Coffin Ray - Taxonomy and Phylogeny

Taxonomy and Phylogeny

The first scientific reference to the coffin ray was written by English zoologist and botanist George Shaw to accompany Frederick Polydore Nodder's illustrations of a beached fish, published in their 1795 work The Naturalist's Miscellany. Shaw interpreted the specimen as a goosefish, calling it the "single-finned Lophius" or Lophius monopterygius in Latin. Independently, French zoologist Auguste Duméril described a new electric ray in an 1852 volume of the journal Revue et Magasin de Zoologie, based on two specimens collected off New South Wales. He named it Hypnos subnigrum; the genus name is derived from the Greek word for "sleep", referring to the ray's ability to induce numbness. Eventually, Gilbert Percy Whitley recognized that Nodder had illustrated the same species that Duméril had described, and thus the proper binomial name became Hypnos monopterygius. In 1902, Edgar Ravenswood Waite proposed Hypnarce as a replacement name for Hypnos, which he believed was preoccupied by the butterfly genus Hypna. However, the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) does not seem to require the change, and thus Hypnarce is regarded as a junior synonym.

The common name "coffin ray" comes from the coffin-like shape of beached specimens, which become bloated after death. This species may also be referred to as crampfish, electric ray, numbfish, numbie, short-tail electric ray, or torpedo. Phylogenetic studies, based on morphology, have found that Hypnos is most closely related to the genus Torpedo. Hence, some taxonomists classify it with Torpedo in the family Torpedinidae (in its own subfamily, Hypninae). On the other hand, there are also taxonomists who believe Hypnos to be distinctive enough to merit its own separate family, Hypnidae.

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