Garra barreimiae

Fowler and Steinitz 1956

Garra barreimiae
Redrawn by Rod Holt from Banister and Clarke 1977


Garra barreimiae was described from epigean specimens in 1956 in Oman. In May 1980 A. Dunsire and M. Gallagher discovered and collected specimens of an eyeless and depigmented fish from a cave in Oman. Banister (1984) provided a brief account of these fishes, and others collected later, and concluded that they were conspecific with G. barreimiae. The following details apply only to the cave-dwelling members of the species.

Khalaf-Sakerfalke von Jaffa (2009) provided an account of a blind cave fish from Wadi Al Wurayah, Emirate of Fujairah, UAE, which he called Garra barreimiae wurayahi Khalaf 2009.  Eschmeyer, Fricke, and van der Laan (2018) comment: "Name apparently not available from this description, as no types designated (ICZN Art. 16.4) and no differentiating diagnosis or description given (ICZN Art. 13.1.1). Name needs subsequent validation". It seems unlikley that this is a real subterranean fish.






Of the cave-dwelling form:

BMNH 1980.11.27:2-115; 1981.6.29:5-14; 1981.9.28:2-6 (The accession numbers in Banister (1984) do not correspond with the numbers in the main register at the BMNH. The latter are used here)


Banister (1984) records that the fishes he examined were obtained from a cave on the southern flank of the Jabal Akhdar mountains, 9km ESE of Al Hamra, Oman (23o05'N, 57o21'E). This location corresponds exactly with Kahf Hoti (also known as Al Hoota Cave), the most extensive cave in the Jabal Akhdar. Details of the cave, with survey, are provided by Waltham, Brown and Middleton (1985) who comment that large numbers of fishes were present in lakes in the cave. Banister (1984) reports that other subterranean populations of Garra species have been discovered in Oman but he discloses neither the location nor the identity of these fishes. This species is also found in a closely related cave the Hoti Pit (Kirchner et al. 2017).


The fishes live in a number of large deep lakes within the cave. The main population is in Fish Lake which receives input from a mineral rich inlet of warm water. The cave carries flood water perhaps twice a year and this presumably brings in food from outside. The fishes can migrate upstream (Figs. 1-4 below) but what initiates this migration is not known.


Banister (1984:928) records: "The degree of character concordance between the epigean Garra barreimiae and the hypogean specimens strongly suggests that the two populations are conspecific". In a previous paper (Banister and Clarke 1977:132 - 138) two subspecies of G. barreimiae were erected, the nominotypical and G. b. shawkahensis (based on the number of gill rakers and the position of the pelvic fin). The hypogean fishes are assigned to neither of these nor to a new one. No figures for the diagnostic characters are given in Banister (1984) and further study is obviously required. Wilkens (pers. comm.) has successfully cross-bred the cave and surface G. barreimiae, which, under the Biological Species Concept, suggests that they are a single taxon. However, there are bound to be major differences in ecology and competitive abilities between the epigean and hypogean morphotypes (see discussion under Astyanax jordani and their conspecificity should not be assumed as solid without further, probably DNA, studies. G. barreimiae is a member of the monophyletic group termed labeine cyprinids by Reid (1978, 1982). Two other cave dwelling species, Garra widdowsoni and Garra typhlops are also members of this group. See also Howes (1991) who places this lineage in the subfamily Cyprininae.

Hamidan, Geiger and Freyhof  (2014) suggest that this taxon may actually be Garra longipinnis Banister and Clarke 1977 as this is known from the Jabal al Akhdar . Further investigations are required to confirm this (Jorg Freyhof pers. comm. 02/2018)

Conservation Status

TLO TMP [DD:3.1:2015]

R (IUCN, 1990), R (IUCN, 1993), VU D2 (IUCN, 1996, 2000). There are now captive populations at (at least) Chester Zoo (Graham Proudlove pers. obs.) and Bristol Zoo (Chris Smart, pers. comm.), UK, and at the Zoologisches Institut und Museum in Hamburg, Germany (Jacob Parzefall pers. comm.). The Chester Zoo population bred in July 1991 (Banister, Bell and Crumpler 1992). Waltham, Brown and Middleton (1985) studied the area around the Hoti cave extensively and concluded that it is unique in that area. There may therefore be no other suitable habitats for cave fishes for many kilometres and the population in Khaf Hoti may very well be the only one.

Museum Holdings

There must be preserved specimens at Chester and Bristol zoos in the UK and at the Zoologisches Institut und Museum in Hamburg.

Key References

Reid, G. McG. Thesis 1978 A sytematic study of labeine cyprinid fishes with particular reference to the comparative morphology, functional morphology and morphometrics of African Labeo species
Reid, G. McG. Journal Article 1982 The form, function and phylogenetic significance of the vomero-palatine organ in Cyprinid fishes
Sandford, M. Journal Article 1983 Ervaringen met enkele minder bekende holenvissen
Banister, K. E. Journal Article 1984 A subterranean population of Garra barreimiae (Teleostei, Cyprinidae) from Oman, with comments on the concept of regresive evolution
Waltham, A. C., Brown, R. D. and Middleton, T. C. Journal Article 1985 Karst and caves in the Jabal Akhdar, Oman
Fausel, P. Thesis 1990 Das Sozialverhalten der Hohlenbarbe Garra barreimiae (Cyprinidae, Pisces)
Banister, K. E., Bell, J. and Crumpler, M. Journal Article 1992 Omani blind cave fish
Timmermann, M, Schlupp, I and Plath, M Journal Article 2004 Shoaling behaviour in a surface-dwelling and cave-dwelling population of a barb Garra barreimiae (Cyprinidae: Teleostei)
Aden, E Journal Article 2004 Ontogenetic eye regression in the cave fish Garra barreimiae
Timmermann, M and Plath, M Journal Article 2009 Phototactic response and light sensitivity in an epigean and a hypogean population of a barb (Garra barreimiae, Cyprinidae)
Colli, Licia, Paglianti, Annalisa, Berti, Roberto, Gandolfi, Gilberto and Tagliavini, James Journal Article 2009 Molecular phylogeny of the blind cavefish Phreatichthys andruzzii and Garra barreimiae within the family Cyprinidae
Kruckenhauser, L, Haring, E, Seeman, R and Sattmann, H Journal Article 2011 Genetic differentiation between cave- and surface dwelling populations of Garra barreimiae (Cyprinidae) in Oman
Hamidan, NA, Geiger, MF and Freyhof, J Journal Article 2014 Garra jordanica, a new species from the Dead Sea basin with remarks on the relationship of G. ghorensis, G. tibanica and G. rufa (Teleostei: Cyprinidae)
Kirchner, S, Weimaier, T, Rattei, T, Sattmann, H and Kruckenhauser, L Journal Article 2014 Characterisation of 19 new microsatellite loci for the Omani barb Garra barreimiae from 454 sequences
Sayyadzadeh, G, Esmaeili, HR and Freyhof, J Journal Article 2015 Garra mondica, a new species from the Mond River drainage with remarks on the genus Garra from the Persian Gulf basin in Iran
Freyhof, J., Hamidan, N.A., Feulner, G.R. and Harrison, I. Book Section 2015 Chapter 3. The status and distribution of freshwater fishes of the Arabian Peninsula
García, N., Harrison, I., Cox, N. and Tognelli, M.F. Book 2015 The status and distribution of freshwater biodiversity in the Arabian Peninsula.
Esmaeili, HR, Sayyadzadeh, G, Coad, B. W. and Eagderi, S Journal Article 2016 Review of the genus Garra Hamilton, 1822 in Iran with description of a new species: a morpho-molecular approach (Teleostei: Cyprinidae)
Lyon, R.G., Geiger, M.F. and Freyhof, J. Journal Article 2016 Garra sindhi, a new species from the Jebel Samhan Nature Reserve in Oman (Teleostei: Cyprinidae).
Kirchner, S., Sattmann, H., Plan, L., Krenn, H., Victor, R., Haring, E. and Kruckenhauser, L. Conference Paper 2016 As above, so below? Testing for gene flow between cave and surface-dwelling populations of Garra barreimiae
Kruckenhauser, L., Reginald, V. and Sattmann, H. Conference Paper 2016 The fauna of the Al Hoota Cave in Northern Oman
Nebeshwar, K and Vishwanath, W Journal Article 2017 On the snout and oromandibular morphology of genus Garra, description of two new species from the Koladyne River basin in Mizoram, India, and redescription of G. manipurensis (Teleostei: Cyprinidae)
Kirchner, S, Sattmann, H, Haring, E, Plan, L, Victor, R and Kruckenhauser, L Journal Article 2017 Investigating gene flow between the blind cavefish Garra barreimiae and its conspecific surface populations
Pichler, A., Ahnelt, H., Kirchner, S., Sattmann, H., Haring, E., Handschuh, S., Freyhof, J., Victor, R. and Kruckenhauser, L. Journal Article 2018 The morphological diversity of Garra barreimiae [Teleostei: Cyprinidae]
Fig. 1. Garra barreimiae climbing a waterfall in Al Hoota cave. Photograph by Peter Eades and courtesy of Andy Dunsire
Fig. 2. Garra barreimiae climbing a waterfall in Al Hoota cave. Photograph by Peter Eades and courtesy of Andy Dunsire
Fig. 3. Garra barreimiae climbing a waterfall in Al Hoota cave. Photograph by Peter Eades and courtesy of Andy Dunsire
Fig. 4. Garra barreimiae climbing a waterfall in Al Hoota cave. Photograph by Peter Eades and courtesy of Andy Dunsire
Fig. 5. From Kirchner et al. (2017). Used under a Creative Commons 4 license and with permission of Sandra Kirchner.
Fig. 7. Depiction of varying eye development in intermediate and surface morphotypes. Intermediate/blind individuals from A) Ghubrat Tanuf, B. Wadi Falahi, C) typical surface morphotype. From Kirchner et al. (2017). Used under a Creative Commons 4 license and with permission of Sandra Kirchner.