Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Ichthyology Collection

We have 150 gallons of fish living space in 5 tanks.  Neon tetras dart and algae shrimp clean in Ev's big tank.

In Clem's tank corydoras, upside down and glass catfish lurk beneath rocks and dangle in the plants under the watchful eye of a nine inch long plecostomus.

Clementine mapped the origins of all her catfish: tropical freshwater rivers from the Amazon to Indonesia.

Clem discovered upside down catfish at the California Academy of Sciences aquarium. It is a terrific aquarium and my only gripe is how little information is on display. Lots of cool fish, very little about them. We jumped at a chance to go behind the scenes and meet researchers studying seahorses. Little did we know we'd also get a glimpse at the Ichthyology Collection.

We were introduced to David Catania, Manager of the Ichthyology Collection, who led us through security doors to a concrete room filled with rolling stacks. When we came to the gap in the stacks this is what we saw.

Row upon row of dead fish in jars.


I just love the variety of jars, some from the 1800s.

Almost a quarter of a million jars in this library.

This is a circulating collection.  Researchers can request the loan of a pickled fish and the fish librarian will pull it out of its jar, wrap it in gauze, plunk it in a ziploc and mail it across the world.

David Catania opened up a number of jars and pulled out fish for us to look at.  Some highlights.

Stained to show muscle and bone.

An anglerfish.

Our guide took a look at this and said, "Whose going to be that for Halloween?"
Clem said, "I already have been!"

On the belly of this female Triplewart Seadevil is her mate (between thumb and forefinger).
He attached himself to her and now he's just a hanger on.

A remora.

Flashlight fish.  You can see small live ones in the aquarium.

That light-colored thing is the fish's flashlight.  It glows all the time but pops into a cheek pocket to "turn off."

I love this pic.  Poor guy can barely fit in his jar.

Very strange relative of the seahorse.

 Every family has a strange relative, right?

On their best behavior.

The Icthyology Collection gave me an idea.  I could turn a negative into a positive!  One of the downsides of keeping pet fish is that they die with depressing frequency.  But what if we began an ichthyology collection?

The very morning after our tour one of Clem's corydoras catfish turned up dead.  I scooped him up and stuck him in a jar that was already home to platy eyeballs.  Then I remembered Evelyn's hatchet fish in the freezer.  We were hoping to "return" them, since they died of ich and shared it with all their new friends, but we never got around to it.

So here it is.  The beginning of our very own ichthyology collection.  I surely hope we aren't such poor fish custodians that we end up with a quarter of a million jars like the California Academy.  But I take pride that one of the jars actually came from the Academy.  The one on the right.  No, we didn't steal it from the collection.  We got it at the cafe.  Before the hatchet fish it held some really delicious Scharffenberger chocolate pudding.

I'd like to say that the girls share my enthusiasm, but they think it is disgusting.  Can you blame them when these were once their beloved pets?


Kat said...

You never cease to amaze me. Loved this post.

AM said...

This reminds me of IKEA. (Their herring, not the dressers.)

Karen said...

You guys are always doing such cool, interesting things! Next time we're raising live creatures in tanks, and they pass on, I know what we're going to do - my boys will be very enthusiastic, I have a feeling.

I think what got me most in your description of the ichthyology collection was the thought of the scientists tossing fish into ziplocs and mailing them around! You just don't often think about mailing stuff like that.

Thanks for this post :-)

laurata said...

Awesome. Nick has finally resigned himself to the realty that we wont be getting a new aquarium because I will never, EVER approve such a purchase again. Ever.

I'm glad you guys are having fun with it though. :-D

patricia said...

But how did you arrange to meet researchers? Inquiring minds need to know.

What a set-up Clem had with that Halloween costume comment. Unbelievably funny. Could only happen to your kids. (Or other kids who decide to be anglerfish for Halloween. Gee, I wonder how many of those there are out there...)

KellYak said...

Wow... this is fabulous... totally inspiring as I begin to contemplate homeschooling my own kids!

Susan said...

Kat, thanks!

AM-ha! I can't say any of the fish in jars made me hungry.

Karen, I also loved the fact that they mail these specimens all over the world in baggies. I asked what the fines were for not returning fish--no fines! Maybe we should just check out fish and not library books because we are hurting from those fines.

Laura, Nick's saltwater tanks were amazing. The girls' freshwater once aren't so bad to maintain and they mostly do it themselves. The magnetic algae cleaner has been a big help there (no sticking your arm in the tank).

Tricia, I didn't organize the trip, but the person who did just asked! Opens up a whole new world.

Susan said...

Welcome--to the blog and to homeschooling! Drop by again and let me know how the homeschooling is going.

gina said...


Thanks for sharing it with us. :)

and i think that collection is quirky.

Kristin said...

Our daughter's second goldfish died a few hours ago and she was pretty upset about it--so it was apropos to read your post today.

Despite their apprehension, I think starting a collection was a good idea; and now I'm curious to wait and find out how and when they will eventually become keen on it.

Susan said...

Gina, it was great. I love going behind the scenes. I was secretly hoping there were a whole lot of live things back there that weren't on display but a quarter of a million dead things was pretty darn cool.

Kristin, so sorry about Cecil's goldfish! I do wonder when and if they will come around to my curio collection.

Stefaneener said...

I'm sure they only asked Really Intelligent questions : )

I think your idea is a terrific one. And why save jars for honey when you have budding (anti-)ichthyologists at your house?

The map thing? See, that's the kind of thing my kids would NOT do. So there.

jugglingpaynes said...

Thanks for your kind comment on my blog! I've enjoyed many of your entries and spent much more time here than I intended!

Peace and laughter,

Christine said...

That is so awesome Susan! I have a few fishes in my freezer that can be added to the kids collection. Can't wait to take them out in the summer :)