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Caribbean parasite named after Bob Marley

LOS ANGELES — A small crustacean parasite which feeds on fish in the Caribbean has been named after Bob Marley, in what the biologist who discovered it calls a tribute to the late reggae icon.

The tiny shellfish, a blood feeder that inhabits the coral reefs of the shallow eastern Caribbean, has been called Gnathia marleyi after the Jamaican music legend.

"I named this species, which is truly a natural wonder, after Marley because of my respect and admiration for Marley's music," said Dr. Paul Sikkel, a field marine biologist at Arkansas State University.

"Plus, this species is as uniquely Caribbean as was Marley," he added in a statement on the website of the National Science Foundation, as well as that of the university.

In an email to AFP, he added: "I am a HUGE Bob Marley fan and have been since high school. I have three large Bob Marley posters in my laboratory, have virtually everything he has ever recorded.

"When I had the opportunity to name a species that I consider absolutely fascinating, I chose to name it in Bob's honor.

"It has nothing to do with the fact that it is a parasite, and everything to do with the fact that it is a truly remarkable animal that is widespread in the Caribbean."

The creature, from the family of gnathiid isopods, is the first new species to be found in the Caribbean in more than two decades, the National Science Foundation said.

The juvenile Gnathia marleyi conceals itself inside coral rubble, sea sponge or algae, and launches surprise attacks on fish which it then infests. Adult gnathiids do not feed at all, said Sikkel.

"We believe that adults subsist for two to three weeks on the last feedings they had as juveniles and then die, hopefully after they have reproduced," he said.

The health of Caribbean coral reefs is declining due to disease. "We are currently researching the relationships between the health of coral reef communities and gnathiid populations," said Sikkel.

Naming new species after celebrities is nothing new: President Barack Obama has a lichen named after him; Microsoft boss Bill Gates has a flower fly, and Elvis Presley has a wasp, the foundation said.

Neither the Marley family nor his record label, Island Records, responded to requests for comment on the deceased musician's latest honor.