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Sumatran Peat Bog Yields Tiniest Fish

Stories told by fishing enthusiasts all tend to follow the same plotline: An endless sea and a mighty struggle with a fish so huge it's beyond belief. In the end, the biggest fish all seem to get away.

Then there's the fish tale just reported by Britain's Royal Society. It's about a creature from a black lagoon in Sumatra. Scientists say it's not only the world's smallest known fish, it's also the tiniest vertebrate ever found.

The fish was uncovered by Swiss ichthyologist Maurice Kottelat, who makes a habit of wandering through the Sumatra's dark, wet peat bogs. Kottelat is racing to discover new species of fish before the bogs are drained and burned by settlers.

In the past five years, he's discovered 450 new species of fish there. Most of them are small and under six inches. But one day in his net, Kottelat saw an unusually small fish; he thought it was just a baby. He sent it on to London's Natural History Museum, where researchers confirmed that the specimen the size of a nail clipping wasn't a baby at all, but the smallest adult vertebrate ever found.

The fish, Paedocypris progenetica, takes the title away from another fish: a half-inch-long goby found in the northern Pacific.

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John Nielsen
John Nielsen covers environmental issues for NPR. His reports air regularly on NPR's award-winning news magazines, All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition. He also prepares documentaries for the NPR/National Geographic Radio Expeditions series, which is heard regularly on Morning Edition. Nielsen also occasionally serves as the substitute host for several NPR News programs.