Icthyology - The Early History of Ichthyology

Icthyology - The Early History of Ichthyology
Ichthyology is the branch of zoology devoted to the study of fish. The work 'ichthyology' is derived from the Greek "ikhthus," meaning fish, and "logos," meaning study. Within the field of ichthyology are the skeletal fish (Osteichthyes), cartilaginous fish (Chondrichthyes), and jawless fish (Agnatha).

As of early 2010 it was estimated that some 31,500 species of fish have already been discovered and described, which is more than the combined total of all other vertebrates (including mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds). Amazingly enough, scientists are still finding and describing some 250 new fish species each year!

Ichthyologist and professor Michael Barton states that "the earliest ichthyologists were hunters and gatherers who had learned how to obtain the most useful fish, where to obtain them in abundance, and at what times they might be the most available".

1500 BC - 40 AD
Early Judeo-Christian writings reflect an interest in ichthyology. For example, the kashrut forbade the consumption of fish without scales or appendages. Modern theologians and ichthyologists speculate that the apostle Peter, "fisher of men," harvested the same types of fish that are today sold in modern industry along the Sea of Galilee, presently known as Lake Kinneret.

335 BC - 80 AD
Aristotle, is credited with providing the earliest taxonomic classification of fish, accurately describing 117 species of Mediterranean fish. He also documented anatomical and behavioral differences between fish and marine mammals. Theophrastus,one of Aristotle's pupils, composed a treatise on amphibious fish. The Romans also wrote extensively about fish. Pliny the Elder, a notable Roman naturalist, compiled the ichthyological works of indigenous Greeks, including verifiable and ambiguous peculiarities such as the sawfish and mermaid.

European Renaissance

Three sixteenth century scholars, Hippolyte Salviani, Pierre Belon, and Guillaume Rondelet, are credited with the conception of "modern" ichthyology. Rondelet's De Piscibus Marinum is regarded as the most influential work of the time, identifying 244 species of fish.

Exploration and colonization of the so-called New World contributed to an increase in nature studies, including icthyology. In 1648, Saxon Georg Marcgrave wrote the Naturalis Brasilae, describing of some 100 species of fish indigenous to the Brazilian coastline. Just twenty years later, in 1686, John Ray and Francis Willughby published Historia Piscium, a scientific manuscript describing 420 species of fish, 178 of these newly discovered.

The Historia Piscium differed from previous works, as it used the modern classification method developed by Linnaeus. In fact, one of Linnaeus' colleagues, Peter Artredi, became known as the "father of ichthyology" based on his contributions to the field. Not only did Artedi help Linnaeus refine the principles of taxonomy, he recognized five additional orders of fish. In addition, he developed standardized methods for making counts and measurements of anatomical features that are still used today.

Artedi was drowned, ironically, at the young age of 30, and Linnaeus posthumously published Artedi's manuscripts as Ichthyologia, sive Opera Omnia de Piscibus (1738). In this work, Linnaeus revised the orders of fish that were introduced by Artedi, placing increased significance on pelvic fins. Fish lacking this appendage were placed within the order Apodes; fish containing abdominal, thoracic, or jugular pelvic fins were termed Abdominales, Thoracici, and Jugulares respectively.

Many more ichthyologic works built upon the work of Artedi and Linnaeus. Some of the scientists involved include, Otto Fabricus (1744-1822), Petrus Forskål (1736-1763), Petrus Pallas (1741-1811), Antione Risso (1777-1845), Thomas Pennant (1726-1798), Wlhelm G. Tilesius (1769-1857), Georg Wilhelm Steller (1709-1746).

In the late eighteenth century, Marcus Elieser Bloch of Berlin and Georges Cuvier of Paris made an attempt to consolidate all then-current knowledge of ichthyology. Cuvier summarized all of the available information in his Histoire Naturelle des Poissons. This manuscript was published in a 22 volume series between 1828 and 1849 and contained 4,514 species of fish. Some 2,311 of these species were new to science. This series remains one of the most ambitious treatises on ichthyology of the modern world.

Other famous ichthyologists of the times were Charles Lesueur, John James Audobon, Constantine Rafinesque, Louis Agassiz, Albert Gunther, and David Starr Jordan.

A student of Cuvier, Charles Alexandre Lesueur, made a collection of fish dwelling within the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence River regions. John James Audubon and Constantine Samuel Rafinesque often traveled together, and in 1820 composed Ichthyologia Ohiensis. Louis Agassiz of Switzerland is known for his study of freshwater fish and organisms and the pioneering of paleoichthyology. Albert Günther published his Catalogue of the Fishes of the British Museum as a series between 1859 and 1870. Gunther's work described in detail over 6,800 species of fish and mentioned another 1,700 species. Last, but not least, David Starr Jordan - considered on of the most influential ichthyologists in modern times - wrote more than 650 articles and books on the subject.


This site needs an editor - click to learn more!

You Should Also Read:
Ichthyology - The Taxonomy of Modern Fish

Related Articles
Editor's Picks Articles
Top Ten Articles
Previous Features
Site Map

Content copyright © 2023 by Deborah Watson-Novacek. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Deborah Watson-Novacek. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact BellaOnline Administration for details.