The “mud dragon” (inset) was found in samples collected 10 years ago in the Alvor Estuary
The “mud dragon” (inset) was found in samples collected 10 years ago in the Alvor Estuary Estuary Photo: INÊS LOPES/OPEN MEDIA

New species of microscopic mud dragon discovered in Algarve

Marine animal acts as indicator of ecosystem health

A new species of kinorhyncha, a microscopic marine animal also known as “mud dragon” that works as an indicator of the good health of an ecosystem, has been identified on the Algarve coast by a group of researchers.

The samples that led to the identification of the species were collected 10 years ago in the Alvor estuary in Portimão and were kept at the Complutense University of Madrid until recently, when a Master’s student from that academy became interested in them, researcher Ricardo Neves told Lusa.

“The samples went unseen, a master’s student recovered them and made the description of this new species, called Setaphyes algarvensis in reference to the Algarve region, and the scientific article was finally published this year,” the biologist explained.

In the article in the European Journal of Taxonomy, researchers describe the new species of kinorhyncha as an animal that acts as a “kind of sentinel” of ecosystems.

“The studies indicate that the kinorhynchas indicate that the level of pollution of that ecosystem is low, and these animals are fundamental for the proper functioning of an ecosystem and also a key piece in the food chain,” stressed the researcher.

Commonly known as “mud dragons”, the kinorhynchas are microscopic invertebrate animals, less than a millimetre long, belonging to the little-known Phylum Kinorhyncha and that live in the superficial layer of mud or among grains of sand.

These animals live in the so-called half fauna, which, according to Ricardo Neves, is “extremely important for the study of the biodiversity of marine ecosystems, and for taking political decisions in favour of sustained environmental development.”

“Biodiversity is not only macrofauna or macroflora. There is a whole world that is hidden, but which is fundamental for the proper functioning of the ecosystem,” he stressed.

The name Kinorhyncha comes from the combination of the Greek words “kineo” (which means motion) and “rhynchos” (snout), a designation given due to the retracting and stretching movements of part of its body.

The article published this year results from research carried out for the Master’s thesis of Alberto González-Casarrubios, first author and student at the Complutense University of Madrid.

There are about 150 species of kinorhyncha described worldwide.