This blog was built on the Theme Suffusion, probably the best ever WordPress theme. Sadly, the maintenance of the theme was discontinued, and as WordPress is now introducing a new visual editor, it seems the time has come to try something different. Since the rest of the blogging community is focused on maximum design and minimum text, and this blog heads in the opposite direction, it will at least be interesting to see how it ends, if it ends. Who can know. One good change is obvious, however, it is responsive.
In January, PLOS ONE published an article which in several statements revealed itself as expressing creationist values. When discovered last week comments poured in to PLOS ONE and other online media, pointing to the numerous shortcomings of the article, including the references to intelligent design and specifically the design of the human hand by a Creator. I also commented on this case as follow up on an earlier blog post.
Eventually, and conspicuously, PLOS ONE concluded that the article had to be retracted, the obvious conclusion of the scientists commenting on the article.
The PLOS ONE editors have followed up on the concerns raised about this publication. We have completed an evaluation of the history of the submission and received advice from two experts in our editorial board. Our internal review and the advice we have received have confirmed the concerns about the article and revealed that the peer review process did not adequately evaluate several aspects of the work.
In light of the concerns identified, the PLOS ONE editors have decided to retract the article, the retraction is being processed and will be posted as soon as possible. We apologize for the errors and oversight leading to the publication of this paper.
Although there is still no explanation how it could happen, PLOS ONE is to be credited for taking a resolute action. It is interesting and reassuring also to experience that the scientific community is actually an alert and active watchdog, playing a significant role in defending science from scams.
Case closed while still hot. What will happen next!?
In a post not long ago on SCI-HUB and its importance for communicating science, I also made some remarks on the quality of topnotch journals. Don’t expect quality because it is expensive or has a so-called Impact Factor of significance. And now it rains gold on my modest point. PLOS ONE (reads Public Library of Science) is a well renowned Open Access Journal (authors pay), with the following statement:
On 5 January, the journal published a long article about human hand biomechanics. An eye-opener for many on how wrong things can go, but there was some latency before the article became widely known. Already the abstract got the scientific society to turn to twitter #HandOfGod, blogs and other social media for exclamations (this is just one):
The explicit functional link indicates that the biomechanical characteristic of tendinous connective architecture between muscles and articulations is the proper design by the Creator to perform a multitude of daily tasks in a comfortable way
It is actually quite funny. A long text on the intelligent and purposeful design of the human hand and – blasphemically – how it can be model for robot hands:
The clear link between the structure and the function of the human hand also suggests that the design of a multifunctional robotic hand should be able to better imitate such basic architecture.
Obviously there was no editing or review of this contribution, and it was probably hit by a wholly inadvertent blunder somewhere along the way. S happens. It is surprising, however, that PLOS ONE do not retract the paper . Retraction Watch has already set out the net.
Could it happen with fish papers? Sure, worse stuff gets published all the time but you are not likely to read much about it here because I am of the opinion that I should not comment on particular fish research here, but only in scientific peer reviewed publications. But papers on intelligent design are not scientific, and it is really amusing when they slip into respectable journals.
Has something like this happened before? Yes, creationsists are bragging about it here, but note that most journals publishing their pseudoscience are of lesseer quality. A major scandal was a paper in the well-renowned Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington in 2004. Do we have to be afraid that pseudoscience takes over? No, only real science can provide reliable explanations of the world and its history. LOL!
Only today, PLOS editors have reacted to their own temporary demise:
PLOS ONE editors apologize that language wasn’t addressed pre-publication. We’re looking into concerns w/ priority.
As if language were the problem …Where were the reviewers, the editors?
I am one of those among many thousands, millions even, with privileged access to paywall-protected scientific publications through my affiliation with academic institutions.
I am not one among millions of students and scientists who are locked out from an enormous amount of scientific publications and consequently unable to fully develop their potential to reshape the world into a better place for all of us.
I am even privileged to support Open Access by paying for removing the paywall from my publications (occasionally it gets too expensive).
But what happens when I retire? Will I have to go back to the 20th Century procedures of tedious search for relevant literature and writing one after the other of reprint requests mailed to busy people which may or may not grant me the mercy of honoring my request (actually, nearly nobody declines a reprint request)? Not likely, things changed, irreversibly. But I may get locked out from information.
Before the Portable Document Format scientific publications were strictly published on paper, either by a scientific entity (university, museum, society) or by a commercial publisher. In taxonomy, Journal of Natural History, society journals such as Copeia, and museum bulletins like those of the American Museum of Natural History or the British Museum (Natural History) could thrive on subscriptions or exchange. Everything animalish was indexed in Zoological Record which also was affordable. Authors would be given or could buy reprints of their articles for further distribution. Old and antique books were available from academic libraries. From the 1970s on photocopying techniques enabled one to build up complete libraries of everything written about a taxonomic group (e.g., all cichlid papers) at very low cost. It was not ideal, but life was flowing more slowly in the old days. You could do time-consuming quality work. You didn’t have to publish in Nature at all cost. “Impact factor” was unknown, everything had 100% impact.
With digital publishing and PDFs all that changed. Particularly publication metrics has inflated publishing, and science administration is no longer by experienced scientists but by anyone able to count impact points (don’t have to be able to count more than the total number of digits on two hands, however). On top of that, scientific publishing has gone commerical to an extent really unexpected for academics. The simple equation in science is idea->research->communication=>education->democracy and well-being. For any democracy full insight into scientific research and full free access to the results and communication of research must be a sine qua non. Instead patenting is bigger business than ever and “copyright” laws become more and more idiotic.
While research as such has not changed at all since we got out of the Dark Ages, the last 20 years has seen an increase in publications and particularly commerical publications, as well as scientists. One study suggests a doubling of scientific papers every 8 or 9 years (Bornmann & Mutz, 2015) Publications are not necessarily less available today than in the Paper Age, but they are more numerous, and and more people need to be informed. This causes furstration over inequality between those that can pay for the information and those who can’t and there is no logical reason for this discrimination.
UNESCO statistics shows an increase in number of researchers globally from 3,954,280 in 1997 t0 4,908,293 in 2013, that is nearly one million more researchers, but the reporting is incomplete. In Sweden there was an increase from 36,878 in 1997 to 62,994 in 2013, and China nearly tripled in scientists, from 548,000 in 1996 to 1,484,040 in 2013. So I think we can conclude that both researches and students are on the rise. This means more papers and more needs for reads.
The oligopoly consisting in only about four publishing companies publishes half of the scientific research and paywalls it (Larivière et al., 2015). A random scientific paper published by a commercial publisher may cost say 30 USD for downloading. Any scientist will read (at least skim through) between 100 and 1000 new papers annually. That means that a single article is supposed to bring in from China alone if only commercial papers are considered, 1,484,040*30*100= 42,120,000 USD. Every year. From that the publishing scientist gets exactly 0 (zero) USD, the funding agency gets exactly 0 (zero) USD, the reviewers get exactly 0 (zero) USD, and whoever funded the funding agency gets 0 (zero) USD. I must be exaggerating, of course, because universities pay large amounts for online journal packages so the individual article pricing only applies to those who cannot afford to pay; or authors pay 3,000 USD to make an article Open Access, which means 3,000 less for research and I suppose it is not discounted from the package subscription.
Profits in the leading commercial science publishers are over 30%, close to 40%, and profits over 2 billion USD have been reported for just one publisher (Larivière et al., 2015).
Why does this madness go on? And on? Actually it is only about vanity and sloppiness, chasing High Impact figures invented by the same publishers. Would you believe that you get 2 billion USD of real value each year? End of all disease, end of all wars, all species on Earth named, cars running on water as fuel… No, no, you get mostly words, words, words, powerpoints, and figures, mostly trivial stuff, , some of it not even edited or peer reviewed; nothing that could not be published by a small society for nearly nothing (but worth 2 billion USD). But perhaps it doesn’t matter because most people cannot afford the subscriptions anyway.
Lead author of Larivière et al. (2015), Vincent Larivière, is quoted by CBCNEWS:
“We need journals because of their prestige. Journals give discoveries and researchers a hierarchy.”
No no; we need journals to publish results of scientific research. When we let journals “guide” us to “correct” or “best” or “most relevant” (i.e., most expensive subscription) research and grade us according to how we fit their standards (i.e., how much they can charge), it is corruption and manipulation.
Enter as a heroine of science Alexandra Elbakyan and SCI-HUB “…to remove all barriers in the way of science”. SCI-HUB is repository of research papers culling Open Access as well as paywalled papers and making them available at zero cost to humanity. Some say this is illegal, but that remains to be demonstrated. It is not illegal to read, download or store a PDF file that you find on the web. It is not illegal to search for paywalled publications on the web. It may be illegal to re-publish such publications, what do I know. SCI-HUB is not publishing anything, it only helps you find stuff. I like The Pirate Bay too. I have no need for it, but I believe it does miracles for people in small circumstances. The Pirate Bay, however re-publishes artistic material, so I guess it is not quite OK in many cases. SCI-HUB is different, it enables recovering the information that scientists and the society have already paid for.
SCI-HUB is apparently operated by using the LibGen repository of paywalled scientific articles; and on top of that adding (also to LibGen) paywalled articles accessed from subscription codes. In my trials it works well with major publishers, but will not open lesser independent journals, and it will not open articles immediately upon publication. At the time of writing the SCI-HUB website reports that it has 47 million scientific papers.
In practice, if you stumble on a paywalled article that you need for your research or studies, you paste the DOI code in the search field in SCI-HUB, click on the button with an arrow on it, and if the publication date is not too close, the PDF file will be delivered to you. You may have to learn some cyrillic text to understand more, but do you really need to know more?
SCI-HUB is a research tool created by Kazakhstanian software developer and neurologist, and consequently heroine of science Alexandra Elbakyan in frustration over the pricing of scientific articles. She has been quoted (source not found) to refer to the Human Rights Declaration:
“Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”
Others have likened her to Robin Hood; or called her a hero, which testifies to masculinocentrism in the digital sphere,.. but we know what you mean. Alexandra’s story is told at length, and partly with her own words, in Simon Oxenham’s blog post.
Certainly, publishing is not free of costs. It takes time and or money to process a manuscript, and print it, but in science most of the work of producing a scientific paper is done without cost for the publisher. The overpricing of scientific journals, aimed to be charged to the producers of the content of scientific journals, is definitely worth concern and opposition. There must be other models of dissemination of scientific information. There must be a way also for researchers outside rich universitites to share information on the same conditions as institutionalized colleagues.
I do not see that SCI-Hub is doing anything that researchers do not do anyway, except removing the time-consuming work of asking people for pdf reprints, and the equally time consuming work of sending pdfs around by e-mail. Many of us have also scanned our earlier publication and distribute the scans instead of sending paper reprints.
Indeed, social networks such as Academia and ResearchGate are also used as vehicles for distributing publications in a free way. Those are equivalents of closed societies, for which reason at least some legislation must permit exchange of publications between members; but of course, Academia and ResearchGate do not provide the same amount of information.
Interesting as pirating may be, SCI-HUB signals something deeper: the need to reform copyright laws. Copyright on knowledge (scientific and educational communication) is an anachronistic phenomenon in a society that has gone beserk in control of profit. To start with, copyright must be lifted from scientific and educational papers, including technical drawings and background data. At some point we must also look over copyright on artwork. It makes no sense to prohibit use of whatever artefact for 70, 90 or 100 years after the author died. I really don’t understand what makes so valuable out-of-focus or otherwise inferior fish pictures on the web with a big copyright sign on them [Example][Example 2]. That’s an indication that copyright must be reformed or die.
An alternative to paywalled profit publishing and SCI-HUB is of course to publish and support by subscriptions to other, academically sound journals, like, in ichthyology, Copeia, Journal of Fish Biology, Neotropical Ichthyology (Open Access), Ichthyological Research, Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters … Not necessarily free, but a start away from the overpriced.
Support an ichthyological society:
American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (journal: Copeia)
Sociedade Brasileira de Ictiologia (journal: Neotropical Ichthyology)
Société Française d’Ichtyologie (journal: Cybium)
European Ichthyological Society (no journal)
Sveriges Fiskforskares Förening (no journal)
Ichthyological Society of Japan (journal: Ichthyological Research)
Fisheries Society of the British Isles (journal: Journal of Fish Biology)
Bornmann, L. & R. Mutz. 2015. Growth rates of modern science: a bibliometric analysis based on the number of publications and cited references. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 66 11: 2215–2222.
Larivière, V., S. Haustein & P. Mongeon. 2015. The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era. PLoS ONE 10(6): e0127502. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0127502
There is a little book – a dissertation actually – that lists every Swedish publication on fishes. Published in 1872 it of course had some advantage over any similar project to be raised today, but nevertheless it is a commendable work. It was presented as a doctoral dissertation at Uppsala University by Fredrik Lundberg, and comprises 18 pages of introduction and 56 pages of bibliography. The author, Lundberg, vanished in the shadows of time, at least this dissertation is the only evidence I can find of the person. Both Fredrik (currently first name of 95962 men and 2 women in Sweden) and Lundberg (currently last names of 21123 persons, first name of 3 men and one woman in Sweden) are common names in Sweden. Well, even if people may be interesting, it is a person’s work that counts, so I am basically content. Lundberg’s dissertation is important for tracking the history of ichthyology in Sweden, and for me it was the key to finding a rare publication that practically every other ichthyologist in Sweden refused to cite.
On page 29 Lundberg cites an article “Om Ichthyologien och Beskrifning öfver några nya Fiskarter af Samkäksslägtet Syngnathus. Af G. I. Billberg, (Linn. Samf. Handl. 1832, p. 47-55 m. 1 col. pl. Sthlm 1833).” The article was evidently in a journal with the name encrypted. It was somehow resolved as Linnéska Samfundets Handlingar (Proceedings ot the Linnéan Society). Decryption of journal name abbreviations is not for the impatient and weakhearted; luckily this tradition has been abolished in favor of very short names easy to mix up or very long names difficult to remember. As I could not find any further mention of pipefish species named by Billberg in other Swedish fish literature, or elsewhere – they were not incorporated into the Catalog of Fishes until in February 2016 – it was too good bait to resist.
This was in 2004 and although libraries were already restricting access to their older publications, online antiquariats were few. A copy of the particular journal issue could be found, however, in a Real Life antiquariat in downtown Stockholm for a considerable price. A second copy was lent to me by Professor Bertil Nordenstam, then at the Phanerogamic Botany department of the Swedish Museum of Natural History. The author, it turned out, was mainly a botanist or horticulturist, and the publication contains images and descriptions of plants
“Om Ichthyologien …”, indeed, the whole issue of the Linnéska Samfundets Handlingar (the first and only), and not least the curious author, were found to be extraordinary in many ways, good and bad. It was a discovery of a forgotten milestone in Swedish natural science that certainly needed attention. Billberg, a lawyer and judge, botanist and natural historian by devotion, and funder of of the Linnéska Samfundet, attempted to present a new classification of fishes, and also, a man of classical education more than biological, had a lot to say about other people’s scientific names on fishes. The publication is sprinkled with new names on all kinds of fishes, family names, generic names, species names, but practically all of them needed to be evaluated in relation to the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, and most of the fragmentary literature references pointed to sources not so easy to find in 2004 as they are now. So it wasn’t just the exciting discovery of three overlooked pipefishes. It was a true Pandora’s box, or can of worms, can of names.
Billberg proposed five new family names, only one of which survives as it is anolder homonym (Diodontidae). He mentions 61 genera of fishes, 41 of them listed only by name; out of 20 “new” generic names, none is valid. He he lists 31 species of fishes.; out of 28 “new” species names, one is potentially valid and a species inquirenda. Hardly anything in the taxonomy is justified by anything oyher than imprecise references. It turns out that Billberg probably based the whole paper on only one or two earlier works, by La Cepède (1798), and Cuvier (1817), with the outstanding exception of the description of three new pipefish species. The pipefish descriptions were based evidently only on three drawings made by Johan Wilhelm Palmstruch in 1806, probably from living specimens. So Billberg could have written his paper having examined zero fish, read two already long outdated books, and counted fin rays on three drawings. Of couse, the three new pipefish species are also junior synonyms.
What man had set his footprint so deep in the mud that it could not be retracted? In short, Gustaf Johan Billberg was born Karlskrona in Blekinge, southern Sweden in 1772. He studied law in Lund University and got a position as auditor in Stockholm in 1793. He took a similar position in Visby on the island of Gotland in 1798, but returned to Stockholm in 1808 and held various administrative and juridical positions there, mainly as a judge, until 1840. He became a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1817, and corresponded with Linnaeus’s successor in Uppsala, Carl Per Thunberg, but he never had a formal education in natural sciences. He was a collector, with large entomological collections, and took particular interest in botany and economic botany. If he had not been caught in some controversy between the Academy and Uppsala University, perhaps he could have developed a career as a botanist. Instead he devoted his fortune and time to publishing more or less unfinished works that along with other events drove him to bancrupcy. Some of these publications are significant, like his two issues of the work Ekonomisk botanik (Economic Botany) and a few parts of the book series Svensk botanik (Swedish Botany) and Svensk zoologi (Swedish Zoology), the latter in particular a pioneering work with descriptive text and hand coloured plates of Swedish animals. The society that he initiated, Linnéska Samfundet, was equally commendable, but quickly dissipated. The society produced just one issue of its proceedings, all articles in it written by Billberg, and apparently biologists showed no strong interest in the society. Billberg did make a lasting contribution, however, in developing one of the green areas in the heart of Stockholm, Humlegården. There he organised a Linnaeus Park, including a hilly flowerbed area still present today and known as Flora’s hill, named for his daughter Flora Mildehjert. Boethius (1924) wrote a detailed biography of Billberg.
Billberg’s enthusiam for natural sciences, particularly plants and animals, carried him high up among the clouds, and let him fall hard. When he died in the winter of 1844 he was broke and ill. By contrast, his brother Johan, without interest in natural history was ennobled af Billbergh in 1826. On the other hand Gustaf Johan brought up 9 children and one of them, Alfred, a medical doctor, became a well renowned pioneer in psychiatric medicine.
Years passed, however, as they tend to. “Om Ichthyologien…” remained a resting treasure as many other projects called for attention. The idea remained, however, to present an analysis of Billberg’s paper, and particularly to call attention to the existence of three forgotten species description contained in it. I started, stopped, and started, compiling names and checking literature sources. At first I thought that a tabular presentation would be enough, but no, too much needed to be said about this work. Eventually, after a senseless, sleepless final effort in early 2015 could I deliver a manuscript for submission. But it should take long time to see it in print. The main problem was obviously finding a reviewer. At last things could be resolved and in October 2015 there was an accepted manuscript. I will spare you all the details why its publication (Kullander, 2016) was then delayed till January 2016.
As you can read the whole analysis of Billberg’s fish names here, thanks to Open Access and somebody paying for that, this is not the place for reiterating detail that is already there. If you want a different context you can also find much of the information in the Catalog of Fishes.
Billberg’s many publications drew considerable criticism already during his lifetime, especially his unsuccessful habit of reforming the Swedish names on animals and plants. Billberg’s fish paper was ignored by all Swedish ichthyologists first probably because he was not accepted by the contemporary academics, and later because he simply fell out of memory. Several large volumes on Scandinavian fishes were published in the period 1836-1893.
Billberg has been called enthusiast, dilettante, and many other things, but on the positive side he was really an educator at heart, and it is difficult to criticize a person following a vocation to investigate things and try to make the world a better place, no matter how awkward the result then can be. The history of science is full of worse people. The worst that Billberg did was to put newly constructed names on plants and animals. That is something that many of us do …. Perhaps the review of his fish names can contribute to make him remembered more for his good aspirations than his formal failures. And serve to remind one always to be very careful when playing with names.
Billberg, G.J. 1833. Om ichthyologien och beskrifning öfver några nya fiskarter af samkäksslägtet Syngnathus. Linnéska
samfundets handlingar, 1: 47–55. [at Internet Archive]
Boethius, B. 1924. Gustaf Johan Billberg. Svenskt biografiskt lexikon, 4, urn:sbl:18212.
Cuvier, [G.] 1816. Le Règne animal distribué d’apres son organisation, pour servir de base à l’histoire naturelle des animaux et d’introduction à l’anatomie comparée. Tome II. Déterville, Paris, xviij + 532 pp.
Kullander, S. O. 2016. G. J. Billberg’s (1833) ‘On the Ichthyology, and description of some new fish species of the pipefish genus Syngnathus. Zootaxa, 3066:101–124.[at Zootaxa]
La Cepède, [B.G.] 1798. Histoire naturelle des poissons. Tome premier. Plassan, Paris, cxlvij + 532 pp.
Lundberg, F. 1872. Bidrag till öfversigt af Sveriges Ichthyologiska literatur. Akademisk afhandling med vidtberömda filosofiska fakultetens i Upsala tillstånd för Filosofiska Gradens erhållande till offentlig granskning framställes af Fredrik Lundberg Filos. kand. af Westmanl. Dala Landskap, å Zoologiska lärosalen, Lördagen den 25 Maj 1872, p.v. t. f. m. Stockholm Sigfrid Flodins boktryckeri. xviii+52 pp.
Marvel at those majestic buildings harbouring the biological heritage of nations. Natural history museums. Other research collections. The millions by the thousands of corpses and skins, leaves and stems, rocks and gems. Wondering about the shadows cast from time to time across the occasional window lit night after night. Dinosaur or Man, ghost or guard? Strolling through the galleries, what’s behind all those doors that remain locked? More treasures or just the junk? It is not so straightforward to explain what goes on in research collections, and difficult to imagine up. But for sure, there are collections safe in store rooms. And there are the scientists and the collection care staff. And, of course, some administrators. There is always something you can see of collections, and there are the reports, the scientific and not so scientific papers and web presentations, so nothing is really hidden.
But have you ever had a glimpse of a professional abode therein? Is it roomy or squeezy, white-walled or padded with trophy heads? Is there always a Larson in lieu of less intelligible art? Coke or coffee? White coats or tees? When I was so much younger than today I had an idea but not all the imagination. Then, indeed a long, long time ago, I was led by Gordon Howes through a maze of corridors and through the one locked door after the other to arrive at the magical heart of the fish division of the British Museum (Natural History) – now known by a lesser name – and there it was, the air, perfused by alcohol fumes, the books, the microscope steady on the bench, and the uncmfrtbl (so they pronounce it) chair, the tall windows and the big men, books, books, and reprints, reprints, greasy jars, soft dead fish with their autographs helped to them by the wisest of ichthyologists, Günther, Boulenger, Regan. Enchanted, it was a revelation of what life ahead was to be like. And now it is all gone, all the smell, the patina, the deoxygenated atmosphere, the dirty windows, and the kind of yellow Wild microscopes. Everything is new and shining and the nervousness – or was there any – about that spark that would send the alcohol to flames and the building to a cloud of dust, it is no longer there, fire regulations everywhere. And all the other museums are going modern as well. Actually I like the new style too – the facelift is an expression of value and respect for the scientists and their working material. As I much later came to my museum in Stockholm, it was just like that, dirty, dark, dull, and a bit dumb. Now it is full of fresh fish, gas driven chair seats, top-end computers, motorized microscopes, and all the papers are becoming pdfs. As I started on this essay, it was because I were soon to move to new quarters, smaller, newer, and the present, acquired coziness would be part of history. I have been in this office since … 1980? and it was upgraded only once with a little paint and new floor. Since nothing of the classical ichthyological laboratories of the overladen, all-inclusive kind was saved elsewhere (or ?… challenge me!) I decided to photo-freeze a bit of ichthyological history, speaking for many a demolished scientist’s office as new times have moved in. End of the commercials, take a seat and enjoy my research workshop, something like six by three meters and the ceiling truly up in the sky almost. If you ever wondered what a classical fish researcher lab looked like a late afternoon in the winter of 2012, here are all the details (well, a good part of them). If you came upon this text my daily practice unbeknownst, you may wish a confirmation that I am a fish systematist – there it is.
What you see to left and right, front and back, upp the walls and on cabinets and desks – are books and reprints. A sine qua non for life and science alike. The books and reprints in my office are those that are required for ongoing projects and such that are needed for various office tasks such as identifying fish for the public, colleagues and whoever calls. Books that are needed for finding information fast. Highlights are of course the Scott Liddell Greek lexicon, and Erik Wikén’s fabulous Latin for botanists and zoologists (Latin för zoologer och botaniker), in Swedish. I certainly need that copy of Artedi all the time, and right now I am trying to speed learn about Tanganyika cichlids from Günther and Boulenger to Poll and a massmess of molecular writings. If the hand library fails, topping it is the department library which has one of the best collections of fish books, journals, and reprints. Would it not suffice, there are of course AnimalBase and the Biodiversity Heritage Library.
Reprints used to be the blood running through the veins of ichthyology, and here they are still running across the walls. Authors always procured a hundred or two of each of their publications and distributed them for free. The point with reprints was that one would not need to subscribe to a journal, and one would not need to page through a whole volume of articles to find tiny scraps of information. Consequently, every footnote and misspelling was elegantly served by reprints, and so taxonomist could indulge in nitpicking ad libitum. It is only in taxonomy, in all of scientific publishing, that people comment on each other’s misprints, yes? The pdf option and Open Access have now killed the reprint collecting efficiently, but that’s all right as long as the printing errors remain …
It takes two (actually three) computers to keep things running, and all data are saved in paper format in three filing cabinets, a dossier for every species and dossiers for other data. Two microscopes may seem overkill, but one is dedicated for photography and one for fish examinations. So one can work in parallel. You will not find many jars in the study, because of fire regulations. Only lesser amounts of ethanol are permitted in offices those days, and the jars needed for the time being are assembled in trays on a cart for convenient transport back to the store rooms.
Stop the presses! Miraculously, this installation still remains. By a lucky chance the move was cancelled at the very last minute, and consequently change is not going to play with my order. Not now. I am happy. What about you? And, what’s your office like?
Photos: Sven Kullander, CC-BY-NC
Winter in Sweden, and that means darkness, cold, and snow covering all and everything. No wonder every window is lit, day and night, with glowing stars, moons, snowflakes, menorahs, or the new fashion little reindeer or bears lit by led from inside. Without all those warming winter lights darkness would bend our backs, and we would get swept away by depression. Or maybe not.
Nevertheless, I would like to take this window view to remind myself of another northern glowlight, recently named Dano flagrans. It is a little fish from warmer waters. From where it hails, however, you can actually view the snow of the eastern outcrops of the Himalayas. It is certainly the most septentrional of the Myanmar Danio, but rivalled, apparently defeated in northerliness by Danio dangila which occurs in the Brahmaputra basin in India up to the Dibru River. No other species of Danio reaches so far north.
The scientific history of Danio flagrans begins in 1988, when I, in the company of Ralf Britz and our guide Thein Win arrived in Putao, the northernmost major city in Myanmar. Putao is close to the Chinese and Indian borders, on hills forming the headwaters of the Mali Hka, major tributary of the Ayeyarwaddy River which then runs through Myanmar as one big muddy aorta. Up in the Mali Hka, however, the water is clear, at least in the dry season, not very deep, and the river beds paved with stones and rocks. The fish fauna of northern Myanmar mountain streams is little known. Transportation in the area is relatively complicated, and a lot remains to be done up there in terms of ichthyological exploration.
Back to our story, our little team was quartered in the military camp and we immediately set out to fish, having only two full days at disposal. The Mali Hka itself was too big for fishing, although alright for sightseeing, but around the regiment there were several small streams with low water and convenient for seine and handnets. The streams were shallow, the water was clear, rather cool, and fish were plenty. Here we found Badis pyema which was promptly described already in 2002, and Puntius tiantian in 2005, but other fish have lasted longer to be worked up. Walking along one of the streams, we switched direction to follow a tickle of water, almost no water, coming down the left bank hill, and in there were little skittish fish, almost invisible against the beige earth and seen only as moving shadows. A number of them, certainly Danio choprae – such was the field identification – came into formalin and one made it to a tube of alcohol. Neither Ralf nor I was into danios at the time, so the fish we just hoped would be useful for Fang, and we went on happily, catching Badis pyema and similar fish that had more of our attention those days.
One of the Putao danios was photographed but this was in times of film photography, with no immediate quality check, and much is to be regretted by the quality of the shot. Publishable it is not, but here it can be showed off as the first image ever taken of a Danio flagrans. The alcohol specimen was sequenced and appeared in a phylogenetic tree as Danio choprae (Fang et al., 2009), and by that time noone had looked at it closely (we had other specimens, true D. choprae for the morphological data). Time passed on. This was one species that Fang never worked on, but which obviously was somewhat different from the other samples of D. choprae, and I decided to give it a go in the Spring of 2012. The manuscript was already in hand as I again met Ralf in Belgium and we spoke about past achievements and plans for the future. As he had more of the danios from Putao from a later trip, and more D. choprae, he insisted that I include this material, and so it was. The paper had to be done from almost scratch but Ralf’s material certainly improved a lot on the description and conclusions. The description of Danio flagrans, the northern glowlight danio, eventually appeared in late 2012, 14 years after its discovery (Kullander, 2012). Incidentally, it is my first own danio paper, and it was fun to do. It was enjoyable in particular, because Danio flagrans and its sister species Danio choprae do not differ only in colour (in fact they are very similar in colours), but also present some very solid morphometric and meristic differences. I am otherwise much too used to cichlid species that differ by just some pigment spot. Danio flagrans has a shorter anal fin, with less fin-rays, and longer caudal peduncle compared to Danio choprae. Perhaps this relates to their environment. Danio choprae lives more to the south, near Myitkyina, and in warmer habitats; Danio flagrans in cool hillstreams. Beware that these species may not be correctly identified in the shops. Danio choprae, the glowlight danio may appear in the market as northern glowlights, a more expensive fish. I know, three of the false northerns are swimming in a tank in my garage. These changelings are beautiful fish decorated with orange stripes. Unfortunately, they never stay still, but are constantly on the move, and they move fast, so a good view of them remains an illusion of expectation. This brings me, by association, to the conclusion of this post: Besides lights in the windows, there is one more resource to overcome winter gloom. An aquarium with beautiful fishes (all fish are beautiful). Always something to see, to learn, to enjoy.
Fang, F., M. Norén, T.Y. Liao, M. Källersjö & S.O. Kullander. 2009. Molecular phylogenetic interrelationships of the South Asian cyprinid genera Danio, Devario and Microrasbora (Teleostei, Cyprinidae, Danioninae). Zoologica Scripta, 38: 237-256.
Kullander, S.O. 2012. Description of Danio flagrans, and redescription of D. choprae, two closely related species from the Ayeyarwaddy River drainage in northern Myanmar (Teleostei: Cyprinidae). Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters 23: 245-262. Open Access PDF from Verlag Dr. Friedrich Pfeil.
Kullander, S.O. & R. Britz. 2002. Revision of the family Badidae (Teleostei: Perciformes), with description of a new genus and ten new species. Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters, 13: 295-372.
Kullander, S.O. & F. Fang. 2005. Two new species of Puntius from northern Myanmar (Teleostei: Cyprinidae). Copeia, 2005: 290-302. Open Access PDF.
Photos: Sven O Kullander, CC-BY-NC
Yesterday’s discoverers are forgotten, faded to oblivion, erased from their maps. As I ask the students, do you know Rolf Blomberg’s books? They stare bufoed, but that’s not an imitation of the gaze of the giant toad discovered by Rolf Blomberg, Bufo blombergi. It is the gaze of the blankness of mind. Too much information around, and too much gets lost. How small our world is, that of travelling biologists and likes, traversing the world in pursuit of dreamed discoveries of new exciting animals or plants, new lands full of things to know and name. It has come to almost nothing and all the thorny paths of the past are paved. Why remember that transatlantic flights were unthinkable just two generations past.
Rolf Blomberg was born into a family residing in Stocksund, just a short bike-ride from the Swedish Museum of Natural History. It was in 1912, 11 November, in times of relative peace and a relatively orderly Swedish society . The new building of the Museum, at the northern end of the experimental field, was up and running, although not complete until 1916, and young Blomberg became a frequent visitor. Crowding up with loads of stuffed skins, dried bones and spirited fish, however, wasn’t on the agenda for the future. Only 17 he took a job as ship hand, and only 22 he was on his life’s endless journey landing him first in the Galápagos, and eventually taking him around the world in the quest for the undiscovered, for the great adventure, in a time when everything was already discovered. Although familiar with Africa and Asia, he always returned to the rain forests of the Amazon and the trails of the treasure maps. Blomberg eventually settled in Quito, Ecuador, to become an old man never ceasing to dream of another adventure or the gold of El Dorado. He died in 1996 in Quito. Elderly Swedes, less and less of them, will mostly remember him for his jungle books and films, spiced with exoticism and anacondas, but yet important documentaries from now lost worlds. Others for his engagement in human rights, born out of his observations of the miserable social conditions and political alienation in which he encountered ethnic groups during his travels, particularly in the Amazon, but also extended to protesting the Viet Nam war in the 1960s. In Ecuador his name lives on. There is a good website at Archivo Blomberg with many of his photographs. The English Wikipedia has basic information, also carried by the German, but the Swedish almost zero. But, after all, he is not quite overboard in Sweden either: Not a little dose of nostalgia and substantial admiration for the explorer was manifested recently in a comprehensive biography by journalist Walter Repo (Repo, 2011), who also keeps a blog featuring blombergiana of all sorts, rolfblomberg.se. In Swedish. Let’s hope the book gets translated for the rest of the world.
Blomberg collaborated with several museums and systematists. The museums in Gothenburg and Stockholm possess numerous specimens preserved in ethanol, and particularly noteworthy there are some outstanding mounted specimens of Galápagos tortoises and iguanas.
His collecting resulted in four species being named after him. The most spectacular must have been the giant frog Bufo blombergi Myers & Funkhouser, 1951, now often seen as Rhaebo blombergi. Phyllomedusa blombergi Funkhouser, 1957, is a synonym of Phyllomedusa vaillantii Boulenger, 1882, a handsome little tree frog, dubbed white lined leaf frog in spaced English. Bulimulus blombergi Odhner, 1951, now Naesiotus blombergi, is one of so many land snails in Ecuador. Most colourful may be Boa annulata blombergi Rendahl & Vestergren, 1941, now Corallus annulatus or – for us who shun trinomina – Corallus blombergi, which despite its associative name is not a coral snake but a small non-venomous boid snake.
Now, 100 years after Rolf Blomberg was born, it seems pertinent to add another name to the list, because he also collected fish and the fish collections distributed in the museums of Gothenburg and Stockholm have rested magically untouched for much too long. The species Andinoacara blombergi Wijkmark, Kullander & Barriga (2012), is a handsome fish which is known for sure only from the Esmeraldas drainage, the river of emeralds, on the Pacific versant of Ecuador. Some old specimens collected by Manuel Olalla are labeled with a locality in the more northern río Santiago, where it has not been found again, and some that Blomberg got from Ramón Olalla have the locality río Pucayacu, in Amazonian Ecuador. The latter locality is most certainly in error. Mistakes happen. Specimens collected by Blomberg in the río Blanco, one of the main sources of the Esmeraldas, are, however, included in the type series.
Andinoacara blombergi is very similar to A. rivulata, and has been confused with it for all of the existence of the latter, but it is more slim and with higher meristics. Andinoacara rivulata is a common species in the Guayas and Túmbes drainages in southern Ecuador and adjacent Peru. Everything taxonomic about Andinoacara blombergi is available by open access, so it might be a better idea to read there than to search for the same information here.
The description of A. blombergi is based on the work of Nicklas Wijkmark as a Masters student under my supervision, presented in 2007. Seven years ago. Things take time. Nicklas actually made a revision of the whole genus Andinoacara, and more papers are in the tow. Nicklas has since attended to other career opportunities. One of his talents is photography, in which he excels in images of life in wild waters, close-ups of little things, and panoramas of the open landscape. Just sit down with a cup of something and cklick slowly through the marvellous photos at Wijkmark Photography.
Rolf Blomberg lived for travelling and by publishing. He wrote numerous articles fror magazines and newspapers, Swedish and international, mainly about his travels. He made numerous public presentations, and produced alone or together with Torgny Anderberg several documentary or semidocumentaty films for television or cinema. His intellectual legacy is embodied mainly by his books, many of them translated to several other languages, the first in 1936, the last exactly 40 years later:
- Blomberg, R. 1936. Underliga människor och underliga djur. Hugo Gebers Förlag, Stockholm
- Blomberg, R. 1938. Högkvarter hos huvudjägare. Hugo Gebers Förlag, Stockholm
- Blomberg, R. 1940. Underliga människor och underliga djur. Gebers Förlag, Stockholm
- Blomberg, R. 1947. Sydvart. Gebers Förlag, Stockholm
- Blomberg, R. 1948. Nya Smålands upptäckt. Gebers Förlag, Stockholm
- Blomberg, R. 1949. Vildar.Gebers Förlag, Stockholm
- Blomberg, R. 1951. Såna djur finns. Gebers Förlag, Stockholm
- Blomberg, R. 1952. Ecuador. Gebers Förlag, Stockholm
- Blomberg, R. 1956. Guld att hämta. Gebers Förlag, Stockholm
- Blomberg, R. 1958. Xavante. Gebers Förlag, Stockholm
- Blomberg, R. 1959. Jätteormar och skräcködlor. Gebers Förlag, Stockholm
- Blomberg, R. 1960. Latitud 0°. Almqvist & Wiksell/Gebers Förlag, Stockholm
- Blomberg, R. 1962. Äventyr i djungeln. Folket i Bilds Förlag, Stockholm
- Blomberg, R. 1964. Människor i djungeln. Gebers Förlag, Stockholm
- Blomberg, R. 1965. Mina tropiska öar. Gebers Förlag, Stockholm
- Blomberg, R. 1966. Rio Amazonas. Gebers Förlag, Stockholm
- Blomberg, R. 1967. Imbabura – bergsindianernas land. Gebers Förlag, Stockholm
- Blomberg, R. 1973. Bufo blombergi. Iskry, Warzawa
- Blomberg, R. & A. Lundkvist. 1973. Träd. Bokförlaget Bra Böcker, Höganäs
- Blomberg, R. 1976. Tropisk utsikt. Bokförlaget Bra Böcker, Höganäs
Repo, W. 2011. Folkhemmets äventyrare. En biografi om forskningsluffaren Rolf Blomberg. Atlas, Stockholm, 335 pp. ISBN 978-91-7389-380-0
Wijkmark, N., S. O. Kullander & R. Barriga S. 2012. Andinoacara blombergi, a new species from the río Esmeraldas basin in Ecuador and a review of A. rivulatus (Teleostei: Cichlidae). Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters, 23: 117-137. Open Access PDF from Verlag Dr. Friedrich Pfeil.
In my mildly energetic aspirations to acquire a full set of the Swedish aquarium magazine Akvariet (1927-1988), I was fortunate to add recently the 1932 volume, which turned out to contain several highlights. This volume, the October issue contains a rare description of a new fish by Wilhelm Schreitmüller, naming it after the Swedish painter Tor Otto Fredlin. It is not cited in the Catalog of Fishes and Google doesn’t know about it yet, so it may be worth commenting on.
Tor Otto Fredlin was born in north Sweden, in the town of Härnösand, 16 June 1890. After school he tested different professions and among other things assisted a a taxidermist. His inclination seems to have been toward painted more than real animals, however. He studied painting at Althin’s School of Painting (in Swedish: Althins målarskola) in Stockholm 1910-1912, and his first exhibition was in Härnösand in 1915. He moved to Lund in southern Sweden in 1920, and stayed there for the rest of his life. Fredlin never married, and he made only one trip abroad, to study art in France in 1924. As an artist he mainly painted nature settings with animals in focus, mostly birds, but also colourful landscapes. Most paintings seem to have been aquarels and oil paintings of small size.
On the fish side, he made the colour illustrations for the encyclopedic Djurens värld (Wallengren & Hanström, 1937-1940, reprinted 1948), at least one of them depicting fishes he might have had in his own aquarium. Yes, he was also a fish keeper and fish breeder, an aquarist. I cannot find much about Fredlin as an aquarist (or even as an artist), but an idolizing article by the signature Bej in Akvariet, 1932, may be cited in part:
!… one of our country’s greatest aquarium friends. … It is Tor Otto Fredlin, the artist, “the nearsighted nature observer” as an art critic once so characterisingly expressed it. Because our friend Fredlin is a nature observer as few others! He sees everything i nature. Some things even that are secluded from us normal people. … He has the true ability to decorate his containers as cosy and attractive. It is always a pleasure to visit him and hear him speak about and describe his animals. … He shared generously from his rich knowledge. When this was so distributed in the timid way that is so particular for Fredlin, one felt his greatness and was impressed. Already in 1926 he had in addition to many egglayers a remarkably beautiful stock of mirrored golden platys, cultivated by himself. It was lost during a trip up to Norrland. But he did not despond. A lot was still in the wait. He observed our commonest fish, the guppy. Wasn’t there something to do? Couldn’t one get something exceptional out of it? And thus the thought of the yellow guppy that is now a reality had run up to his brain. Who else among us would have had the patience then to spend 7 whole years with this “inconspicuous” fish? It had to be a Fredlin! [The translation attempts to preserve some of the spirit of the original.]
Breathtaking praise. Fredlin must have been a star among aquarists. More sober, but still generously appreciative was Edvin Brorsson’s (1956) obituary. Obviously Fredlin ended his days in the autumn of 1955 as an aquarist in action, among his aquaria in his home in Lund: “He was in the middle of work with cleaning a container as he sat down to rest on a chair, and from here fell dead to the floor.”
His artistic career apparently was not rocketing at any time. His paintings still sell, at modest prices, but let us remember him primarily for painting a grey fish golden, as close to an alchemical GMO one can come. One would expect Fredlin to have painted his golden guppies also in oil, but I am unaware of a colour illustration. Brorsson (1942) reproduces a drawing in monochrome halftone, presumably of a colour painting. It is a typical Fredlin scene, with half the painting empty, and the subject hovering in front of vegetation. Like Fredlin’s fish illustrations in Djurens värld the drawing lacks artistic quality. Many or all of his fish drawings seem to be exact or crude reproductions of photographs. In the colour plate shown here, the Rivulus urophthalmus (yellow top fish) and Hemigrammus ocellifer (group of greys to the left) are exactly as on photographs in Innes (1935, pp. 112, 243), even in number and position, even the background has been copied. Presumably living aquarium fish weren’t within the artistic nearsightedness of the master.
I am ignorant enough about guppies to not know if the golden guppies in the aquarium shops today are descendants of the Scanian breed. It seems likely that pigment mutations of later days may have taken the place of Fredlin’s creation. Nevertheless, at the time, this golden guppy was regarded as something very special. Edvin Brorsson, publisher of Akvariet, sent a batch of living goldens to Wilhelm Schreitmüller in Frankfurt, editor of the Wochenschrift für Aquarien- und Terrarienkunde, and author of several books on aquarium fishes. Schreitmüller responded with an article describing the goldens as a new “variety”, naming it for Fredlin, which in its entirety reads like this when translated from Swedish to English:
Lebistes reticulatus (Peters) var. Fredlini (Schreitm.)
By Vilhelm Schreitmüller, Frankfurt am Main
A short time ago, Mr Brorsson, Malmö, sent me a fish can with some golden yellow Lebistes reticulatus (Peters), millionfishes or Guppi), along with a message that these were produced in culture from the typical and natural form by a Swedish aquarium friend, Mr T. O. Fredlin, over a period of 8 years, and that the fishes nowadays leave a stable offspring. In shape those animals are typcal Lebistes reticulatus (Peters). The males have a length of 2-2.5 cm., the females 3-3.5 cm., all including caudal fins.
On the back, the males are dark yellow, while hindbody and caudal pedcuncle are light yellow, the latter with 2 vermilion round spots, in front of which are placed a dark and a copper red spot. One of the males sent along has a dark, white-margined dot at the base of the caudal fin. The scales on the anterior par tof the back have a faint dark margin.
The females are orange yellow on the back and on the entire hindbody with caudal peduncle. The pregnancy spot is pink red. The scales on the anterior part of the back are finely dark margined. The abdomen is yellow white.
We thus have to deal with heare typical xanthoristic specimens, whose fins are transparent and seem to be equipped with a yellow cast. Pectoral and pelvic fins’s base is reddish.
In recognition of the breeder and to differentiate these animals from the typical Lebistes reticulatus (Peters), I call this fish:“Lebistes reticulatus (Peters) var. Fredlini (Schreitm.)”
even if xanthoristic forms “actually” should not have a distinct name (usually!) – But that even the professional zoologists make exceptions in this regard is apparent best from the names below:
“Carrasius auratus (L.)” = goldfish,
“Tinca aurata (Cuv.)” = guldsutare,
“Cyprinus auratus (Mats.)” = gold carp,
“Platypoecilus immaculatus (Myers)” = gold platy,
and many others, which all of them also are only xanthoristic forms of the species in question.
In the same manner certain melanotic forms of lizards, e.g., “Lacerta lilfordi maluqueurorum (Mertens)” and several others receive their particular variety names.
So – why should one not then be able to give the xanthoristic form of Lebistes reticulatus (Peters) a proper variety name? “Was dem Einen recht ist, ist dem Anderen billig”!
Food, care and water temperature is for the new guppy the same as for the original species.
(Frankfurt am Main 10/10 [Italics as in the original, parentheses as in the original. PDF of original]
A similar text, in German, was published in the Wochenschrift in 1933 (Schreitmüller, 1933). Schreitmüller’s description does not make the name fredlini available for purposes of zoological nomenclature. On the one hand, the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature covers names of domestic animals (e.g., Canis familiaris for dogs), but is also expressly excludes names proposed for varieties after 1960. For names of varieties proposed before 1961, Articles 45.6.1 and 45.6.4 apply, and they exclude names given to what obviously is not a subspecies except if a later citation exists, before 1985, that uses the name for a valid species or subspecies. This may be worth looking into, but for now, fredlini is not going to lengthen our lists of guppy synonyms, as the name was applied explicitly on a colour form.
Fredlin’s golden guppy is not the only one, and not the only one named by Schreitmüller. Already in 1934 Schreitmüller reported on specimens of “Goldguppy” sent alive to him and originating from German breeders in Czechoslovakia (Schreitmüller, 1934). He compared them with the Fredlin guppy, noting that the Czechoslovakian guppy lacked spots on the side and fins, and that the Fredlin guppy was more intensely golden yellow. Schreitmüller named the new form Lebistes reticulatus aurata, noting that: “Dieser name soll nur als Unterscheidungsmerkmal dienen.” [This name must only serve as distinguishing character.] One may interpret this as meaning that Lebistes reticulatus aurata was intented as just a category stamp and not as a scientific name. Seven specimens are preserved in the Zoological Museum in Berlin, and were listed as syntypes of of Lebistes reticulatus aurata by Paepke & Seegers (1986), so obviously these authors considered Schreitmüller’s name available, although they identify the specimens as Poecilia reticulata.
In a later issue of the Wochenschrift, Franz Melecky, from Kremsier (Kroměříž, in the present Czech Republic), described how he discovered golden guppies in his plant breeding compound, propagated them and started distributing Goldguppy as Lebistes reticulatus aurata from 1925 onward. Interestingly, Melecky uses the name Lebistes reticulatus fredlini at the end of his story, speculating if a cross with the Fredlin guppy could improve on the size of his own Goldguppy, as they didn’t reach the sizes of the original stock. Does this make fredlini available? Or is this the end of the story?
- Bej. 1932. Känd akvarieentusiast. Akvariet, 6: 39–40.
- Brorsson, E. 1942. Den stora akvarieboken. Andra, reviderade upplagan. Sundqvist & Emond, Lund, 300 pp.
- Brorsson, E. 1956. T. O. Fredlin. Akvariet, 30: 47.
- Innes, W.T. 1935. Exotic aquarium fishes. Innes Publishing Co., Philadelphia, 464 pp.
- Melecky, F. 1934. Goldguppy (Lebistes reticulatus aurata). Wochenschrift für Aquarien- und Terrarienkunde, 31: 427.
- Nyman, T. 1944. Fredlin, Tor Otto. P. 592 i Bohman, N. (ed.), Svenska män och kvinnor 2. Albert Bonniers Förlag, Stockholm.
- Paepke, H.-J. & L. Seegers 1986 Kritischer Katalog der Typen und Typoide der Fischsammlung des Zoologischen Museums Berlin. Teil 1: Atheriniformes. Mitteilungen aus dem Zoologischen Museum in Berlin, 62: 135–186.
- Schreitmüller, V. 1932. Lebistes reticulatus (Peters) var. Fredlini (Schreitm.). Akvariet, 6: 118–119.
- Schreitmüller, W. 1933. Neuimporte und anderes. Hyphessobrycon bifasciatus Ellis, Cichlosoma cutteri Fowl., Colossoma species, Hyphessobrycon species I und II und Lebistes reticulatus (Pet.) var. fredlini (Schreitm.). Wochenschrift für Aquarien- und Terrarienkunde, 30: 145–149.
- Schreitmuller, W. 1934. Der “Goldguppy” und ein Totalalbino von Xiphophorus hellerii Heckel. Wochenschrift für Aquarien- und Terrarienkunde, 31: 242–243.
- Wallengren, H. & B. Hanström (eds.). 1939. Djurens värld. En populärvetenskaplig framställning av djurens liv på grundval av Brehm’s Tierleben utarbetad av Ingvald Lieberkind. Fiskar Band II. Svensk uppslagsbok, Malmö, 439 pp.
- Wallengren, H. & B. Hanström (eds.). 1948. Djurens värld. En populärvetenskaplig framställning av djurens liv på grundval av Brehm’s Tierleben utarbetad av Ingvald Lieberkind. Fiskar Band II. Förlagshuset Norden, Malmö, 439 pp.
Ex Africa semper aliquid novi, “From Africa always something new”, is a well-known expression, applied whenever something is discovered in Africa. It is usually attributed to Caius Plinius secundus (23-79), in his Natural History (Naturalis Historiæ).
In my copy of Plinius (1536-1538), the proverb is in Book VIII, chapter XVI, about lions, where he remarks on the diversity of animals in Africa: “Unde etia vulgare Græciæ dictum, Semper aliquid novi Africam affirre.” (Approximately: “Hence there is a common proverb in Greece, that there is certainly Always something new of Africa”). There are many printed editions of Plinius, and apparently variations in the divisions of the text and the exact wording. In the index of my copy one finds: Africa semper aliquid novi affert, i.e. Africa always brings something new. Personally, I prefer this variant above the others, both in Latin and English. In another edition Plinius is cited as: “unde etiam vulgare Græciæ dictum semper aliquid novi Africam adferre“. In an early translation the proverb is cited as “That Africke evermore bringeth forth some new and strange thing or other” (Holland, 1601). In a later translation (Bostock & Riley, 1855), Plinius is cited “Hence arose the saying, which was common in Greece even, that ‘Africa is always producing something new.'”
Since Africa wasn’t known by that name to the ancient Greek, and Plinius drew heavily from earlier authors, not least Aristoteles Stagirites (384-322 BCE), it may not be surprising that the proverb seems to come straight from the Greek and from Aristoteles’s Historia Animalium ( Περὶ Τὰ Ζῷα Ἱστορίαι), Book 8, part 28: Ἀɛὶ Λίβύη ϕέρɛί ṯί καίνόν. Thompson (1907) translates the relevant text as: “As a general rule, wild animals are at their wildest in Asia, at their boldest in Europe, and most diverse in form in Libya; in fact, there is an old saying, ‘Always something fresh in Libya.'” Aristoteles did not mean the present-day country of Libya, but Libya at the time should here be understood as northern Africa excluding Egypt.
When it comes to biodiversity we know better now, as tropical Asia and even more tropical South America are better places for searching animal diversity, but the world of Aristoteles and Plinius was essentially restricted to the Mediterranean and immediate neighbourhood. True, though, is that the assortment of large-sized vertebrates is much more conspicuous in Africa. And, certainly, new organisms are still being discovered also in Africa.
When I first became interested in fishes, African cichlids dominated the aquarium world. This was in the late 60s early 70s and I lived in a small town far away in the north of Sweden. With some other fanatics I imported Malawi cichlids from Germany and made occasional visits to Stockholm, capital of Sweden, to watch more expensive Tanganyika cichlids. Those are memories for some other time, but the consequence of the devotion was that I spent considerable time copying and deciphering the French in the monumental work of Poll (1956), Exploration Hydrobiologique du lac Tanganika. Poissons Cichlidae; and published some articles on African cichlids in Buntbarsche Bulletin as well as in the journal of the Nordic Cichlid Association (Nordiska ciklidsällskapet).Eventially, I shifted attention to South American cichlids, but in 1990 there was a golden opportunity to make a collection trip all over Zambia, targeting tilapias, but also preserving everything else with fins. Together with my friend Erkki Schwank, it was a long trip by car across the country, to Lakes Mweru, Mweru wantipa, Bangweulu, and Tanganyika. We didn’t stay long on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, but in a couple of days at Nsumbu we obtained a sizable collection of shore and deep water cichlids. Along with collections from an earlier trip by Gunnar Berglund to Kigoma, the Swedish Museum of Natural History now had a useful representation of Tanganyika cichlids, which was further added to by Tyson Roberts and Erkki, who stayed in Zambia.
Much later I was happy to meet underwater photographers and exporters Mikael and Magnus Karlsson who lived by and in the lake for many years and we teamed up to publish their observations on some of the lesser known species in Lake Tanganyika. The first paper is a description of a Lepidiolamprologus from the coast of Tanzania. Lepidiolamprologus includes a core number of species that are relatively elongate and marked by dark stripes or rows of blotches. Strong canine teeth emerging out of the lips and the somewhat oval pupil give them the look of a fierce predator. And predatory they are, and some definitely prey on babies of other cichlid species. These core species are L. elongatus, L. mimicus, L. kendalli, L. profundicola, and maybe L. nkambae. Lepidiolamprologus elongatus is distributed along the entire lake coastline, and L. profundicola may also be widespread. The remainder, and our new species, L. kamambae, are from the south of the lake. The status of L. nkambae and L. kendalli is uncertain, as no distinguishing characters are known. Lepidiolamprologus kendalli was described first, by Max Poll and Donald Stewart (1977), based on two specimens. They reported scales on the cheek and illustrated the holotype with a line drawing. Lepidiolamprologus nkambae was described by Wolfgang Staeck the following year, based on a single specimen from close to the type locality of L. kendalli. It was also illustraded with a line drawing. Staeck compared with the description of L. kendalli and concluded that they were different. Among distinguishing characters L. nkambae was said not have any scales on the cheek. Both names have since appeared in the aquarium literature but neither aquarists nor scientists have really been able to conclude about the validity of L. nkambae. Synonym of L. kendalli or distinct species? Only after our description of L. kamambae was I able to examine the holotype of L. nkambae and the paratype of L. kendalli. The L. nkambae specimen is very well preserved, and agrees with the description. The paratype of L. kendalli, on the other hand, is in a very poor state of preservation, something that was not mentioned in the original description. Scales are lost and the colour is washed out. I will not tell you my decision here on the validity of L. nkambae here, it will be something for a forthcoming paper, but I agree on one of the two alternative conclusions already presented ….
The material of L. kamambae that Mikael and Magnus had, is excellently preserved. Colours are fine, all scales are in place, the body is straight and the fins naturally spread, with no signs of decomposition anywhere, some mouths are a bit open but that makes counting teeth convenient. I like. Lepidiolamprologus kamambae shares most of its features with L. kendalli, in particular the beautiful contrasting light and dark markings on the top of the head, distinguishing the two from all other lamprologins. The body coloration, however, is very different. Lepidiolamprologus kamambae is more similar there to L. elongatus and L. mimicus, with rows of blotches along the back and flanks where L. kendalli instead has broad bands. One may guess that the blotch pattern is the plesiomorphic version in this group of fishes. There is probably not much more to say about this fish here, because the description is available as Open Access from Zootaxa.
Reflections may be in place, however. Lake Tanganyika is the oldest of the three Great Lakes of East Africa. More than 200 endemic cichlid species have been described from the lake, and estimates suggest a total of 300. Unlike in Lakes Malawi and Victoria, dominated almost exclusively by mouthbrooders of the ‘haplochromine’ group, the distantly related lamprologins, of several genera, all substrate brooders, are a large unit in Lake Tanganyika, with over 70 valid species known so far. Several recent studies have investigated their phylogenetic relationships, and relations to the half dozen species of Lamprologus that only occur in the fluviatile environment of the Congo River (e.g., Schelly et al. 2006). The latter are obviously a group on their own, but within-lake relationships still offer much to be investigated. I am curious how things will develop, and it is interesting to work with fishes offering this kind of perspective. When it comes to African cichlids, in particular those of the Great Lakes, systematics has investigated them from many different angles, but still is way off from a coherent and credible evolutionary history. There are papers on dried out lakes, explosive radiation, lake level fluctuations, depth segregation, sympatric speciation, not to mention hybridisation. Academic analyses are enough to fill volumes, and it is engaging and important that this unique fauna, evolutionary hotspots with dense concentrations of phylogenetically close, but morphologically often far apart species, will continue to receive attention. Even so, and connecting back to Plinius and friends, the following passage, from the chapter of the famous proverb seem like they may be pertinent, and of course inspired by Aristoteles, in light of some of the ideas about African cichlid evolution, or perhaps not ideas but frustration, read cichlid for lion:
The noble appearance of the lion is more especially to be seen in that species which has the neck and shoulders covered with a mane, which is always acquired at the proper age by those produced from a lion; while, on the other hand, those that are the offspring of the pard, are always without this distinction. The female also has no mane. The sexual passions of these animals are very violent, and render the male quite furious. This is especially the case in Africa, where, in consequence of the great scarcity of water, the wild beasts assemble in great numbers on the banks of a few rivers. This is also the reason why so many curious varieties of animals are produced there, the males and females of various species coupling promiscuously with each other.3 Hence arose the saying, which was common in Greece even, that “Africa is always producing something new.” (Plinius, Naturalis Historiae; translation by Bostock & Riley, 1855)
From this we obviously learn that at any point in time we shall know less than at a later time (especially if we don’t investigate the facts ourselves), and that everything has been thought of before.
Bostock, J., & H. T. Riley (eds.) 1855, Pliny the Elder, The Natural History. Taylor & Francis, London.
Holland, P. (translator), 1601. The Historie of the world. Commonly called, The Naturall Historie of C. Plinius secundus. London.
Kullander, S. O., M. Karlsson & M. Karlsson. 2012. Lepidiolamprologus kamambae, a new species of cichlid fish (Teleostei: Cichlidae) from Lake Tanganyika. Zootaxa, 3492: 30-48. Open Access PDF from Zootaxa
Kullander, S. O. & T. R. Roberts. 2011. Out of Lake Tanganyika: endemic lake fishes inhabit rapids of the Lukuga River. Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters, 22: 355-376. Open Access PDF
Plinius Secundus, C. 1536-1538. Naturalis Historiae. Aldus, Venetia.
Poll, M. 1956. Poissons Cichlidae . Exploration Hydrobiologique du Lac Tanganika (1946-1947). Résultats scientifiques, III (5B): 1-619.
Poll, M. & D. J. Stewart. 1977. Un nouveau Lamprologus du sud du Lac Tanganika (Zambia). Revue de Zoologie africaine, 91: 1047-1056.
Schelly, R., W. Salzburger, S. Koblmüller, N. Duftner and C. Sturmbauer. 2006. Phylogenetic relationships of the lamprologine cichlid genus Lepidiolamprologus (Teleostei: Perciformes) based on mitochondrial and nuclear sequences, suggesting introgressive hybridization. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 38: 426-438.
Staeck, W. 1978. Ein neuer Cichlideaus dem südlichen Tanganjikasee: Lamprologus nkambae n. sp. (Pisces, Cichlidae). Revue de Zoologie africaine, 92: 436-441.
Thompson, D. W (translator). 1907. The history of animals. John Bell, London.