News / Species Spotlight / Whats In A Name: the Royal Gramma (Gramma loreto) (07/05/17)

Whats In A Name: the Royal Gramma (Gramma loreto)

Whats In A Name: the Royal Gramma (Gramma loreto)
Most saltwater aquarists are going to be quite familiar with the Royal Gramma (Gramma loreto). This colorful, affordable, and ubiquitous species is a hugely popular fish for smaller reef aquariums, and rightfully so. Aside from its occasional belligerence towards other similarly sized benthic fishes, it is about as ideal a species as one could image, offering a vibrant jolt of purple and yellow in a delightfully compact package.

But our story today concerns the curious name that this fish was bequeathed. What exactly is a gramma, and why is this one loreto? These are the sorts of questions that arent often asked, yet they demand an answer. To solve this mystery, we must turn our attention to the work of the nineteenth century Cuban zoologist Felipe Poey, who first described this species in 1868 as part of a survey of Cubas natural resources.

In the eyes of Poey, this little fish was noteworthy for its grouper-like shape, in combination with one particularly unusual trait: an interrupted (or disjunct) lateral line. Rather than forming a single row of pored scales running along the back, the posterior portion is a separate line unto itself, positioned along the midline of the body. We find this same feature having arisen elsewhere in cichlids and in certain wrasses (such as the Cirrhilabrus fairy wrasses), as well as in the dottybacks, jawfishes and plesiopids. And, interestingly enough, all of these fishes are quite closely related, belonging to a recently recognized lineage referred to as the Ovalentaria.

As it turns out, Gramma comes from the Greek , meaning line, in reference to the distinctive morphology of its lateral line.

If we read further on in Poeys description, we discover the origins of the species epithet. Gramma loreto is actually quite unique within the annals of fish taxonomy for being the only species to bear this enigmatic name. There are simply no other loretos to be found, and it will soon become obvious why.

Felipe Poey did not collect the specimen which he used to described the Royal Gramma. Instead, it was given to him by a woman by the name of Loreto Martinez. And there is our answer. This lovely fish might perhaps also be rightfully known as Loretos Gramma.

We know essentially nothing else of the Seorita Martinez. She seems to have not collected any other species, or, at least, none which bear her name. Who was she, and why was she collecting coral reef fishes in Cuba 150 years ago? The passage of time has left her contributions largely forgotten, but perhaps its time we take a moment to remember her role in bringing this iconic species to light. One can only imagine the delight and bewilderment she must have felt when she first laid eyes upon this brilliant piscine gem.