Sharks, skates, and Swedish seas

 Books, Fish, taxonomy  Kommentarer inaktiverade för Sharks, skates, and Swedish seas
Maj 232011
 

Today is the offcial release day of the 13th volume of the The Encyclopedia of the Swedish Flora and Fauna, dedicated to lower chordates, ie., lancelets, tunicates, hagfish, lampreys and chondrichthyans. It also comes with an introduction to chordates and to craniates, the latter sprawling with colorful dino drawings. Although I am first author, most of this tome is about tunicates with fantastic images from within and without that makes it a particulatly worthwhile reading (and buying, come on it is only SEK 345 and you get the sharks for free!) Thus, tunicate expert Thomas Stach, Freie Universität Berlin, and the late Hans G. Hansson, Tjärnö Marine Biological Laboratory, provided most of the species in this volume. But it also has one hagfish, three lampreys, and 29 chondrichthyans.

What you will like most about this volume is probably the graphics. For the craniates major contributing artists Linda Nyman and Karl Jilg, guided in the intricate details by Bo Delling,  have excelled in creating live-to-touch impressions of fish and the like that few of us have actually seen alive and healthy.

Given that there already many shark books, not least the excellent compilations by Leonard Compagno, and volumes dedicated to hagfish and lampreys, and of course there is FishBase, one might as author feel like facing a table already laid with easily digested goodies. Especially in a species-poor country like Sweden with an ocean part that on a world map looks like you can jump over it to land dry. This is not so. Thousands of fisheries and fish biology papers appear every year, and still nobody seems to know what marine fish eat, how big they get, how they reproduce, how old they get, or even where they occur or what they look like. Nobody even knows which one is one of the biggest skates in Europe, Dipturus batis. Honestly, von Bertalanffy curves carry no meaningful biological information.

Nevertheless, it was indeed possible to provide details on all the Swedish species of hagfish, lampreys and chondrichthyans.  It took six years to complete this volume, but rewardingly for all involved it feels like one has now turned pages entering into a new era of fish information in Sweden with the first real updated national fauna since 1895 in Skandinaviens fiskar (Fries et al., 1836-1857; Smitt, 1892-1895), and a worthy replacement to the popular standard Våra fiskar (Curry-Lindahl, 1985). It summarizes current knowledge and it provides a new platform for ecological and taxonomic research. And yes, of course the ray-finned fishes were not forgotten. They have been worked out in parallel and will be published in a separate fish-only volume to appear in the autumn of 2012.

The Encyclopedia is a project started at the Swedish Species Information Centre in Uppsala in 2001  and aims to produce a series of identification handbooks with keys in Swedish and English to the Swedish plant, fungi and animal species. It is a long-term project, aimed at covering the 30 000-40 000 species which can be identified without highly advanced equipment. They will be described in detail, including information on distribution and biology. For most of them, distribution maps as well as illustrations will also be provided.

With the present volume, there is now a newly published checklist of Swedish lancelets, cyclostomes and chondrichthyans. It is not long, so here it comes before it gets outdated. Species known only from occasional records are annotated. For those interested in Nordic exotisms, you also get the Swedish name.

Branchiostoma lanceolatum (Pallas, 1774) lansettfisk

Myxine glutinosa Linnaeus, 1758 pirål

Petromyzon marinus Linnaeus, 1758 havsnejonöga

Lampetra fluviatilis (Linnaeus, 1758) flodnejonöga

Lampetra planeri (Bloch, 1784) bäcknejonöga

Chimaera monstrosa Linnaeus, 1758 havsmus

Lamna nasus (Bonnaterre, 1888) håbrand

Cetorhinus maximus (Gunnerus, 1765) brugd

Alopias vulpinus (Bonnaterre, 1888) rävhaj

Galeorhinus galeus (Linnaeus, 1758) gråhaj

Mustelus asterias Cloquet, 1821 nordlig hundhaj

Carcharhinus longimanus (Poey, 1861) årfenhaj (single record)

Prionace glauca (Linnaeus, 1758) blåhaj

Galeus melastomus Rafinesque, 1810 hågäl

Scyliorhinus canicula (Linnaeus, 1758) småfläckig rödhaj

Scyliorhinus stellaris (Linnaeus, 1758) storfläckig rödhaj (two records)

Hexanchus griseus (Bonnaterre, 1788) sexbågig kamtandhaj (single record)

Somniosus microcephalus (Schneider, 1801) håkäring

Etmopterus spinax (Linnaeus, 1758) blåkäxa

Squalus acanthias Linnaeus, 1758 pigghaj

Oxynotus centrina (Linnaeus, 1758) trekantshaj (single record, actually from Danish Skagerrak)

Squatina squatina (Linnaeus, 1758) havsängel (single record)

Torpedo nobiliana Bonaparte, 1835 darrocka (two records)

Dipturus batis (Linnaeus, 1758) slätrocka (apparently two species involved)

Dipturus linteus (Fries, 1838) vitrocka

Dipturus nidarosiensis (Storm, 1881) svartbuksrocka (single record)

Dipturus oxyrinchus (Linnaeus, 1758) plogjärnsrocka

Leucoraja fullonica (Linnaeus, 1758) näbbrocka (two records)

Amblyraja radiata (Donovan, 1808) klorocka

Raja clavata Linnaeus, 1758 knaggrocka

Rajella fyllae (Lütken, 1887) rundrocka (single record)

Dasyatis pastinaca (Linnaeus, 1758) spjutrocka

Myliobatis aquila (Linnaeus, 1758) (single record)

 

References

Curry-Lindahl, K. 1985. Våra fiskar. Havs- och sötvattensfiskar i Norden och övriga Europa. P.A. Norstedt & Söners Förlag, Stockholm

Fries, B. Fr., C. U. Ekström & C. J. Sundewall. 1836 -1857. Skandinaviens Fiskar. P. A. Norstedt & Söner, Stockholm, IV+222 pp. Appendices 1-44, 1-140, pls. 1-60. Fascicle 2-3 (1837),  4 (1840)  5, 1839 (p. 111 dated 22 October 1839, ) 6+pls 31-36, Latin text 57-72 (1840), 7+pls 37-42, Latin text 73-92 (1842)

Kullander, S.O., T. Stach, H.G. Hansson, B. Delling, H. Blom. 2011. Nationalnyckeln till Sveriges flora och fauna. Ryggsträngsdjur: lansettfiskar-broskfiskar. Chodrata: Branchiostomatidae-Chondrichthyes. ArtDatabanken, Uppsala. 327 pp.

Smitt, F.A. 1892. Skandinaviens fiskar målade af W. von Wright beskrifna av B. Fries, C.U. Ekström och C. Sundevall. Andra upplagan. Bearbetning och fortsättning. Text. Förra delen. P.A. Norstedt & Söners Förlag, Stockholm, pp. 1-566+I-VIII+2 pp.

Smitt, F.A. 1895. Skandinaviens fiskar målade af W. von Wright beskrifna av B. Fries, C.U. Ekström och C. Sundevall. Andra upplagan. Bearbetning och fortsättning.Text. Senare delen.. P.A. Norstedt & Söners Förlag, Stockholm, pp 567-1239+1 p.

Smitt, F.A. 1895. Skandinaviens fiskar målade af W. von Wright beskrifna av B. Fries, C.U. Ekström och C. Sundevall. Andra upplagan. Bearbetning och fortsättning. Taflor.  P.A. Norstedt & Söners Förlag, Stockholm, pls I-LIII, pp. I-III.

Amblyraja radiata image

Amblyraja radiata, from Fries et al.

Artedi lives … again

 Biographies, Books, Ichthyology, taxonomy  Kommentarer inaktiverade för Artedi lives … again
Maj 182011
 

On the night of 27 September 1735 suddenly ended the life of one of the most significant founders of the science of systematic biology when Petrus Artedi, Angermannius, drowned in a canal in Amsterdam. At the age of 30, he was still not a man of fame, and did not leave wife, children or portrait. Only manuscripts, the ichthyological ones edited and published by Carl Linnaeus in 1738.

Since 1738 every scrap of information about Artedi has been carefully collected and arranged by ichthyologists and historians of science into a puzzle still full of lacunae. The big questions have been – who was this person? What would he have become had he lived on? Was Linnaeus really the genius, or was it Artedi? After all, Linnaeus is the baroque idol of the cultural wannabe élite. But in a scientific context he is but one in a web of masterminds continuously occupied with reconstructing the history of life on Earth.

In his mystery novel The curious death of Peter Artedia mystery in the history of science (222 pp., Scott & Nix, New York, 2010) Theodore W. Pietsch, ichthyologist, professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, tells the story again, this time in the hand of Carl Linnaeus, in Linnaeus’ characteristic egocentric, bombastic, voluptuous, but yet flowing and elegant fashion.

We already know how it ends, or do we? The curious death of Peter Artedi is a story about a crime (or is it?), an 18th Century mystery (or was it?), with all the information put together, with  the whole 18th Century  Western Europe baroque academia and naturalists as background actors in the drama of  the two Swedish student friends (or competitors?). One dead and forgotten. One glorified in eternal life. Or, why some of us cannot forget Artedi? Ted Pietsch has spent years on researching Artedi and Linnaeus, visiting the historical places and analyzing their publications and all the little documentation otherwise saved from Artedi. This book is his conclusion, and you have to read it.

Artedi in love? In another novel, Peter Artedi Helenas son (Peter Artedi, Helena’s son), by Gun Frostling (202 pp., Nomen förlag, Visby, 2010),  Artedi on the run after an embarrassing experience with his father, takes in at a countryside inn. Suddenly he whispers to the innkeeper’s daughter Katarina Ersdotter, ”We have to be careful, miss Katarina” …  The Katarina to whom he gives his final thoughts. Gun Frostling’s story is woven from the same fragmentary matter as all other Artedi biographies,  but gives him a real life on top of all the academic stuff, a real home, real parents, a loving girl, and spoken lines. And who is Gun Frostling? An author off the grid?

Beware, folks! Myths are coming to life here, in both those novels, fiction and facts creating a history of its own. Indeed, it may be time for the legend of Petrus Artedi to stand up against the icon of Linnaeus.

To conclude,  after all, scientists are people, human beings strong and weak in mind and heart as the wind blows this or that way. We have to remember that too.

Footnote: You can find those titles from practically any online book shop (in Sweden at least).

Mosioatunga, the true story

 Biographies, Fish, Travel  Kommentarer inaktiverade för Mosioatunga, the true story
Maj 132011
 

Dr Livingstone I presume is the archetype of  an explorer for most of us. The helmeted man at the head of the line of bearers fearlessly plunging into thick jungles to discover the world untouched by man.  That is the way they write their histories, and that makes for the books that sell. Of course, most of us now realize that wherever Livingstone and his likes went, there was already a human population. In East Africa at the time, there was both the native population, and considerable numbers of Arabian businessmen to show the way to all the discoveries the British needed. And help finding lost explorers from time to time.  The fact is probably  that the major contribution of western explorers was the mapping of the continents. During the 18th and 19th Centuries maps were drawn like never before, and it was new maps, not one more round of Europe encircled by the edge of the world.

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls Photo John Walker, Public domain

The Center for the History of Science at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences is the guardian of enormous archives of objects, maps, drawings, and manuscripts that will eventually help toward understanding how our knowledge of the world gradually developed over the last few Centuries. The Center is highlighting some of its material as ”object of the month”, since a few months back. One of these objects is a map sent to the Academy by Charles Andersson in 1852. It is a map made by Oswell and Livingstone  based on interviews with local informants. Interestingly, this map  of southern Africa from 1852 shows the Victoria Falls. The falls that, legend has it, Livingstone discovered in 1855. Not, he already had a map. The local name of the falls is now rendered as Mosi-oa-Tunya, on the old map they appear as Mosioatunga.

Portrait of Charles AnderssonAnd who was Charles Andersson, by the way? Some may be familiar with Oreochromis andersonii. That is the fish named after him, but somehow, the author, Castelnau, misspelt the name by dropping one of the ses in Andersson. Karl Johan Andersson, Swedish,born 1827 in the county of Värmland, was the son of the English hunter and writer Llewellyn Lloyd and a Swedish girl, Caisa Andersdotter. Lloyd spent most of his adult life in Värmland hunting bears and writing about it. Karl studied Zoology at Lund University and learned taxidermy at the natural history museum in Göteborg. He somehow got the idea of going to the Africa, and stranded already in London he became a friend of a distant relative, Francis Galton, yes the very one who discovered the fingerprinting technique. Galton and Andersson went to Africa, and Andersson spent the rest of his life as a trader, hunter, collector and more in what is now Namibia and South Africa, and much of that time in the field. Andersson was not an ichthyologist. He did collect a lot of birds. Not less than 2523 bird specimens from him are in museum collections (Dean, Sandwidth & Milton, 2006). He sent 200 or more specimens to the Gothenburg museum in 1864, but the curator there didn’t bother to open the boxes. Andersson wrote a classical travel book, Lake Ngami, published 1856, based on travels including to Lake Ngami (already ‘discovered’ by Livingstone). His second travel book, Okavango River, from 1861, relates his own major discovery, the river of the same name. Or … did he discover it?

Andersson’s zoological magnum opus, Notes on the birds of Damaraland, was published posthumously by  John Henry Guerney in 1872. Andersson died of dysentery and physical wounds in 1867 on his way back from a failed expedition to the Cunene River on the border between Angola and Namibia. Andersson’s life is full of misery, hardships, diseases, fights with employees and local chiefs, and the one drawback after the other. The most disappointing must have been the search for Lake Ngami, only to find it already found. It is a miracle he survived so long. His companion Axel W. Eriksson (1846-1901),  also Swedish, carried on the zoological collection and brought a huge collection of southern African birds to to Vänersborgs Museum in Western Sweden (available in an online database with images, all in Swedish).

The consensus (remember the map above) must be that there is (and was) nothing to discover on this planet, really. That is why science is not so much about discovery. It is about exploration and communication. Showing what the world is like, drawing the maps and fitting the pieces together. Also, life can be much easier than that of Karl Johan Andersson.

Reference

Bjelfvenstam, B. 1994. Charles John Andersson. Upptäckare Jägare Krigare. Carlssons Bokförlag, Stockholm, 253 pp.

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