On the Natural History and Classification of Fishes, Amphibians, and Reptiles

William Swainson

Table of Contents (ToC)

  1. Volume I, Part I.: On the Nature and Relation of Monocardian Animals; and more especially Fishes
  2. Chapter II. On fishes in general
  3. Chapter IX. General Account of the Malacopteryges, of Soft-finned Order; and of the Analogies of the Families
  4. Volume II, Part I.: On the Acanthopteryges, or Spine-rayed order of Fishes
  5. Chapter II. On the Macroleptes, of typical tribe of the order of spine-rayed Fishes
  6. Volume II, Part II.: The natural arrangement of the classes of Fishes, Amphibians, and Reptiles
  7. Chapter III. A general arrangement of Fishes, according to Professor Bell

Volume I, Part I.: On the Nature and Relation of Monocardian Animals; and more especially Fishes

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Chapter II. On fishes in general

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(31.) The shape or form of the dorsals is considerably varied: where there are two or three, those which are in front are almost always triangular, while the hinder one is of more equal breadth throughout. In the common cod (fig 2.a), the first is acutely triangular, the two next less so; but in Blepsias, its representative among the Canthileptes, the posterior of the three connected fins is broadest in the middle (fig. 2. b). In Trachinus and its numerous representatives, the first dorsal is short and triangular, while the second is long and narrow (c). In the mackerel family, however, where all the fins are subfalcated, both the dorsals are consequently of the same form ; but this comparatively is a very unusual structure, although it affords an absolute character to the Scomberidae (d). In the sharks, the mullets, and a few others, where the two dorsal are wide apart, both of them are triangular. Nearly all, the typical Gymnetes have the dorsal fin highly developed; it is here also sometimes particularly broad, with the anterior rays often excessively prolonged, and ending in spatulate or thread-like filaments. This sudden elongation of the first two or three rays we shall term falcate; and it is particularly observable that this shape occurs in nearly all genera which represent the tribe of Gymnetes in their own circle. Nevertheless, the secondary modifications of this fin are so numerous, that to describe them all in this place would be tedious and unnecessary. Among the eels, the dorsal is always simple and undivided, narrow, and of equal breadth throughout; and this occurs in almost all the representatives of the apodal order, as Lepidotus, Ammodytes, Cepola, and Ophidium among the Gymnetes; Blennius, Anarhichas, &c. in the Gobiadae; Chimaera, in the cartilaginous order; and Ophiocephalus, among the Macroleptes. In most of these the dorsal fin unites with the caudal, as in the eels and other Muraenidae; while the Blennidae, or blennies, there is a small interval between them. Lastly, we may notice the long fleshy filaments which in some few genera surmount the spinous rays of the dorsal fin, and produce a very singular appearance. These appendages are mostly found among the Zeidae, or sun-fish, of which the common dory of our coasts is a striking example.

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(50.) The vitality of fishes may here be adverted a to. There is not sufficient evidence to show us the average age of the generality of fishes; but some well authenticated facts regarding carp, and some other domesticated fish, tend to prove that the former have reached to a century. Cartilaginious fishes, from the nature of their bones, continue to grow all their lives; and as many of these, particularly the rays, habitually live in the deep recesses of the ocean, and thus seldom run the chance of being captured by man, we may probably attribute their enormous and almost incredible size to their great age. Several genera, like the Ophicephali and eels, are so tenacious of life, that they are well known to live under sufferings which, to other animals, would be the most cruel torments ; while others die almos the minute they are taken out of water. Many fish show their tenacity of life in other ways: some can not only exist, but actually breed, in hot springs of various countries., whose temperatures vary from, 80° to 120° Fahr. But a statement by baron Humboldt, on this subject, is still more surprising: he mentions, that during his researches in Tropical America, he found fish, thrown up alive from the bottom of an exploding volcano, along with water so hot as to raise the thermometer to 210°, being two degrees only below boiling. Considering this excessive heat, it is, we think, too much to suppose that the water in which these fish. habitually resided was always of such a temperature. It is a wellknown fact, that springs in the vicinity of volcanoes are very often considerably heated before an eruption takes place; and until we are in possession of further evidence on this point, we believe that such was the case in the present instance: the internal fires, in all probability, had greatly heated the water previous to its having been expelled from its natural basin, before the increased heat had killed the fishes; a supposition much more probable, it appears to us, than that fishes would live and sport in a fluid whose temperature would be sufficient to prepare them for the table. We have already alluded to the singular faculty possessed by the Ophicephali, and some other fish, of crawling upon dry land, and thus living in an element not their own: it is well known that the tanks or isolated reservoirs of water in the East Indies are often completely dried up during summer;. and yet, when they become again filled during the rainy season, fish are also found in them. This singular fact appears to be accounted for very satisfactorily by Mr. Yarrell: the impregnated ova (he observes) of the fish of one rainy season are left unhatched in the mud through the dry season, and, from their low state of organisation as ova., the vitality is preserved till the occurrence and contact of the rain and the oxygen of the next wet season, when vivification takes place from their joint influence. «If this solution of the problem,» continues our author, «be the true one, it points at once to what perhaps may be effected after a few experiments, namely, the artificial fecundation of the roe, the drying of that roe (or of other roe naturally impregnated) sufficiently to prevent decomposition, and its possible transportation to, and vivification in, distant countries.»

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Chapter IX. General Account of the Malacopteryges, of Soft-finned Order; and of the Analogies of the Families

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(229.) The singular genus Sudis Sudis is placed by Cuvier in the herring family (Clupeinae), close to Erythrinus and Amia: it has an evideint affinity with, the two last, but we cannot discover any relation it bears to the herrings,- even in a solitary character: its depressed head, large mouth, and strong teeth, and even something in the position of its fins, would lead us, in the first instance, to arrange it among the pikes (Esocinae); its relation, however, to Erythrinus appears, upon the whole, more close; and as we have placed this latter genus as an aberrant form in the circle of the Cyprinae, so do we arrange Sudis as the connecting link between the salmons and the carps. Whether this is its true situation in nature, it is impossible, in the present state of things, to determine; but it appears much more natural (when we consider its resemblance to Erythrinus, and of this latter to Gonorynchus) than to associate it with the herrings. The Sudis gigas (fig. 55.) is the largest of four or five species which seem to be distributed in the fresh waters of America and. of Africa. [ ...] In S. Niloticus, according to Ehrenberg, there is «a singular funnel spirally convoluted, which adheres to the third gill» which Cuvier, with much probability, conjectures is analogous to those which he has so ably and beautifully investigated in the genera Anabas, Ophiocephalus&c. [ ... ]

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Volume II, Part I.: On the Acanthopteryges, or Spine-rayed order of Fishes

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Chapter II. On the Macroleptes, of typical tribe of the order of spine-rayed Fishes

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(11.) Having already stated the general characters by which we distinguish the tribes, we may at once take a rapid survey of the minor divisions, or what appear to be the natural families of the Macroleptes.

  1. The first of these are the Percidae, or perches, where the form is oval-oblong: the plates of the operculum, or gills, are armed with minute serrated teeth or distinct spines: the jaws are without grinding teeth; the fins almost always destitute of scales; and the dorsal either double or deeply cleft in the middle.
  2. The Chaetodonidae or chaetodons, where the body is short and broad; the fins generally covered for one half of their breadth with small scales; the dorsal fin usually single ; and the jaws often provided both with bristle-like teeth and with grinding teeth.
These two constitute the typical families they comprise a great number of minor variations, and a vast assemblage of species. Tn the three aberrant types we arrange,
  1. the Mugillidae, or mullets, where the head is very small, greatly depressed on the crown; the body nearly cylindrical; and the snout or muzzle projecting beyond a little mouth which is placed beneath.
  2. The Mullidae, or surmullets, whose head is large and high, and much compressed; the eyes placed close together near the crown; and the under jaw furnished with barbels.
  3. The Spinobranchidae, whose body, in comparison to the tail, is excessively short, so that the vent is close to the pectoral fin. This peculiarity, joined to a very long ventral, assimilates them to the apodal order. Each of these divisions are represented by the following wellknown fishes: -the common perch; the chaetodon ; the common grey mullet; the surmullet; and the Ophicephalus.

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(30.) The last, and not the least interesting, of the aberrant families of the spine-finned order, is the of the Spirobranchidae, which corresponds to Cuvier's «labyrinthiform pharyngeals.» This is perhaps the most natural of all the groups characterised by the admirable naturalist; and this not merely by possesing certain pecularities of internal structure found in no other fishes, but also because they are equally distinct in their external conformation; while the present a beautiful gradation between the soft-rayed BIennides, and the spinerayed order, or the Acanthopteryges. The most important character they possess, to use the words of our author, «is in having a part of the superior pharyngeals divided into small laminae, more or less numerous; which form, by their frill-like undulations, intercepting cells, in which water can remain, flow upon, and moisten the gills when the fish is on dry land.» Hence it is that they are enabled to crawl from the rivulets and pools, wherein they usually live,and either go to others, or hide themselves in hollow banks, &c., most probably, during the dry season: this singular faculty was known to the ancients; while the common Hindoos believe that. these fishes fall from the clouds. As we shall enter more at large upon this subject in one of our future volumes, we shall at present merely advert to the external characters of these fishes: nearly all of them have the stomach remarkably short; and the tail, in consequence, very long. the ventral fins are remarkably developed that is to say, not so much in size as in singularity; for one or two of the rays are very long and filiform, while the rest are partially or entirely obsolete. Macropodus has the largest caudal fin, in proportion to its size, of any fish hitherto discovered; while Ophiocephalus, with a long eel-like and cylindrical body, has all the dorsal rays flexible, like those of the Blennides, but they are branched. In all these characters the reader will not fail to perceive a union of those which separately distinguish the perches, the blennies, and the eels; all being differently combined in a group of fish, which is related to the two first by affinity, and to the latter by analogy. On this theory, therefore, all the variations in the genera of the Spirobranchidae can not only be reconciled, but explained, in the most. satisfactory manner: while the whole form a group representing the order Apodes, in the great circle of the Acanthopteryges, and connecting it to the order of Blennides. To this point therefore, we shall again return, after tracing the diffierent tribes which intervene between the Macroleptes and the Blennides.

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Volume II, Part II.: The natural arrangement of the classes of Fishes, Amphibians, and Reptiles

Chapter III. A general arrangement of Fishes, according to Professor Bell

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Family 5. Spirobranchidae

Vent close to the pectoral fin; ventral fin generally extremely long, narrow, and ending in a filament; upper pharyngeals of the branchia divided into numerous laminae, or plates; dorsal fin single, not much longer than the anal, both furnished with numerous spiny rays.

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Ophicephalus.1 The whole of the fins destitute of spinal rays; lateral line nearly straight.

Ophicephalus Bl. Body lengthened, nearly cylindrical, having the form of a blenny; snout short and obtuse; head broad, a little depressed, and covered with bony plates; eyes near the muzzle; mouth large, lower jaw rather longest; dorsal fin narrow, extending the whole length of the back; ventral shorter; caudal, pectoral, and ventral rounded; gills smooth, and covered with scales.
O. striatus Bl. Cuv. 202. limbatus. Cuv. 201.

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Footnotes

1 It is by this genus, intimately connected as it is with Anabas, that the two great tribes of Blennides and Macroleptes appear blended into each other. The Spirobranchidae, as a whole, are analogous also to the eels, in their power of passing by land from one piece of water to another. Back

Acknowledgement and Source(s)

These passages were originally published in: On the Natural History and Classification of Fishes, Amphibians, and Reptiles by William Swainson (The Cabinet Cyclopedia. conducted by the Rev. Dionysius Lardner); vol. I and II; 1838 and 1839.

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