters off the coast of Panama.

A LONG-HELD DREAM, A BIG PINK CLAW  They had two reasons for doing so: 1) The team was made up of Pink Floyd fans and Oxford University professor Sammy De Grave had always wanted to name a species after the band;  2) S. pinkfloydi is most notable for its whopping big pink claw, with which it creates the blistering sound for which pistol shrimp, or snapping shrimp, are known.

The report by De Grave, Kristin M. Hultgren of Washington’s Seattle University and Arthur Anker of Brazil’s Universidade Federal de Goiás, was published in the journal Zootaxa.

CRYPTIC SISTERS   To deal with the science of their finds, or some of it: The researchers found the Pacific-dwelling S. pinkfloydi to be a cryptic sister species to a previously known shrimp from Panama’s Atlantic coast, S. antillensis. Cryptic species are multiple species that have been hidden under one species name.

In this case, S. pinkfloydi and S. antillensis are very similar in appearance but found to demonstrate significant divergence in genetic makeup. The researchers estimated that the two species diverged around 6.8–7.8 million years ago, well before the final closure of the Isthmus of Panama 2.5–3 million years ago.

PISTOL SHRIMP ACTION   Although the Zootaxa paper focused on identification of S. pinkfloydi versus S. antillensis, the Oxford University’s news release on the report paid attention to the pistol shrimp’s claw-snapping capacity for creating a high-pressure cavitation bubble (resulting in the pistol sound) strong enough to stun or even kill a small fish.

PINK FLOYD ACTION   The paper itself had some fun with the Pink Floyd connection, noting that in range, the shrimp is “Presently known only from the type locality on the Pacific side of Panama; likely more widespread in the tropical eastern Pacific, but unlikely to occur on the Dark Side of the Moon due to lack of suitable habitat.”

AND ROLLING STONES ACTION   A BBC story on the report noted that Dr. De Grave had previously named a shrimp after Rolling Stones legend Mick Jagger – Elephantis jaggerai.