Northern glowlights

 Aquarium fish, Danios, Fish, Ichthyology, taxonomy, Travel  Kommentarer inaktiverade för Northern glowlights
Dec 242012
 
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.

aquarium800

References

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

Sirens of Liège

 Ichthyology, meetings, Not categorized, Travel  Kommentarer inaktiverade för Sirens of Liège
Jul 092012
 

This is the first day of silence after coming back to Stockholm from the XIV European Ichthyological Congress in Liège, Belgium (3-8July).

Aquarium and Museum Liège front

Entrance to the museum and aquarium in Liège, venue of the XIV European Congress of Ichthyology, July 2012

Whereas the meeting, attended by a round 260 delegates from all over Europe and occasional from farther away, was well organised and quite informative, heat hit us and noise. Coming from a cold Swedish summer, the rainiest June in 200 years, Liègian temperatures were an amiable mid-20s and only one shower wet us. But it took buying a few more T-shirts (from Swedish H&M) to feel comfortably neat around the clock. I loved the heat, actually. But the noise… Constructed as an intricate labyrinth of narrow streets between stone and brick buildings, sounds from everything sounding cascaded through the streets of Liège and there was no escape even in the hotel room. Most remarkable, however, were the frequent ambulances and police cars continuously racing in and out of streets and alleys, with a 2000 db (exaggerating, but well …) high pitch sirens resounding all over the municipality. Quite remarkable. Liègians seem to love noise more than anything else.

 

 

Photo of stuffed mermaid in Liège museum

Sirena anthroposelacia pilifera in the exhibit of the Aquarium in Liège

 

 

 

Fleeing the street sirens I had a brief encounter with a real one in the lower floor of the combined public aquarium and zoological museum (Liège Aquarium-Museum) , which was also the venue for the Congress. This little lady had a glass cage all for herself, in swimming pose, and is indeed the first real stuffed mermaid I have come close to in real life.

 

Fish exhibit of the zoological museum in Liège

A part of the systematically ordered exhibit at the zoological Museum in Liège

 

The rest of the aquarium is maybe mainly for the local audience. The Museum, however, two floors up, was neat and had a number of interesting objects, making it well worth a visit. Displaying real animals in systematic order it was ideal and should be a lead star for other natural history exhibits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo of notebook with fish drawings

Pages in notebook by Francis de Castelnau in the exhibition of the Zoological Museum in Liège

One table display featured a charming set of castelnauiana that was news to me, including drawing equipment, notebooks, and sketches from the later days of Francis de Castelnau (1810-1880). Apparently Castelnau donated specimens to the museum along with the notebooks, and there is now a plan to repaint the stuffed fishes based on the drawings.

The Congress? Well, I probably sat more than the usual number of sessions. Belgium has a big advantage in having several institutions providing training and research opportunities in morphology and anatomy, making it an interesting breeding ground for evolutionary and functional analyses of fish physionomies and behaviour, and has also a very strong research in African freshwater fishes. This balanced very well a large number of more or less conclusive or inconclusive molecular presentations. I travelled with NRM FishBase staff Michael Norén and Bodil Kajrup who presented a talk on our ongoing hagfish research, and a poster of a mapping of Swedish fish type localities, respectively. I have been too occupied with other things recently, and did not feel like giving a talk. Some other time. Maybe on mermaids. This is not the last mermaid post. It didn’t turn out a meeting report, at least.

By the way: The European Ichthyological Congresses are organised locally (this one mainly by the University of Liège) but are actually a significant part of activities of the European Ichthyological Society. The first congress was organised in Sarajevo in 1972. I was one of the organisers of the Congress in Stockholm in 1985. Membership in the society is open for all, and there is a website (http://artedi.nrm.se/eis/) providing the details how to join.

 

All photos © Sven O Kullander, CC-NC-BY

Mosioatunga, the true story

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

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

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls Photo John Walker, Public domain

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

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

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

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

Reference

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

Day 1, 2011

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

As the snow whirls around and the cold fills up the atmosphere, the new year brings a welcome day off to be taken care of. Dough is rising and breakfast bread will be served in an hour or so. Family is sleeping, stoned by the unusual late hours to sit through the paradox of a […]

Danio year 2009: Rakhine Yoma

 Fish, Travel  Kommentarer inaktiverade för Danio year 2009: Rakhine Yoma
Jan 012010
 

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 […]

Went fishing wrote book

 Biographies, Books, Fish, Travel  Kommentarer inaktiverade för Went fishing wrote book
Jul 202009
 

Among the most tragic of events in this world and our times are the deforestation and destruction of the world’s tropical rain forests, along with the conversion of the entire Amazon basin into temporary cattle ranching and soy bean plantations, South East Asia into margarine palms to tickle the well-being of health fanatics. And along […]

A day in Botany Bay

 Travel  Kommentarer inaktiverade för A day in Botany Bay
Jun 122009
 

Botany Bay approximately where Solander, Banks and Cook first landed in 1770. Photo: Sven O. Kullander. CC-BY-NC Although claimed by the British, despite already being inhabited by other nations, to the outside world Australia was largely a Swedish discovery, by Daniel Solander (1733-1782), his boss Joseph Banks, and his captain James Cook, arriving to Botany […]

At the 8th Indo-Pacific Fish Conference

 meetings, Travel  Kommentarer inaktiverade för At the 8th Indo-Pacific Fish Conference
Jun 022009
 

The 8th Indo-Pacific Fish Conference is actually a gathering of people on a conference about fishes and not a gathering of Indo-Pacific fishes conferencing. At this meeting, in Fremantle, Western Australia, seemingly more ichthyologists than fish in the Swedish seas. It is a very well organised meeting, with excellent service and excellent setting in the […]

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