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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 May, 2005, 08:08 GMT 09:08 UK
Fish is shortest-lived vertebrate
The pygmy goby lives a frantic existence to avoid becoming extinct

A tiny coral reef-dwelling fish called the pygmy goby has taken the record as the shortest-lived vertebrate.

The pygmy goby lives an average of 59 days, pipping the previous record holder, an African fish which lives for just over two-and-a-half months.

A team from James Cook University in Australia reports that the tiny coral reef goby lives a frantic existence to avoid becoming extinct.

Details appear in the latest issue of the science journal Current Biology.

Not only is it constrained by its lifespan, but the tiny size of the coral reef pygmy goby (Eviota sigillata) limits the number of eggs a female can produce.

As a result, the fish lives fast and dies young.

Early bloomers

Female pygmy goby fish can lay a maximum of three clutches - about 400 eggs in total.

The males stand guard and fan the eggs to provide them with more oxygen.

After hatching, the tiny goby larvae remain in the open ocean for about three weeks before settling on a coral reef, where they mature for at least 10 days before they can mate and start the whole process off again.

The rapid growth and maturation of the fish comes as compensation for their reduced lifespan.

The study's authors, Martial Depczynski and David Bellwood of James Cook, point out that the smallest and fastest maturing vertebrates are also coral reef fish.

This could be because reefs provide relatively stable temperatures and habitats over long periods, or because of high predation rates.

The previous holder of the title of shortest-lived vertebrate was the turquoise killifish (Nothobranchius furzeri), which inhabits seasonal rain pools in equatorial Africa and must complete its life cycle before the pools disappear.

Some think that studying fish like the pygmy goby could help scientists unravel the secrets of ageing.

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