Zappa confluentus

"A Fish Called Zappa"

In around 1978 a man named Tyson Roberts stood on the banks of the Fly River at Madiri, about 74km upriver from Toro Pass, Papua New Guinea. On the exposed mudflats before him, flipping about on their sides, he saw hundreds of fish: they were clearly gobies, but a hitherto undiscovered species.

Roberts collected a number of examples (17) and assigned the specific name confluentus to them. There are quite a lot of genera in the goby family. The best fit seemed to be Pseudapocryptes; so Pseudapocryptes confluentus was how it came to be known.

[Image: Papua New Guinea]

Some 10 years later, Ed Murdy, a postdoctoral fellow studying mudskippers, came to look again at Pseudapocryptes confluentus, and came to the conclusion that this fish was no Pseudapocryptes. It was so different, in fact, that it needed a new generic name all to itself; the new genus needed a name, and Ed had to choose it.

The name he chose was Zappa, and the humble goby from the Fly River now rejoiced in the name Zappa confluentus. Ed wrote it up in the Records of the Australian Museum (Supplement 11, 31 August 1989; ISBN 073056374x, pp 53/54). The paper is entitled A Taxonomic Revision and Cladistic Analysis of the Oxudercine Gobies (Gobiidae: Oxudercinae).


Almost 10 years later again, and Ed Murdy is Director of the Tokyo Regional Office of National Science Foundation. I asked him why he had chosen Zappa as the name of the new genus. He replied, succinctly:

"This particular fish is clearly different from any other known to science, which is why the designation of a new genus was necessary. As to why I chose the name Zappa, there are three reasons:
1. I like his music
2. I liked his politics and principles
3. The name itself is a good one for scientific nomenclature."

[email to author]

On the subject of the music, Ed says "I wouldn't classify myself as a Zappa Freak. I know the lyrics to some songs, but do not own all the albums."
[email to author]

As for the politics and principles, Ed's paper, as is usual, contains a few words on the name chosen. "The generic name," it says, "is in honour of Frank Zappa for his articulate and sagacious defense of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."

"The Senate Hearings were impressive,"he told me. "I found Zappa to be incredibly articulate."

And the name? "The name is short, snappy, and easy to pronounce."
[email to author]

And it's real! Reginald Dwight thought Elton John sounded better as a name, Richard Starkie preferred Ringo Starr, but FZ had no need to change his. Even the first name, Frank, isn't an abbreviation, although he himself believed until his mid-twenties that it was short for Francis. (The story of how he came to find out is in The Real Frank Zappa Book, p. 245)



For more information on the Gobiidae, see the Science page.

The genus Zappa is apparantly distinguishable from all other members of the subfamily [Oxudercinae] in having "the first spinous dorsal fin pterygiophore bent posteriorly at a point three quarters along its length to extend horizontally over tip of fourth neural spine."
[Edward O. Murdy, op. cit.]

And here's a picture of Z. confluentus him (or her) self!

[Image: Zappa confluentus]

"I don't see much resemblance in the picture to Frank himself- but I never did have a chance to see which way Frank's spinous dorsal fin pterygiophore was bent . . ."
[David Ocker, email to author]

So, it looks like you'll have to make a trip to Papua New Guinea to see Zappa confluentus in its natural habitat. I'm sure any Zappa fans in the vicinity of the Fly River will be glad to show you around!

[Thanks to David Ocker for suggesting the title 'A Fish Named Zappa' in a post to, April 1996]

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