Category Archives: Fish

Eyebright – being an ichthyologist in the 18th Century

The latest issue of the annual proceedings of the Swedish Linnaean Society (Svenska Linnésällskapets Årsskrift, 2010) has an interesting article by Gudrun Nyberg bearing the title Ögontröst En biografi över naturforskaren Bengt Andersson Euphrasén 1755-1796. ( Eyebright A biography of the natural scientist Bengt Andersson Euphrasén 1775-1796. ) Euphrasén is (and was) one of the lesser known Swedish ichthyologists (although I bet most readers will be at a loss to call to mind any number of Swedish ichthyologist at all …). He did not live to see anything significant  ichthyological really accomplished, and his biography is verdict of that. Indeed he may be best known for his book about St. Barthélemy, mainly on plants. That would take us to a different story, though.

Euphrasén was born apparently 26 April 1755, son to a farmer in Myrebo (could translate to “Antnest” as well as  “Bognest”) in the western part of Sweden. Himself he seems to have lived in the illusion that he was born sometime  in April 1756. He was baptized Bengt Andersson. Somehow he was given a good education, attending boarding school on Visingsö Island from 1772 as Benedictus Arén Haboënsis. For a while he attended a veterinary curriculum in Skara with the taken name Euphrasén, from the plant Euphrasia stricta (or some other species of Euphrasia). This is the only case I know of where someone has borrowed a scientific name for last name. It is always the other way. Perhaps an easy way of getting oneself a patronym? He returned to and graduated from high school in 1780, immediately  signing on as sailor on a ship to China. Already in school he had become addicted to Botany and now on the trip to and from China he observed and collected fish. Very few of them it seems, five were described as new. Euphrasén wasn’t going to litter ichthyological nominospace.

Back home in 1783 he sold or handed over his catch to a wealthy merchant, Clas Alströmer in Gothenburg, who had a natural history cabinet. From now on Alströmer and Euphrasén interacted in various ways. Alströmer employed Euphrasén to curate his collections and eventually, when his finances fell low, move them to Gåsevadholm Castle in Halland. In 1787 Alströmer obtained support from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for a trip to the Swedish West Indies, the island of St. Barthélemy, where Euphrasén made collections, mostly plants. Upon his return Euphrasén marrried to Maria Greta Hallberg and they had a son in 1793, but it seems Euphrasén  left Gothenburg and his family for good in the spring of 1794, after the passing of Alströmer. He moved to Stockholm where he worked in the Academy as some kind of assistant to Anders Sparrman. His manuscript about St. Barthélemy was somehow turned down by the Academy in 1792 following Sparrman’s review, but eventually it came out with Academy support in 1795. Interesting about this St. Barts thing relates to the fish. He had bought two specimens of a strange kind of cod in the harbour of Gothenburg in 1787 but they deteriorated on the way to St. Barts and were discarded. Imagine: collects a new species in Sweden and takes the specimens along to St. Barts, just to lose them to putrefaction, … well, well. Upon return it took some time to find a new one, and only  in 1793 one came into his hands. He described it as Gadus lubb, and quite in vain as it is a synonym of Brosme brosme (Ascanius, 1772).

Aetobatis narinari from Euphrasén 1790

Raja narinari = Aetobatis narinari, described from the Swedish West Indies. Drawing from Euphrasén, 1790, tail not shown.

At some point Euphrasén got himself working on a manuscript about Bohuslän’s fishes. As we all know, that’s all the Swedish marine fauna, and what is beyond that is not much, so at some later point he decided on and completed a Swedish Ichthyology, covering all Swedish fish species. In the late 1700s a national ichthyology was quite something innovative. The Academy, however, apparently refused to print it.  The manuscript, describing 106 species of fishes, is preserved in the library of Lund University. Euphrasén died in December 1796, of hernia. Poor, misunderstood, in conflict with colleagues, writer of masterpieces. There is no portrait.

There is of course a lot more to this biography, for which Gudrun Nyberg’s illustrated article better be consulted. Aside from calling attention to an earlier, relatively unnoticed colleague of mine (the Academy’s natural history collection became the Swedish Museum of Natural History where I work as a curator), I just wish to expose here some aspects of ichthyological concern.

Plants from the St. Barthélemy expedition were bought by Carl Peter Thunberg for the Uppsala University (Wikström 1825), displaying 113 objects online. Others are still in existence in the Botany department of the Swedish Museum of Natural History. They have 106 online  items with Euphrasén as collector. Unfortunately, the fishes seem to be gone altogether. The Swedish Museum of Natural History has specimens from one or more of the many Alströmer and the Academy, but nothing definitely from Euphrasén. Jonas Alströmer, father of Clas, was also a collector of natural history objects, and some part of his collection has found its way at least to the Museum of Evolution in Uppsala, but it still remains to be investigated what happened to the collections of Clas, and those of Euphrasén. The type of Gadus lubb was deposited in the Swedish Museum of Natural History, but apparently is no longer present there.

Interestingly, all of Euphrasén’s fish works are available online in one or another form. The St. Barthélemy treatise is published online by the Biodiversity Heritage Library. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences are publishing their Transactions online, and they include the four fish papers by Euphrasén. Well, they are all in Swedish, an older form which is not covered by Google Translate, but at least you can admire the elegant woodcuts. Obviously not much was needed those days to get a fish description done. The mystery remains, however: How come Euphrasén, travelling to the two extremes of the world, Asia and America, with all the world’s unknown tropical fish fauna within reach, obviously didn’t make more discoveries? He even failed with two out of three Swedish species, Gadus lubb (Bromse brosme ) and  Gobius ruuthensparri (=Gobiusculus flavescens). Why wasn’t his Swedish Ichthyology published? What makes people become ichthyologists?

The first publication, Trangrums-Acten (” The fish oil sediment document”),  from 1784 happens to be an environmental impact assessment study, maybe the first scientific of its kind in Sweden. At the time, herring was abundant and the production of fish oil boomed along the northern part of the Swedish West Coast. The oil was produced by fermentation and boiling in many hundreds of seaside factories. It was used for just about everything and it made Clas Alströmer and others rich. Regrettably, there was considerable waste of herring liberated from their oil. (The firs major oil sanitation operation in the world?) Waste products were dumped in the sea next to each factory, apparently producing local deoxygenation in addition to enrichening the air with the smell of millions and millions of rotten herring. The Stockholm based central government introduced a number of restrictions to reduce expected habitat detoriation (and curtail the increased wealth and political influence of the west coast companies?). That upset the oil companies, who responded with arguments in Trangrums-Acten. It resulted in the compromise solution to construct shorenear ponds to contain the smelly offal. Clas Alströmer was active in the investigations, but most of the work seems to have resulted from the coordination by Johan Lorenz Rutensparre (1752-1828), actually a naval military, but one of Sweden’s first environmental economists in his spare time.  At a field excursion in 1783, Euphrasén obviously found specimens of a new species, of which  Gobius ruuthensparri was described first in Trangrums-Acten, , but without name.

Bengt Andersson Euphrasén’s bibliography

Note on online content:  Most of he Academy Transaction papers are provided by the Royal Academy of Sciences Center for the History of Science. The German translations of Academy Transactions are provided by the University of Göttingen only up to 1788.

Euphrasén published as Bengt And. Euphrasén; where And. is short for Andersson, his original last name, but it is usually believed to be a first name (Anders). Indeed, in the 1786 paper his name is printed Bengt Anders Euphrasén, but that could be an editorial or printer’s decision. At the time children would automatically have the last name formed from the first name of their father (Euphrasén’s father was named Anders), but to this could be added something more distinctive, so that a double last name was common, as in today’s Latin America, Spain and Portugal. Not to complicate matters further, he is cited as Euphrasén, B.A. below, as people usually do. [It should be Andersson Euphrasén, B.]

Ruuthensparre, J.L., J. Kiermanskiöld & A. Dahl. 1784. Utdrag af den Dagbok, som hölts under en Undersöknings Förrättning i Bohus Länska Skärgården åren 1783 och 1784. Pp. 18-65 In Anonymous.  Trangrums-acten, eller Samling af de handlingar, som med kongl. maj:ts allernådigste tilstånd blifwit des och rikets höglofl. amiralitets- och commerce-collegier tilsände, rörande tran-beredning af sill, uti Bohus länska skärgården, : och bewis derpå, at det uti hafswattnet utkastade trangrums skadar hwarken hamnar, farleder eller fiske, hwilket man tilförene befarat. I anseende til ämnets wigt, almän uplysning och beqwämare bruk, til tryck befordrad af några götheborgare, : som anlagt transiuderier uti Bohus länska skärgården. Stockholm, tryckt i kongl. tryckeriet. [Apparently the fish identifications and notes are by Euphrasén, but he is not mentioned.  A new species of Gobius is mentioned on p. 52, but it it is named only in the 1786 paper, as Gobius ruuthensparri .]

Euphrasén, B.A. 1786. Beskrifning på tvenne Svenska Fiskar. Kongl. Vetenskaps Academiens Nya Handlingar, 7: 64-67.
Gobius Ruuthensparri = Gobiusculus flavescens (Fabricius 1779)
Cottus Bubalis = Taurulus bubalis (Euphrasén, 1786)

Euphrasén, B.A. 1788. Beskrifning på 3:e fiskar. Kongl. Vetenskaps Academiens Nya Handlingar, 9: 51-55.
Trichiurus Caudatus = Lepidopus caudatus (Euphrasén, 1788)
Stromateus argenteus = Pampus argenteus (Euphrasén, 1788)
Stromateus Chinensis = Pampus chinensis (Euphrasén, 1788)

Euphrasén, B.A. 1790. Raja (Narinari). Kongl. Vetenskaps Academiens Nya Handlingar, 11:217-219.
Raja Narinari = Aetobatus narinari (Euphrasén, 1790)

Euphrasén, B.A. 1791. Scomber (Atun) och Echeneis (Tropica). Kongl. Vetenskaps Academiens Nya Handlingar, 12:315-318.
Scomber Atun = Thyrsites atun (Euphrasén, 1791)
Echeneis tropica = Phtheirichthys lineatus (Menzies, 1791)

Euphrasén, B.A. 1794. Gadus Lubb, en ny Svensk fisk beskrifven. Kongl. Vetenskaps Academiens Nya Handlingar, 15: 223-227.
Gadus Lubb = Brosme brosme (Ascanius, 1772).

Euphrasén, B.A. 1795. Beskrifning öfver svenska westindiska ön St. Barthelemi, samt öarne St. Eustache och St. Christopher. Anders Zetterberg, Stockholm, vi + 207 pp.
Perca Holocentrus = Holocentrus adscensionis (Osbeck 1765)

German translations:

Euphrasén, B.A.  1787. Beschreibung von zwey schwedischen Fischen. Der Königlich Schwedischen Akademie der Wissenschaften neue Abhandlungen aus der Naturlehre, Haushaltungskunst und Mechanik. N. S., 7: 62-65.

Euphrasén, B.A.  1788. Beschreibung dreyer Fische. Der Königlich Schwedischen Akademie der Wissenschaften neue Abhandlungen aus der Naturlehre, Haushaltungskunst und Mechanik. N. S., 9: 47-51.

Euphrasén, B. A.   1792. Raja narinari. Der Königlich Schwedischen Akademie der Wissenschaften neue Abhandlungen aus der Naturlehre, Haushaltungskunst und Mechanik. Der Königlich Schwedischen Akademie der Wissenschaften neue Abhandlungen aus der Naturlehre, Haushaltungskunst und Mechanik. N. S., 11: 205-207.

Euphrasén, B.A. 1798. Herrn Bengt And. Euphraséns Reise nach der schwedisch-westindischen Insel St. Barthelemi, und den Inseln St. Eustache und St. Christoph; oder Beschreibung der Sitten, Lebensart der Einwohner, Lage, Beshaffenheit und natürlichen Produkte dieser Inseln.  Aus dem Schwedischen von Joh. Georg Lud. Blumhof. Göttingen.

Non-fish:

Euphrasén, B.A. 1793. Historiskt frögde-qwäde, wid jubel-dagens firande d. 8 martii 1793; af B.A. Euphrasén. Götheborg, tryckt hos Lars Wahlström, 16 pp.

Linné, C. 1792. Archiatern och riddaren Carl von Linnees Termini botanici eller Botaniska ord, samlade och med anmärkningar på swenska öfwersatta af Bengt And. Euphrasén. Götheborg, tryckt hos Lars Wahlström, 76 pp.

Sources

Biographic data were condensed mostly from:

Nyberg, G. 2011. Ögontröst En biografi över naturforskaren Bengt Andersson Euphrasén 1755-1796. Svenska Linnésällskapets Årsskrift, 2010: 69-89.

Thanks to Erik Åhlander for information about possible Euphrasén collections in the Swedish Museum of Natural History, Bodil Kajrup, and the University Library in Gothenburg for assistance with publications. Synonymies were checked against the Catalog of Fishes.

Prickly manes, and a motor in the idle of their backs

Book cover of Poseidons steedYES – a book about seahorses!  Poseidon’s Steed, a strange breed of book by the way. Author Helen Scales, appearing in cork screw curl and soft smile on the non-optional author portrait,  a Cambridge doctor with a career in conservation, public outreach and coral reef fish studies, has summed up  a personal, life-long obsession with sea horses.

What I loved with Lady with a spear, the dedication to collecting and preserving fish for scientific study, does not charm this text, written by a diver and marine ecologist, but it has other qualities. To some extent collecting has to be excused here because there are already so many people catching seahorses that the whole subfamily Hippocampinae seems to be about completely pulverized into useless pharmaceuticals. And they are so cute, especially those pregnant males hanging around with  prehensile tails grasped around seaweed. It is probably easy to fall in love with seahorses, and Helen Scales has found every adjective to paint their virtues, beauty and mystery. For this is not just a fish book, it is a natural history and cultural history. After a little while of reading I lower my defense against the dangerously lurking anthropomorphisms and start to enjoy seahorse stories going back to Ancient Mediterranean civilizations and the story of Shennong and the birth of Chinese medicine, and forward to the pointless exploitation of seahorses for Chinese medicine and technical aspects of captive breeding. There is even a chapter about the early history of the aquarium hobby in mid-19th Century England that I found very warming. For those technically oriented there are lists of seahorse species, a map of seahorse distribution, numerous pages of references and a substantial bibliography. The shameless ideas about species discrimination is the only dreary part: “Imagine you are holding a length of silk ribbon dyed in all the colors of the rainbow; each color represents a different species. But where exactly does one species end and another begin?” The concept of a continuum of species and endless intermediates perpetuated by many ecologists, seems inexterminable.

Chinese medicinal seahorses

Dried seahorses intended for medicinal use

Seahorses are lovely. They are cute, and strange of form. There are a little more than 50 species, the most rectly described Hippocampus paradoxus Foster & Gomon, 2010. Being nothing but curly pipefish, male broods the eggs and alevins, and does so in a pouch fitted to its belly. Freeswimming progeny is left for the currents, which may be hard upon such cute minihorses. However, once coupled a male and female stay a pair for all their life, and that provides the cream topping for the anthropomorphy of the creature. Indeed, pipefish including seahorses, provide important data for studying parental investment. In fish, brood care is commonly left to males (cichlids are an exception), but the brood-care is rarely much more than looking big and fierceful and staying atop of the offspring. Pipefish males stick out as truly live-bearing.

Contemplating seahorses it is easy to forget that it is humans that are like the other animals, and not cutie animals like seahorses and dogs that are like humans. All our behaviour comes from somewhere and has a direct evolutionary line back to an amoeba of sorts. The way we are has probably very little to do with our complex reflective brain that is constantly battered in abstract synaptical storms known as intellectual activity, along with empathy, reflection and self-awareness. Looking around us, it is obvious that human intellect is not favored at all in the animal community. A seahorse is completely unknowing, it does not think, reason, reflect or otherwise interact contemplatively upon its surroundings or its own senses. Although intelligence is not only a function of brain size, brain size in fish is indeed  indicative of abilities of thinking. FishBase has a database of brain size in fish, and you can use FishBase to plot brain weight vs. body weight. The brain of a 6 g seahorse weighs 12 mg (compare an average 1.5 kg in humans), and this is small even for a fish. It does not know it is a loving father and a devote husband, or a divine steed. If it were 12 feet tall it would probably just suck you in using its high-speed vacuum cleaner hose snout. That is not going to happen. Seahorses are forever cute. All this “human” behaviour in pipefish goes on with 12 mg of brain.  With that, what doesn’t a seahorse male brain indicate that one could minimally expect from a father and husband …?

Scatter of brain weight vs. body weight in fishes: pipefishes in green; a seahorse (Hippocampus histrix in black covering red) and other fish in yellow. Calculated in FishBase

Footnotes:

Seahorses are a genus, Hippocampus, of pipefishes (family Syngnathidae) , belonging to the order Gasterosteiformes (sticklebacks, tube snouts, and the like). FishBase has information about 54 species of Hippocampus (as of 1 February 2010).

Poseidon’s Steed is published by Gotham Books and available from all online book dealers. The paperback has 261 pages and a block of black and white photos. “This is one charming book about one charming fish.” (Quote from the back cover).

The heading of this commentary is from a quote in Poseidon’s Steed, taken from Daily Telegraph, London, 1869.

Seahorse scan by Sven O Kullander, CC-BY-NC.

Day 1, 2011

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.

In the media: WWF and Danio tinwini

Danio tinwini

Danio tinwini, living specimen. Photo Sven O Kullander CC-BY-NC

The little fish hit the headlines today, in WWF‘s press release on their report on species described from South East Asia in 2009. Although the cover honours a radically crimson dracula fish (Danionella dracula), page 11 is devoted to Danio tinwini, subject of a longer treatise in this irregular blog.

Of course there are other rare or spectacular things in that report which is well worth downloading. WWF has counted 145 new species as described from what they call the Greater Mekong area. Twenty-six species are fish, four of them from my lab:

  • Danio aesculapii Kullander & Fang
  • Danio quagga Kullander, Liao & Fang
  • Danio tinwini Kullander & Fang
  • Devario xyrops Fang & Kullander

Of course, it is nice of WWF to highlight the species diversity in the region, and there may very well be another 26 species described every year, on and on. It is also welcome that WWF and others are putting funds and energy into conservation efforts of critical areas or whole ecosystems. This work is badly needed; every living thing in the tropics is at risk, and a greater risk every day. It is unfortunate, however, that practically all those discoveries are done with a minimum of funding only, or just out of devotion.  Taxonomy and discovery is underfunded. Where is the money for the discovery, description, and mapping of all the unknown biodiversity?

On October 18, FishBase Sweden organises its annual Symposium. This time the theme is discovery. The importance of exploring new areas, and discovering new species and analysing the evolutionary history of those life forms.  The programme is available from the FishBase Sweden website.

Freud as an ichthyologist

Life is full of surTitle of Freud paper on Lampreyprises, strange revelations, or maybe just shortcut or short memory. Tidying up my office the other day, this tractate caught hold of my curious eye.  A not so short dissertation of the spinal ganglia and the spinal cord in the lamprey, authored by the medical student Sigm. Freud [Sigmund Freud], and published in the Proceedings of the royal Academy of Sciences in Vienna, Austria in 1878. Same journal which carried so many of the more famous ichthyologist Franz Steindachner.

Wow, psychoanalysis started with the dissection of the central nervous system of one of the most primitive fishes! Only hagfish is lower on the tree, beyond that there are only invertebrates. Or maybe not. Whereas Freud’s ichthyological career passed relatively unnoticed among ichthyologists, he is well known as a neuroanatomist among the physiologists (neurophysiologists, to be precise). He started his career with eel, spending four weeks trying to find male eel in Trieste, Italy. Up till then testes had not been found in European eel. His studies on lampreys resulted in two papers and one methodological note; the eel study in one paper, somewhat inconclusive, but later confirmed to have located the testes. Freud apparently preferred neuroanatomy and remained with this subject for years.

Is that a cigar, or ...

My recollection of Freudian psychoanalysis (in which fish are scarce) is the more frequently told interpretation of snakes in dreams as the [fear of] penises. The myriad of dream analysis scam sites on the web nodd affirmatively. But we all know Freud must have been inspired by the eels and lampreys more than snakes into developing his untestable dream explanations. And people rarely dream about eels and even less about lampreys. They rather dream of snakes, although there were never any snakes in the dreams I remember (but plenty of fish). So, on the simple side of having it, psychoanalysis is all about slithering fish.

I doubt there is any 20th Century ichthyologist more famous than Sigmund Freud. Regrettably for him, he is not in boldface in the annals of fish science. For what I can find there are more batmani or [led] zeppelini than freudi among fish, so not even more famous than a comics character or a guitar hero (not a single freudi, in fact). I am not sure this entry does anything to help improve on the recognition and fame of Sigmund Freud, but I am sure many will be interested to know about this connection between the eel and the mind.

Freud’s ichthyological contributions

  • Freud, S. 1877. Über den Ursprung der hinteren Nervenwurzeln im Rückenmarke von Ammocoetes (Petromyzon Planeri). Sitzungsberichte Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftlichen Classe der der k. Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien, Abt. III, 75: 15-27.
  • Freud, S. 1877. Beobachtungen über Gestaltung und feineren Bau der als Hoden beschriebenen Lappenorgane des Aals. Sitzungsberichte der Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftlichen Classe der k. Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien, Abt. III, 75: 419-431.
  • Freud, S. 1878. Über Spinalganglien und Rückenmark des Petromyzon. Sitzungsberichte der Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftlichen Classe der k. Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien, Abt. III, 78: 81–167.
  • Freud, S. 1879. Eine Notiz über eine Methode zur anatomischen Präparation des Nervensystems. Zentralblatt der medizinischen Wissenschaft, 17/26: 468-469.

The mouth of a dead lamprey

Species referenced
Otocinclus batmani Lehmann, 2006 in Neotropical Ichthyology
Lepidocephalichthys zeppelini Havird & Tangjitjaroen, 2006 in Zootaxa
The lamprey studied by Freud may have been Lampetra planeri

Image credits
Freud portrait by Max Halberstadt, modified; original public domain; modified CC-BY-NC Sven Kullander, 2010
Other images Sven Kullander, CC-BY-NC, 2010

A very strange danio

Every well informed freshwater ichthyologist is familiar with petfrd.com forum.  Petfrd does not easily translate to Singapore Cichlid Community, which seems to be the patron of the site, but I have no clue to what petfrd could mean. The forum has several sections, and postings are enthusiastic and often with beautiful images of habitats or fresh collected fish contributed by local aquarists from all over southern Asia (and others, sure) . Ng Heok Hee moderates a section about scientific literature and usually is abreast of locating new papers about cichlids or Asian fishes. So, here is the secret about staying informed: daily visits to petfrd.com!

Betadevario ramachandrani in the aquarium. Photo (c) Beta Mahatvaraj

In January 2008, information and photos were posted of  what looked like a danio but sufficiently different not to be ignored as ‘one more…’. ‘Beta’, with a sad smiley reported that his fish were in the freezer. Fang immediately got in contact with ‘Beta’, whose name is actually Beta Mahatvaraj, enthusiastic Indian aquarist. His five frozen fish were preserved in ethanol and formalin and shipped to us. They weren’t really fresh, and the colour somewhat faded, but still all anatomy and DNA could be extracted from hem. Fang started writing up a description and gave it a manuscript name, ‘Betadevario longibarbis’.

It wasn’t a Danio as some of the first reports had it. It was more like a Devario, with those longitudinal depressions above each eye filled with sensory organs, characterizing Devario and Chela. But still not looking like a Devario, above all because of the long barbels, but also with regard to the coloration, which is unique among danios, with a light band along the middle of the side, and dark abdominal sides. Devario typically have very short barbels or they are missing completely, whereas most Danio have long barbels.

Actually, Devario is a speciose genus with more than 50 species, many still undescribed, and there is considerable variation in shape and colour pattern among them. They never have long barbels, though.

Since everything takes long time for us (the Cichla revision published 2006 took 17 years, and other papers not published were written in the 1980s, to give you a hint), it wasn’t unexpected to learn in 2009 that an Indian team was also working with the same species, and also with very few specimens. It took till December 2009 before we established contact and things were arranged for a collaborative effort to get the fish described. In the meantime much more material had become available, and indeed there were already numerous presentations of the fish on the web, e.g., in PFK  and in several Indian news sites.  Collaborating meant we could provide a fairly complete review of the new species with habitat data and image, live colour photo, and molecular and morphological phylogenetic analysis, better than individual papers would have been.  Betadevario got the species epithet ramachandrani for A. Ramachandran. Our molecular and morphological analyses differ with regard to its placement in the phylogenetic tree, but it is certainly a very basal taxon among Devario like danios, and we have more confidence in the molecular data which places it as sister group to other Devario.

Why not make it a Devario then? A good question for any genus, and will never have a good answer for all who come up with it. In this case we reasoned that the molecular analysis provided better clarity. The morphological dataset was good for distinguishing Devario and Danio, but not for resolving relationships within Devario. We have to work a lot more on that. And we are doing it, with both morphology and molecules. Betadevario presents a unique colour pattern and long barbels to distinguish it from all Devario (including Inlecypris),  providing a morphological justification for the genus.

Betadevario ramachandrani immediately after capture. Photo (c) P.K. Pramod.

The largest specimens measured about 60 mm. There are no characters to distinguish males and females, except the tubercles on the pectoral fin in males, a secondary sex indicator shared with most Danio and Devario. Information on live colours are not in concert. The live fish on Beta Mahatvaraj’s image are golden and brown/blackish, whereas the illustration by P.K. Pramod shows a a fish with a blue stripe along the side and lemon yellow fins. It will be interesting to see Betadevario alive sometime. It does not look like it will be a big aquarium fish, but who can say. It is so far known only from a small mountain stream in the Western Ghats, with relatively cool water, and may be expected to be sensitive to transportation.

Betadevario ramachandrani is known only from a very small area in the Western Ghats, the mountain range along the western coast of India, where it lives in fast running clear waters in the forest.

You don’t need a longer story here. The full description of Betadevario ramachandrani with habitat image, trees, and other details is available free to download from the Zootaxa website.

Reference

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.

Credits

Thanks to Beta Mahatvaraj and P.K. Pramod for making the images of live fish available.

In Memoriam: Fang Fang

Fang Fang in lab

Fang in the lab, May 2002. Photo (c) Staffan Waerndt.

Little has appeared in this blog lately, although its author is never far from the keyboard. The main reason has been the year-long, now ended suffering of my wife and research team member, Fang Fang. The last paper that she actively authored will appear the coming week, and it seems timely to write something about Fang here and now.

Fang was born in Beijing in 1962. She had an MSc in fish biology and left a position at the Institute of Zoology in Beijing when she came to Sweden in 1993 to do her PhD at Stockholm University. With time she turned Swedish, and completed her PhD with a dissertation on danios which she defended in 2001 with Richard P. Vari as opponent.

Fang remained all the time with the Swedish Museum of Natural History, upholding various positions, eventually as a curator in the Swedish FishBase team where, among other things, she was the key person behind the triannual Artedi Symposia. She was probably the greatest fan of Artedi ever. For over two years she also coordinated ECOCARP, a major collaborative project with several European and Chinese laboratories joining to search for Asian aquaculture fish candidates. Over the last years there was not much time for research. She was secretary in the European Ichthyological Society, member of the IUCN freshwater fish specialist group, and much more. Nonetheless, she was the author of 30 papers, and two are still to appear.

Fang passed away on 19 May, 2010, after a year of fight against cancer. She is buried in the St. Botvid cemetery south of Stockholm, in a peaceful setting overlooking a bay of Lake Mälaren.

Fang was an open, cheerful person that made many friends within and outside science, and in many ways made ichthyology more fun. With her passing, Ichthyology has lost much of its charm.

Fang’s research focussed on danios. Her favorite fish was one she discovered in Myanmar in 1997, a very distinctive danio, golden with dark brown spots, which she named Danio kyathit. It  soon became a much appreciated aquarium fish. Although there is a species named after her, Devario fangfangae, her name will probably be more firmly associated with Danio kyathit. Her legacy includes an additional nine species of Danio and Devario, and several other taxa.

Read more about Fang on the family’s memorial web site.

Species of danios described by Fang:

Devario maetaengensis (Fang, 1997)
Danio kyathit Fang, 1998
Devario apopyris (Fang & Kottelat, 1999)
Devario leptos (Fang & Kottelat, 1999)
Devario acrostomus (Fang & Kottelat, 1999)
Danio roseus Fang & Kottelat, 2000
Danio aesculapii Kullander & Fang, 2009
Danio quagga Kullander, Liao & Fang, 2009
Danio tinwini Kullander & Fang, 2009
Devario xyrops Fang & Kullander, 2009

Danio year 2009: Rakhine Yoma

thermometerat minus 10 degrees

Stockholm area, Sweden, late December 2009

In the last few hours of the first decade of the 2000s, realising that my friends in the western Pacific time zones are already into the new decade, and writing this is not likely to come to an end this year. Snow and cold (-10 to -15C) outside demonstrate why tropical fish won’t do in the garden. It was night outside already at 1600h, but inside electricity glows in every corner and it is a comfortable +23C, so the fish inside are just fine.

In 1998, Ralf Britz and I travelled westward from Yangon in a battered but still comfortable Toyota minibus, with driver and guide. We did not have permission to fly to Kalaymyo to look for Badis ferrarisi (this was a Badis trip, and a considerable contribution to the Badis revision of 2002). Our substitute goal was the western slope of the Rakhine Yoma (aka Arakan Mountain Range), separated from the Ayeyarwaddy drainage and ichthyologically quite unknown. Of course Day had been there, up to Akyab (Sittwe), and Hora had reported fish from Sandoway (Thandwe), but nothing substantial was known. It took a whole day to travel the dirt roads and hitting Gwa on the Andaman Sea coast, arriving late in the evening. Of course we made a few stops on the way, but very brief.

Sampling sites in Rakhine Yoma in 1998.

The soft hills of Rakhine Yoma in a top view.

We then travelled north along the coast to Taunggok and returned to the Ayeyarwaddy at Pyay, making excursions up and down logging roads to find small streams with freshwater. The coastal stretch along the main road was either brackish water or no suitable water at all. Unfortunately, in the remaining four days, no badid came into the seine, so badids are probably absent from the area we sampled, betwen Gwa and Taunggok. That may be significant, or just due to poor sampling. We did get quite some interesting Garra, already described by me and Fang (2004), and quite some danios and other cyprinids endemic to the region. The Rakhine Yoma forests are actually a biodiversity hotspot with numerous endemic species of animals and plants, so no surprise endemic species of fish are also abundant. Endemic fish species that come to mind are Danio feegradei, Garra vittatula, G. rakhinica, G. flavatra, G. propulvinus, G. nigricollis, Puntius binduchitra, Batasio elongatus, Hara spinulus, Akysis vespertinus, and Channa pulchra.

Danio feegradei has already been described from Thandwe (then Sandoway) by Hora, who also reported Danio choprae from the same locality. The latter was first described from near Myitkyina in the upper Ayeyarwaddy drainage. The danionins we encountered, of course included D. feegradei, but also Hora’s choprae. The latter turned out to have very little in common with D. choprae and in fact to represent a new species. Along with it we were impressed by a huge danio that had two dark blotches on the side and inhabited small streams in the deep forest. This one nobody seems to have seen before, and the colour pattern was certainly not reported before.

Eventually these two new danios got their names. In 2009, 11 years and a bit more after we collected them. Why it takes so long time from discovery to description?

Danio aesculapii, preserved holotype.

The choprae-like fish was named Danio aesculapii, and with its 29 mm max SL in the wild is one tiny fish. The name was inspired by the popular name of snakeskin danio. In the living fish, not much of snake pattern shows, the most impressive in this highly agile being is a golden shine along the middle of the dorsum. In the preserved fish, however, there is a series of dark vertical bars anteriorly on the side and two rows of dark spots from above the anal-fin origin to the caudal-fin base. Unlike most Danio, D. aesculapii does not possess stripes on the caudal fin. The caudal peduncle is relatively deep, and has more scales, 12 around the middle, than most other Danio, which have 10 only. Asklepios or Aesculapius was the Ancient Greek god of medicine, typically equipped with a staff with a snake or two wrapped around it.

Devario xyrops. A male, just collected.

The large double-blotched species got named Devario xyrops with reference to the sharp ridges rising along the anterior part of the orbit (xyrops means razor-eye), and is also diagnosed by the colour pattern with a diffuse blotch formed by irregular vertical bars anteriorly on the side, and separated from a well-defined dark stripe on the posterior part of the body. It was getting dark, and we were exhausted after chasing fish up and down the stream all afternoon, but realising that this was an exceptional species, we made an effort to take a live colour photo as per above. The pink sheen ventrally probably derives from the red lid of the container on which the photo tank was placed, however. Devario xyrops is large for a danio, with the largest specimen 77 mm SL. Comparing with other Devario we found that the colour pattern is not fully unique. Also Devario browni has a separation of the lateral marking into an anterior blotch and a posterior band, but not as conspicuous as in D. xyrops. A similar species, D. anomalus, was described by Conway et al. (2009) from Bangladesh, and differs in being much more slender.

Small pool close to Thandwe, habitat of Danio aesculapii.
Habitat of Devario xyrops and Danio aesculapii north of Thandwe.
And with that pass the last day of 2009 and the first of 2010. It is still cold out there, and very dark. Not a very inspiring setting, but not all days are like this so I do dare wish you a productive 2010 full of excitement and happiness!

References
To learn more you can download the original descriptions of both Danio aesculapii and Devario xyrops which are available online as Open Access from the publisher’s website:

And here are other papers mentioned (none of them Open Access):
Conway, K.W., R.L. Mayden & K.L. Tang. 2009. Devario anomalus, a new species of freshwater fish from Bangladesh (Ostariophysi: Cyprinidae). Zootaxa, 2136: 49-58.
Hora, S.L. 1937. Notes on fishes in the Indian Museum. XXXI. On a small collection of fish from Sandoway, Lower  Burma.  Records of the Indian Museum, 39: 323-331.
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. 2004. Seven new species of Garra (Cyprinidae: Cyprininae) from the Rakhine Yoma, southern Myanmar. Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters, 15: 257-278.
Image credits:

Map from the NRM Ichthyology Collection online database, using Google Maps

All other images: Sven O Kullander, CC-BY-NC

At last: calendar boy

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, Christer came up with the idea to include me and my goldfish pot in the annual calendar of the Nordic Cichlid Society. And that did not work out, so the outcome is actually a shot in front of the two aquariums in our lab corridor (African lungfish in one, some other fish in the other), holding a jar of Cichla, wearing a T-shirt from the Sydney Aquarium, and a FishBase vest.

Christer is a highly motivated aquarist and innovative entrepreneur with the largest aquarium shop in Stockholm, and probably the most interesting shop in terms of fishes because he is not only focussed on selling, but also displaying and breeding quite a number of less common species. The business was recently expanded to include the Butterfly House at the northern outskirts of Stockholm (actually in Solna, the siamese twin city of Stockholm) which is now being converted to have more aquatic components. The most interesting recent move, however, was to convert supplier pricelists into a searchable online database. Customers can seach for the fish they are interested in, see the approximate retail price, and order online for pickup at shipment arrival. This saves time and money for both parties. Christer does not have to guess what customers may like, and customers can make more directed decisions.

Christer is also a persistent supporter of the Nordic Cichlid Society (Nordiska Ciklidsällskapet), which has one of the finest cichlid journals in the world, presently edited by Ola Svensson who recently graduated from Stockholm University.

You may indeed wish to join the Nordic Cichlid Society, not least for the 2010 calendar with me in it (and a number of more worthy celebrities), but also for the many well-written articles and so many beautiful photos of cichlids in the Society journal. The only bad thing is that they insist on using Metriaclima instead of the senior synonym Maylandia, and that something that really needs a blog later on.

Links
Akvarielagret
Nordiska ciklidsällskapet

Danio year 2009: Danio quagga

In March last year, our PhD student Te Yu Liao and I were able to collect along the Myanmar border with India, in tributaries to the Chindwin River. Our intended stops were Kalaymyo and Tamu, but we also tried stopping at streams along the road. It was very dry at the time, and even large rivers reduced to small streams.

Stopping by one of these streams, in the heart of a large village, we seined a pool with some vegetation. And in there was a zebrafish! Zebrafish in Myanmar, in the Ayeyarwaddy drainage. No way. It had to be something new, and as we have learned from Meinken, all danios are striped anyway. The fish went into formalin, and the chase for the next specimen commenced.

The stream

After one more hour, still not one more specimen of this schooling species, but hundreds of Danio albolineatus, and we were called to inspection by the local authorities, so we had to move on. Indeed, we were in a hurry between Kalaymyo and Tamu to arrive at our destination before dark, not only because of likely shortage of accommodation in Tamu, but also because we were given only one day of permanence in Tamu and would need to spend time with local authorities to explain our presence. But hand on heart, you can’t leave a new species like that? Well, we moved on convinced we would find more specimens in some other place. Unfortunately it did not turn out so. We left Tamu with four more specimens from the market, where they hid in heaps of plenty of other little fish, dead to the bone, and with the total of five we eventually left Myanmar. Myanmar markets have large fish, but also large quantities of very small ones, used to prepare a special fish paste, ngapi. In the early morning there is thus plenty of fresh fish in the market and saves on collecting in the wild, with the caveat that fresh fish from the stream preserve better.

So, we were back with only formalin preserved specimens, and in the present times that is bad, because DNA sequencing is in the vogue, and generally a useful tool to check on phylogenetic relationships, and because formalin denatures DNA. Some of us can still do systematics without DNA, however, and that we did. The striped danio turned out not very similar to zebrafish at all, except in the general colour pattern. It is rather related to the spotted species, Danio kyathit from the neighbouring upper Ayeyarwaddy drainage and with one specimen recorded from the uppermost Chindwin.

The mammal: Equus quagga.

We named our striped danio Danio quagga. Quagga is the species or subspecies epithet of one of the zebras, so that within the genus of the zebrafish there should be at least one species with a name associating to zebras. We didn’t call it Danio zebra just not to confuse things for the zebrafish people (and perhaps, in the end, ourselves). (But wouldn’t it have been fun?)

The fish: Danio quagga, holotype.

See above what it looks like, now that the holotype has been dead for a while. Exciting as it was to encounter another zebrafish in the wild, I am not convinced that this will become an ornamental fish hit. Our comparisons suggest that it is most close to Danio kyathit, which hasn’t outcompeted the leopard danio in the hobby. It is also somewhat larger than a normal Danio rerio, requiring more swimming space (the holotype was the only one in 50 m of stream …). And, of course, why would we need another striped danio in our tanks. Seems we have exhausted danios as ornamental fish? But there is of course more to a fish than populating an aquarium. We are gradually building a phylogenetic history of danios, and then it is just great to find a sister-species pair, a split branch on the tree, rather than having single branches of uniques. Now we will move on to connect D. quagga and D. kyathit to the rest of the tree.
If you want to read the original description, you can download an Open Access copy, which you can share with families and friends as much as you like. Just click on the reference below. It’s magic!

Reference
Kullander, S.O., T.Y. Liao & F. Fang. 2009. Danio quagga, a new species of striped danio from western Myanmar (Teleostei: Cyprinidae). Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters, 20: 193-199. Open Access PDF


Image credits:
Map from the NRM Ichthyology Collection online database, using Google Maps
Danio quagga and stream: Sven O kullander, CC-BY-NC

Equus quagga: Muhammad Mahdi Karim, from Wikimedia Commons, GNU FDL 1.2