Two years ago I treated you to the story of how in Alabama, spiders are legally insects. “Hold my beer”, said California, and two weeks ago a California court declared that bees are fish. I know; that’s ridiculous. It turns out, though, that it isn’t ridiculous in the biological way you’re thinking; rather, it’s ridiculous in a scientific-writing way. At least, that’s going to be my take, and I hope you’ll come along. Continue reading
In northeastern Germany, about 75 km north of Berlin, a little lake sits nestled in the woods. In the lake’s depths swims a little fish – a dwarf cisco, Coregonus fontanae. In the fish’s name, there’s a story tucked away.
Coregonus fontanae is one of a pair of cisco species in Lake Stechlin. Around the world, ciscoes (like many other fish) have evolved pairs of ecologically distinct species sharing lakes – in this case, the shallow-water Coregonus albula and its descendent species, the deeper-water C. fontanae. C. albula is widespread across northern Europe, but C. fontanae occurs only in the 4 km2 or so of Lake Stechlin. It looks a lot like its ancestor, except for its dwarfism, and it was formally described and named only in 2003.
Michael Schulz and Jörg Freyhof, who discovered and named the new cisco species, had a choice. Continue reading
Image: Awaous banana, from a tributary of the Sibun River, Belize; photos © Eric Meng, with permission
I’m sure you’ll agree: this (above) is an utterly enchanting fish, strange and beautiful at the same time. It’s the river goby, a widespread fish of New World subtropical and tropical streams from Florida and Texas south to Peru. I ran across it* two weeks ago, while teaching my tropical ecology field course in Belize. It’s not just its gorgeous patterning; and it isn’t just its startling size (there are about 2,000 species of gobies in the world; few exceed 10 cm in length**, or about half the size of the colossus in the photo). It’s also, at least for me, its name: Awaous banana.
Awaous banana? What kind of psychedelic fever might lead someone to name a fish Awaous banana?
Photos: Pulling in a gill net in Vatnshlíðarvatn; and a male arctic charr in spawning colour (S. Heard).
I’ve just come back from gill-netting arctic charr in Vatnshlíðarvatn, a small, shallow lake just west of Varmahlíð in northern Iceland. The charr in this lake are a pair of morphs (a diet specialist and a diet generalist), and the aim was to collect fish of each morph for stable isotope and genetic analysis. It was a sunny July morning (about 7 ºC, which isn’t bad for Iceland), the fish were beautiful, and I enjoyed the work thoroughly.
Those of you who know me are, by now, smelling a rat: I don’t work on fish. Continue reading
Today’s Wonderful Latin Name is that of the Sergeant Major: Abudefduf saxatilis. The Sergeant Major is a common damselfish of the tropical Atlantic, often the first fish a new snorkeler or diver learns because it’s beautiful, abundant, and distinctive. Like the hoopoe (Upupa epops, the subject of Wonderful Latin Names, Part I), the Sergeant Major has a Latin name that’s both fun to say and etymologically interesting. I was first drawn to the name because of its peculiar rhythm: Abudefduf saxatilis. It seems to have a time-signature change between genus and species, which arises because the species name is conventionally Latin, while the genus name is Arabic. Continue reading