The Vibranium fairy wrasse, detailed Thursday in a paper in ZooKeys, was discovered as part of the California Academy of Sciences’ Hope for Reefsresearch program, which involves twenty research expeditions all over the world, with a focus on scientifically describing unexplored areas. Rocha is one of its four co-leaders. Despite being a senior scientist, he regularly seeks out the expertise of Tea, a graduate student on another continent with whom he has worked for years. “Even back when he was a high school student, his passion for coral reef fishes makes him one of the most knowledgeable people on fish taxonomy in the world,” Rocha said. “When I am in the field, I often send him photos of what we are catching, because I know I will get an ID faster than trying to go through field guides!”
C. wakanda joins a growing list of animals named after pop culture figures, a practice that some of the stuffier types in taxonomy are skeptical of. Tea and Rocha wave off such concerns. “I see this as a way to bridge the divide between science and the general public,” Tea said. “Research is important, but it is equally important to convey it to people with more general interests. Taxonomy is often seen as boring, but it has massive implications for biodiversity conservation. Inspiring the next generation of taxonomists by making science sound exciting is our goal.”
And while some pop culture names are a little questionable, it’s hard to deny this little fish is channeling Black Panther’s aesthetic with its Vibranium-colored markings. Hopefully, by raising awareness of this amazing critter and the threats it faces, we can have Cirrhilabrus wakanda forever.