Category Archives: taxonomy

Northern glowlights

My kitchen window

My kitchen window

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.

Looking northeast from Putao

Looking norwest from Putao

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.

Mali Hka in Putao

Mali Hka in Putao

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.

Fresh collected northern glowlight danio, Putao 1998

Fresh collected northern glowlight danio, Putao 1998

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

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

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, 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


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.

Sharks, skates, and Swedish seas

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)



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

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).

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.


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.


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


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.

Cleaning out the bugs: fruitfly name to be based on science not convention

The International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature just published an opinion on  the name of a laboratory animal known as fruit fly, and identified as Drosophila melanogaster. Yes, that standard lab creature to sort into phenotypes during genetics classes. An application was made in 2007 requesting that if phylogenetic research would show that the fruit fly does not belong in the genus Drosophila (it has always been in the subgenus Sophophora, which then is the best candidate), the generic name should nevertheless follow it by making D. melanogaster type species of Drosophila. There was quite some discussion, difficult to understand the heat of, because the fruit fly hasn’t had its name changed yet, or anything very near. Many opposed to a potential change of the generic name for melanogaster, and supported the application. There were also voices to let taxonomy have its way, change the name if need be.

In fishes, the zebrafish, tilapias, and rainbow trout – maybe a magnitude less published on, but nevertheless important species beyond ichthyological introversions — change name in a snap the day the message comes. People were equally happy with Danio rerio then Brachydanio rerio and then Danio rerio again. Tilapias are known now mostly as Oreochromis — bothers noone. And the rainbow trout is Oncorhynchus mykiss — not Salmo gardneri (doubt very few remember this “well-known” name anymore). Entomologists may be less elastic than ichthyologists, giving them more headache and pains. Ichthyologists know that fish (no scientific name known) are a paraphyletic group, nevertheless do not demand that Pisces must be used by force.

The reflection of systematics in the names of organisms and groups of organisms is one of the strengths of Zoological Nomenclature. When a species goes from a bad to a better generic allocation based on scientific evidence it gets a new generic name, and that is a very strong signal of progress. Otherwise perhaps day-to-day taxonomic landwinnings would go unnoticed. As evidenced by thousands and thousands of nameshifts over time, this is not a challenge at all to systematics or science otherwise.

Nevertheless, as in all communities there are other opinions. One drawback of nameshifts is that literature searches get more complicated, one has to seach for two instead of one name. In some databases, such as GBIF and FishBase this is taken care of because FishBase and other databases keep synonymies and serve results under the presently valid name regardless of what name was used in the references. Not magic, hard manual work over the years. But so, if you look in older literature from Artedi onward, a large part of the species descriptions are taken up by synonymies, name lists in which authors made an effort to list all mentions of a particular species. This is not done anymore because the lists would become too long and require an amount of double-checking that few modern workers can afford. Instead we look forward to the Global Names Architecture and dependable search and retrieve databases based on resources such as ZooBank. Managing names, however, will not reduce the really major problem with the knowledgebase, namely misidentifications. A solution with misidentifications has been proposed that uses species concepts (based on stated definition of a taxon by and author) instead of named species, but that approach is not very helpful because it tends to have  a different concept of the same species for every publication, and in principle makes the name independent of the species. No gain. So, we are going from Opera omnia to history-free papers, and that causes worries (about names, where the worry should be about misidentifications) and technology will need to come to rescue. And will. Someday.

Back to the fruit fly. When I was a student it was called banana fly (it is actually a vinegar fly…?), like all other small flies swarming around the fruit in the summer. What scientific name it had did not matter to teachers or students alike. And there are lots of fruit flies that are not Drosophila, D. melanogaster, or even the same family. The paraphyletic genus Drosophila as of today has 1,450 species.

The Commission has now (April 2010) issued an Opinion in response to the Application to change the type species of Drosophila to be melanogaster. The Commission says no – 23 against 4. Commissioners have different opinions, but seem to converge on the case being about taxonomy, not nomenclature, so it is not a matter for the Commission. It is also mentioned that one should not deal with hypothetical cases, as this one – actually the fruit fly is still in its old genus. You can read it all on the Commission website: ICZN Opinion on Case 3407

A Google search today finds 1,040,000 results for fruitfly (includes fruit fly); 1,570,000 for  “Drosophila melanogaster”, and an astonishing 2,880,000 for Drosophila without melanogaster, suggesting that he scientific species name combination is not that worked in rock. Nonetheless, Sophophora melanogaster has currently only 93,700. Let’s see how that has changed a year or two from now.

And the winner is:


Fruit fly busy with something else. Photo: Botaurus, Wikimedia. Public domain.

Danio year 2009: Danio tinwini

The year is isn’t over, and the snow did not fall over Stockholm yet, so it may be a bit early to summarise the year. But it might be better to start early, not to end up in december 2010 summarizing 2009, and then it has to be piece by piece. Writing this, I am reminded of one of the most famous aquarium books, Aquarienfische in Wort und Bild, which was issued over a period of 30 years in instalments of a smaller number of sheets, and the authors were indeed writing continuously on it between 1932 and 1962. In the 1950s there were similar initiatives elsewhere in Europe, e.g., the Belgian Vissentlas, but I have not kept track of them. Also TFH publications tried, much later, to publish a loose-leaf edition of Exotic Tropical Fishes, and the German cichlid society sent out species descriptions with their journal supposed to be collected by the subscribers. Of course, this is in most cases an awkward way of publishing where the customer is the big loser. The following scenarios are possible:
  • Publication terminates after a smaller number of pages. You end up with a quarter or half of a book.
  • Publication goes on indefinitely, with or without revisions of outdated pages. You end up with a book containing almost duplicate pages, and a span of many years between the earliest and the latest information (could be blurred b/w photos mixed with excellent digital colour photos. Half the book will be outdated.
  • You stop subscription and end up with a half book
  • Everything completes but in the meantime you already had to buy some complete books, just not to stay ignorant about everything from H to Z.

Die Aquarienfische in Wort und Bild (there is also the corresponding Aquarienpflanzen) is an exception among the bad examples because it (1) terminated a long time ago, so all you can buy now is the complete book (€70-150 on eBay), and (2) it was actually quite complete in coverage, and especially the species descriptions were more detailed than anything in other contemporary aquarium books. I am actually not quite sure when it was published, but it seems it started in 1932, and went on till 1962, with Hermann Meinken (1896-1976) as the sole author after co-authors Maximilian Holly (*-*) and Arthur Rachow (1884-1960) long before had retired from writing. Die Aquarienfische in Wort und Bild was a highly influential work, the mother of all other European aquarium books.

That it wasn’t published after 1962 seems likely because the description of Brachydanio frankei, described by Meinken in 1963, is missing. Every other fish imported to Germany up till the late 1950s/early 1960s are there, and Meinken had a particular interest in danios.

Now we are getting to the point: Brachydanio frankei was, at that time, known only from aquarium specimens. It is still not known from the wild, as already pointed out in an earlier post about fish from nowhere. Meinken lists the following species of danios:

Danio devario
Danio malabaricus
Brachydanio kerri
Brachydanio albolineatus
Brachydanio nigrofasciatus
Brachydanio  rerio

That is a very short list. (And by the way, Brachydanio is presently considered a junior synonym of Danio, and Meinken’s Danio are now in Devario; but they are all danios.) A much larger number of species of Rasbora are described in the same book. At present it looks to me that there are more danios than rasboras in the shops, but I may may be biased.

Danio rerio, aquarel by Curt Bessiger, used in Die Aquarienfische in Wort und Bild.

The most characteristic about Danio frankei is the colour pattern, which is golden with small brown or black spots. At the time that was quite remarkable because all known danios (listed above) were striped (except that the stripe in Devario devario is not so prominent, and Danio nigrofasciatus has spots on the abdomen. Over the time, no wild specimens of D. frankei appeared, and it has turned out rather certain that it is a colour mutation of the zebrafish, Danio rerio.

In the original description of Danio frankei, Meinken wrote (my translation from the German):

Shortly before the end of the year 1962, through my old friend Heinrich Grauel from “Vivarium-Bremerhaven”, my friend Diplom-Biologe Hanns-Joachim Franke in Gera/Thüringen, gave me  six captive bred specimens of a very handsome Brachydanio novelty with the request that I study the specimens, if possible identify them and give them a name. According to the information from Mr Grauel, at that time Mr Franke already had bred several hundred specimens of this species in his breeding tanks. Unfortunately the novelty was lacking a name.

Upon my immediate checkback concerning details about the importation and my notice that — in case the animals would represent a scientifically still unknown and undescribed novelty — a determination based on captive bred specimens would be unreliable because that could lead to mistakes, Mr Franke then most friendly told me that he had obtained the import specimens from the familiar and active Diplom-Biologe Stanislav Frank in Prague. Unfortunately, the place of capture was unknown also to Mr Frank. That the animals came from India was only a very weak consolation, because first all Danio and Brachydanio species come from India and the Indo-Malayan area, and second India is large, about several times larger than the previously undivided Germany. Mr. Franke, however, made the great sacrifice in the interest of science and nomenclature, killing four of his import specimens and sent them to me for examination.

Meinken then went on with a very detailed description, a lamentation of the lack of locality data, and finally, a long discussion about relationships. According to Meinken, D. frankei would be most closely related to B. tweediei (from Malaysia), a nominal species currently synonymized with D. albolineatus.

Leopard danio. Preserved aquarium specimen from Taiwan.

That did not stop other leopard danios from coming in. The first was Danio kyathit, described by Fang in 1998. The second was just described by me and Fang based on a large series collected by U Tin Win in the same region as D. kyathit, and we named it Danio tinwini.

Danio tinwini, female paratype.

Danio tinwini is spotted and the spot pattern is quite similar to that of D. kyathit, but not so much to that of the leopard danio. It is a much smaller species than either D. kyathit or the leopard danio, however, and external morphological characters suggest that it is more related to D. nigrofasciatus or D. aesculapii. It is indeed a remarkably small species. The largest wild male examined was 21.7 mm in standard length, the largest female 25.6 mm. That is almost as small as the smallest Danio species (D. margaritatus, 21.3 mm).  What provokes most thought, however, is the fact that the only two spotted danios, D. kyathit and D. tinwini occur in the same general area (but not syntopic), and are not closely related. Would we be surprised if D. frankei were found in northern Myanmar one day as well?

Danio tinwini lives together with a much more famous fish, Danionella dracula, the Vampire or Dracula fish. Much more we do not know about the natural habitat och accompanying species. You can read all the technical details about Danio tinwini in the Open Access original description.

Holly, M., H. Meinken & A. Rachow. 1932-1962. Die Aquarienfische in Wort und Bild. Kernen, Stuttgart, Loose-leaf publication, 1328 pp.

Kullander, S.O. & F. Fang. 2009. Danio tinwini, a new species of spotted danio from northern Myanmar (Teleostei: Cyprinidae). Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters, 20: 223-228. [errata:  p. 227, col 2, para 2, line 10: “1” should be “4”; p. 228, col. 1, line 3: “19.3” should be “21.2”]

Meinken, H. 1963. Mitteilungen der Fischbestimmungsstelle des VDA XLII: Brachydanio frankei spec. nov., der Leopard-Danio. Monatsschrift für Ornithologie und Vivarienkunde. Ausgabe B. Aquarien und Terrarien, 10:75-79.

*-* I cannot find any information about Maximilian Holly. I don’t even know where to start…?

Photo credits:
Top image: living Danio tinwini,Sven O Kullander, CC-BY-NC
Leopard danio and Danio tinwini, Sven O Kullander, CC-BY-NC
Danio rerio aquarel, public domain.

The New Nominomania

Roger Hyam’s blog post Calling time on biological nomenclature and the comments it received, also on Taxacom, makes me wonder if not biodiversity informatics is the enemy rather than the servant of science. What some of my colleagues argue for are empty name lists, including also artificial constructs like barcode species. Then erecting the haplotype as the focal point of taxonomy is apparently to be expected lying in ambush.

For taxonomists, names are abstractions of scientific knowledge, and cannot, consequently, be managed in a formalised top-down system. To call for science to be published in only certain journals, to advocate that certain kinds of “species” should be the only ones permitted, are not friendly proposals to rationalise information flows, but denials of the process of free information gathering. It is plain denying that taxonomic papers are primarily contributions to science in the first place, and name machines only secondarily. Taxonomy must remain a scientific exercise, and cannot be a mechanical process.

The idol project brought forth is the International Code of Nomenclature of Bacteria, where there is a Committee to decide, a single place to register names, and — most importantly, forgotten by the supporters — less than 10 000 diagnosable units are included. Since bacteria are so different from other organisms, and the named units so few (at least that have been admitted by this Committee …) the ICNB is simply not possible to use as a model for the several million species of multicellular organisms, most of which have not been named yet.

Whereas I am a friend of registration of names, and advocating that scientific names as defined in the Botanical and Zoological Codes are as good markers as can be (human-friendly they are) of scientific processes of elucidating the characteristics, whereabouts, and history of pieces of biodiversity, I cannot be positive to registration replacing the scientific procedure of testing hypotheses of phylogenetic distinctness labelled with scientific names. No committee should certainly be involved here. And whereas barcodes can probably be an interesting tool for the food industry and similar, I don’t see much use for it in taxonomy where we have species concepts based on evolutionary theory, type specimens, and diagnoses that are compatible with scientific theory and hypotheses. In taxonomy, contrast to the barcode shop, we also have flexible systems to classify biological units other than “species”.

Whereas taxonomists must be more collaborative with biodiversity informatics in, e.g., voluntary registration in ZooBank, and show more effort to make their work and naming visible, it is the task of biodiversity informatics to find the methods to discover, assemble, and present the objects of biodiversity. We must not adapt science to fit the index.

The concerted effort of GBIF and Encyclopedia of Life to build a Global Names Architecture (GNA), providing a Global Names Index (GNI), seems to me to be a way out of the dilemma that biodiversity informatics is entangled in: information about biodiversity cannot be extracted because there are too many names (with misspellings, synonyms, homonyms, etc.) out there and the approximate (can never be exact) meaning of a name may vary from one mention to another. Certain related efforts, such as transparently tagging names with identifiers, as is being done in Zootaxa and ZooKeys, are bridging the gap between computerified and human-mediated names. Thus the technology is there, it is evolving, and taxonomy should be able to continue as a science.

The real difference between the mega-name-consumers and taxonomy is that mega-name-consumers wish to have all in one place, which is probably of zero interest to taxonomy. They are also not interested in metadata such as diagnosis, type specimens, etc., and they do not want taxon concepts to change, which they inevitably must do in science. In taxonomy, only small sets of taxa (and names) are handled at any given time, and of these, all have a definite function in the particular study, may be a revision, a field guide, a phylogeny, or a classification. In such contexts, the name domain is self-contained, and all named units are related to each other by the hypothesis or scope of the study. Everything else is of zero interest. For a study of cichlid fishes, it is of no interest whatsoever if New Zealand Lepidoptera exist. Enter mega-name-consumers, who will need both in the same list because those lists are not based on any scientific criterion and it is absolutely not known what the list is for. If consumers could define their precise needs from study to study, it might be easier to design the tools to extract the names and concepts actually needed. To maintain lists of millions of names, even in a database, for no specific purpose does not make much sense. Indeed, most checklists of smaller scale as well, especially when produced by non-specialists are equally meaningless anachronisms of apparently undefeatable listmania.

So, we must ask from biodiversity informatics:

  1. Proper specification of what their taxonomic units (text-names or LSIDs) are going to be used for. Map species occurrences, make phylogenetic hypotheses, sort out homonyms, …?
  2. Design systems that can effectively detect, maintain, and trace name usage and relevant metadata, compatible with taxonomic objectives and procedures.
  3. Provide voluntary registration systems, and other tools facilitating the exchange of names and metadata between taxonomists and consumers.

Whereas 2 and 3 may be underway, I am beginning to doubt that anyone can give a good answer to 1…

For those who cannot embrace taxonomy fully, I recommend stamp collecting. It has all the flavors of registration, codes, hybridisation, phylogeography, central committees, misidentifications, rare haplotypes, identical reissues, fakes, top-down standards, and stasis. It is a totally unscientific enterprise with no limits to organisational options suitable for old frustrated men obsessed with control. Ooops, does it sound like DNA barcoding …?

Image: Wikimedia Commons, public domain

8th Indo-Pacific Fish Conference over

The 8th Indo-Pacific Fish Conference is over here in Fremantle, and tonight is the closing banquet. It has all been very well arranged, and organisers must be content. The Swedish delegation of three, slightly outnumbering the Danish, of two, will gradually move back to the other side of the world.

What were the highlights then. Since I have not attended every one of the six concurrent series of sessions, I must be blamed for zooming in on those where I was present. Ralf Britz (Dracula fish) provided strong arguments for and examples of the use of developmental series in homologisations of morphological characters, and Dave Johnson presented a fascinating story of how Mirapinnidae (known only from larvae), Megalomycteridae (known only from males), and Cetomimidae (known only from females) reflect lifestages and sexes of one and the same family, the Cetomimidae (whalefishes).

Tatsuya Kaga gave a nice, concise presentation of the phylogeny of the Sillaginidae, and Tan Heok Hui presented new data on the systematically and biologically fascinating miniature peat swamp fishes, Paedocypris and Sundadanio.

Bill Eschmeyer received the Bleeker Award in Taxonomy, well deserved for his long-term work on the Catalog of Fishes, a tool ichthyologists refer to daily or at least weekly or they are not ichthyologists.

Yes, that was perhaps the biased view of a morphological systematist. I gave a presentation of a molecular phylogeny of South American cichlids, Te Yu Liao a snapshot of his PhD dissertation on the systematics of Rasbora, which was very nice, and Fang presented the first molecular outcome of the continuing analysis of danionin interrelationships.

I obtained from Martien van Oijen, Naturalis Museum in Leiden, a new, very heavy book: A translation to English of Bleeker’s Ichthyologiae Archipelagi Indici Prodromus. Volumen 1. Siluri. I am personally quite content with the Latin and Dutch version, but this is an important work making Bleeker’s text generally available to the majority of ichthyologists working on Indonesian catfishes. I was informed that the cyprinids are next.