The snail, the snake, the frog, the toad, and now the fish

 Aquarium fish, Books, Cichlids, Fish, Ichthyology, taxonomy  Kommentarer inaktiverade för The snail, the snake, the frog, the toad, and now the fish
Nov 272012
 

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.

Photo of NRM21169 Chelonoidis nigra

Galápagos giant tortoise Chelonoides nigra, collected by Rolf Blomberg (NRM 21169). Photo Sven Kullander, CC-BY-NC.

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, the holotype, MEPN 11180. Photo by Nicklas Wijkmark, CC-BY-NC.

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

    Cover of Blomberg's book Underliga mäniskor och underliga djur

    Front over of Blomberg’s book Underliga mäniskor och underliga djur, 1953 edition

  • 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

 

References
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.

That Africke evermore bringeth forth some new and strange thing or other

 Books, Cichlids, Fish, Not categorized, Proverbs  Kommentarer inaktiverade för That Africke evermore bringeth forth some new and strange thing or other
Okt 072012
 

Caius Plinius secundus. Image from Wikipedia, public domain

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.

References

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.

Photo of Holotype of Lepidiolamprologus kamambae

Holotype of Lepidiolamprologus kamambae. Photo Sven Kullander

Day 1, 2011

 Books, Cichlids, Danios, Fish, meetings  Kommentarer inaktiverade för Day 1, 2011
Jan 012011
 

As the snow whirls around and the cold fills up the atmosphere, the new year brings a welcome day off to be taken care of. Dough is rising and breakfast bread will be served in an hour or so. Family is sleeping, stoned by the unusual late hours to sit through the paradox of a year and decade shift without anything really happening. Only computers worldwide automatically shifting display date, steadfast from Australia westwards. It takes 24 hours to shift from one day to another, or does it?

The past autumn proved hectic to the limit of sustainability and blogging plummeted, so there is something to be caught up on.  Most of last year wasn’t in the plus column, however, so there is a lot to be expected from this one. The highlights of the past twelve months that come to mind spontaneously were:

The FishBase Symposium 2010 in Stockholm, October 18, featuring a fantastic series of talks by highly successful, competent and enthusiastic personality scientists covering all of what it takes to be a fish systematist, not least the field work and the need for specimens, not only tissue samples to do systematics, Melanie Stiassny, Maurice Kottelat, Tan Heok Hui, Richard Pyle, Jörg Freyhof, Anthony Gill, moderated by one more star, Ralf Britz. The audicence enjoyed the show tremendeously, and so did I. There is a report to download, most of it in Swedish, but there is always Google Translate.

Te Yu Liao’s PhD dissertation defence with Paul Skelton as opponent, 18 November. Te Yu has been with us at NRM since 2006 working on a revision of Rasbora and similar fishes. It has resulted in several phylogenetic studies, and several morepapers, altogether seven publications,  included in the dissertation (A phylogenetic analysis of the rasborins (Cyprinidae: Danioninae: Rasborini)) but still to be published. These papers provide a new framework for danionine systematics and are based on both morphology and molecules. Some of the papers are:

  • 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.
  • Liao, T.Y., S.O. Kullander & F. Fang. 2010. Phylogenetic analysis of the genus Rasbora (Teleostei: Cyprinidae). Zoologica Scripta, 39:155-176.
  • Pramod, P.K., F. Fang, K. Rema Devi, T.-Y. Liao, T.J. Indra, K.S. Jameela Beevi & S.O. Kullander. 2010. Betadevario ramachandrani, a new danionine genus and species from the Western Ghats of India (Teleostei: Cyprinidae: Danioninae). Zootaxa, 2519: 31-47.

Peter Cottle’s book about danios (Danios and Devarios) came out in December, and made a great holiday gift. The title of the foreword (which I wrote …) summarises the opus: Passion. I will get back to this book and others, but suspecting the edition may be somewhat limited, I would recommend you to get your copy now …

What is up now:

There will be more danionine papers, several already in press

A long series of cichlid papers are in an advanced state, both on African and South American cichlids

FishBase will organise three meetings this year: the annual FishBase Minisymposium with the FishBase Consortium, the annual Swedish FishBase symposium, and triannual Artedi Lectures

The first volume about fish in The Encyclopedia of the Swedish Flora and Fauna series will be published in May or so. This volume covers all species of chordates occurring in Sweden from cephalochordates to chondrichthyans, authored by me, Thomas Stach (tunicates) and Henning Blom (introductions to chordates and vertebrates). The illustrations, however, may be the major reason to look forward to this book. They are all new, and all the Swedish fishes are superbly illustrated from scratch by Linda Nyman and Karl Jilg (I haven’t seen the tunicate illustrations).

And I will go to Iceland. All my life I strived to go south, to warmth, but my former student, Georg Friðriksson, who is now an ichthyologist with the Náttúruminjasafn Íslands, has assured me that Iceland is not covered with ice and snow in the summer (or has he? May have to ask again). They have fantastic fish, all kinds of ecophenotypes of char, but also sticklebacks.

As you can see, 2011 looks all bright, new, and worth living.

At last: calendar boy

 Cichlids  Kommentarer inaktiverade för At last: calendar boy
Dec 052009
 

Being a well-known figure in fish circles can lead to occasional highlights. Last year I delivered my first fan autograph, quite unexpectedly, and I know I didn’t manage it with the speed of a movie celebrity. And now, the next step in an ichthyological career: calendar boy. Chatting with Christer Fredriksson in his shop Akvarielagret, […]

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