Tag Archives: Danio

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: 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.

Fish from nowhere

Yesterday I mentioned briefly the leopard danio, a small golden fish full of dark spots, apparently a color mutation in the zebrafish Danio rerio, but described in 1963 as a species on its own with the name Brachydanio frankei. The leopard danio is a popular aquarium fish in its own right, which keeps its colors but does not differ in behaviour or size from the zebrafish, and hybridises freely with zebrafish. When it first appeared in the aquarium trade, its origin in the wild was unknown. That should have called for some caution … On the other hand, who could believe other than that the differences in colour pattern was a strong indicator of species distinctness?

Spotted danios are known from the wild, however. There is Danio kyathit from northern Myanmar, in which the spots are more or less irregularly arranged in rows, and many morphological characters distinguish it from other species of Danio. Described by Fang in 1998, based on four specimens she collected herself, she also included two specimens collected in the 1920s that were not spotted but striped. There was simply no way of distinguishing the striped and spotted kyathit other than by colour pattern, and because the rows of spots are merely broken up horizontal stripes, there was room for considering intraspecific variation. How different conclusions can be once you know a little more about the group you are working with!

Here is an image of Danio kyathit, photographed by Fang Fang.

The other spotted danio has no scientific name yet. It is a small fish, similar to Danio rerio but with large spots on the side. It is already available in the aquarium trade where it is called Danio sp. Burma. Will anyone dare to describe it? Is there a striped counterpart already available among the many supposed synonyms of Danio rerio??

A real sunshine story is the that of the “Odessa barb”, one of the major aquarium fish species, and belonging to the large family of cyprinid fishes. Males are marked by a stunning, glowing, deep, exquisitely brilliant red band along the side, and contrasting black spots in the dorsal, anal, and pelvic fins. Females are less colourful. It is or relatively small size, less than 5 cm, and easy to reproduce in aquarium.

The early aquarium history of the “Odessa barb” is not well documented. In 1973, Russian aquarist Dazkewitsch wrote that it originated from a market, not stated where, and arrived in Odessa, Ukraine, in 1971, soon being cultivated in Moscow. So it was named “Odessa barb” although quite evidently a South Asian species. It was a confusing time, a time for much speculation among American and European aquarists, and no information from Ukraine. And how come a small aquarium fish, soon of world fame could first be found in Ukraine, at the time part of the Soviet Union and with no aquarium fish import? Maybe it was also a “form” of some kind, like the leopard danio? Strangely, nobody got the idea this time to describe the new fish as a new species!

So, things remained for 30 years till Frank Schäfer in 2001, working for the German wholesale aquarium fish importer Glaser reported having found the “Odessa barb” in an importation from Myanmar.

Wow! And I and my colleague Ralf Britz (yes, that’s him with the vampire fish), missed it totally on our collecting trip in Myanmar just a little before, in 1998, crossing the country from Yangon in the south north to the foothills of the Himalayas in Putao.

Well, there was still no precise locality. And Ralf then found the fish in 2003, near Mandalay. So, it exists in nature, we know where, and last year we got it described. We named it Puntius padamya. Padamya is the Burmese word for ruby. The ruby barb of aquarists, however, is Puntius nigrofasciatus from Sri Lanka. The description is available online as an Open Access resource from the Electronic Journal of Ichthyology.

The “Odessa barb” freshly collected in the wild, a bit pale in the photo tank. Photograph by Ritva Roesler, from Kullander & Britz (2008: Electronic Journal of Ichthyology, 4: 56-66):

And the stately preserved holotype of Puntius padamya:

The lessons, if any, are: Don’t name fish known only from the aquarium trade. Be patient. And, give nice names to nice fish.