Ichthyology

Ichthyology has been a part of research at the Academy since its beginnings, but its importance has increased dramatically since 1898 when it acquired the entire personal collection of the famous 19th century naturalist Edward Drinker Cope and Henry Weed Fowler became its first full-time curator. The collection has continued to grow in size, scope, and importance; the department is now rated as one of the top five ichthyology centers in North America. It currently houses 1.2 million cataloged specimens representing an estimated 11,000 species and 2,797 primary types. The collection is taxonomically diverse, but its especially strong among eels, characiforms and catfish. Its geographic scope is world-wide, but it's strengths include freshwater species of North and South America and marine species of the Bahamas, Western Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Continued growth results from recent expeditions to the Bahamas, South America and Asia.

The ANSP Ichthyology Online Collection Database contains 129,122 records of specimens from the collection.

Significance and Use of the Collection

The Ichthyology Collection began as an assortment of fish specimens acquired as gifts from members and friends of the Academy. It has since grown to nearly 1.2 million cataloged specimens (1,181,937 in alcohol, 5,479 dry or stained skeletons) in 129,715 lots (de-accessions excluded) representing an estimated 11,000 species. The taxonomic strength of the collection is general across most higher groups of fish-like vertebrates, with especially large collections of eels, characiforms and catfishes. Geographically the collection's main strengths are South and North American freshwater, and marine waters of the Bahamas, Western Atlantic and Indian Ocean. In addition to specimens, the collection maintains about 3,000 tissue samples in 100% ethanol stored at –20° (predominantly neotropical fishes from the Amazon, Essequibo and Orinoco basins). Over the past five years tissue samples of 340 specimens have been released in response to 41 separate requests. A comprehensive survey of fish collections in the US and Canada conducted by the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists ranked ANSP 5th among 118 major North American ichthyological resource centers and 2nd with respect to numbers of primary types (Poss and Collette, 1995).

In the past five years significant additions have resulted from expeditions to Argentina (2005), Brazil (2002, 2004), Columbia (2006), Guyana (2002, 2003), Mongolia (2006), Peru (2001, 2003, 2004, 2005), Venezuela (2004, 2005), and Thailand (2001). Future expeditions Surinam (2007) and the Bahamas. Gordon Chaplin is leading a project to document changes in the island’s coral reefs and fish fauna by re-surveying localities visited by his father Charles Chaplin and James E. Böhlke, former ANSP curator. Other recent and important accessions to the ANSP fish collection include material from past expeditions to Brazil and Venezuela and “orphaned collections” of Brazilian fishes (received from USNM) and Ugandan cichlids (from D. Livingstone, Duke Univ.). Although significant portions of some accessions remain uncataloged, all of this material is currently available for study by request or visitation.

Ichthyology Type Collection

Among the most scientifically important specimens are the types, the specimens that officially and uniquely link published scientific names to described species. The ANSP primary type collection has 2,797 specimens (1,456 holotypes, 110 lectotypes, 8 neotypes, 1,223 syntypes) of freshwater and marine taxa (59 and 41% of specimens, respectively) representing a total of 1,822 species/subspecies in 42 orders of fishes. Its scope is worldwide with specimens from North America (25%), South America (18%), Europe/Mediterranean (15%), Pacific Ocean (13%), Atlantic Ocean (12%), Africa (7%), Asia/Australia (7%) and the Indian Ocean/Red Sea (3%). The collection also includes about 14,755 paratypes of 1,690 species published or in preparation. ANSP has one of the largest and most diverse collections of type specimens of fishes in world. Among collections in Canada and the US, the ANSP ichthyological type collection is exceeded only by the collection at the National Museum of Natural History (USNM) in terms of diversity (nominal species represented) and number of primary types (Poss and Collette, 1995). Overall, the Academy's ichthyology collection is ranked third in terms of the number of species represented by types and fourth for the number of secondary types (Poss and Collette, 1995).

ANSP primary types listed by major taxonomic group.
Order holotypeslectotypesneotypessyntypes (spp.)
Order holotypes lectotypes neotypes syntypes (spp.)
† Includes 2 questionable holotypes.
‡ Includes 16 questionable syntypes of 10 species.
Acipenseriformes 1 - - 2 (1)
Albuiformes 4 - - -
Amiiformes 5 - - -
Anguilliformes 90 - 2 2 (1)
Atheriniformes 11 3 - -
Aulopiformes 7 1 - 13 (1)
Batrachoidiformes 4 - - -
Beloniformes 16 - - 2 (1)
Beryciformes 12 - - 2 (1)
Carchariniformes 4 1 - 9 (1)
Characiformes 195 8 1 24 (5)
Chimaeriformes 1 - - -
Clupeiformes 21 - - 12 (5)
Cypriniformes 190 57 - 683 (114)
Cyprinodontiformes 40 1 - 81 (20)
Esociformes 0 1 - -
Gadiformes 5 - - -
Gasterosteiformes - - - 15 (2)
Gobiesociformes 11 - - 13 (1)
Gonorynchiformes 1 - - -
Gymnotiformes 5 - - -
Lepisosteiformes 5 - - -
Lophiiformes 10 - - -
Myctophiformes 3 - - -
Myliobatiformes - - - 9 (3)
Ophidiiformes 23 - - -
Osteoglossiformes 7 - - 4 (2)
Perciformes 480 22 3 159 (33)
Petromyzontiformes 2 - - -
Pleuronectiformes 9 - 1 35 (8)
Rajiformes 2 - - 2 (1)
Salmoniformes 4 - - 10 (5)
Scorpaeniformes 24 - - 22 (11)
Siluriformes 204 14 1 95 (29)
Squaliformes 2 - - -
Stomiiformes 1 - - -
Synbranchiformes 4 - - -
Syngnathiformes 21 - - -
Tetraodontiformes 30 2 - 5 (2)
Torpediniformes 1 - - 24 (1)
Zeiformes 1 - - -
totals 1456 110 8 1223 (248)
minus Siluriformes 1252 96 7 1128 (219)

Highlights among the ANSP fish types are those of species described by some of the founding fathers of North American ichthyology: Charles Alexander Lesueur, John Edwards Holbrook, Theodore Nicholas Gill, Edward Drinker Cope, David Starr Jordan, and even Constantine Samuel Rafinesque. The private collection of Edward Drinker Cope largely seeded the ANSP type collection. Cope’s types were gifted to the Academy in 1898, painstakingly sorted and documented by the Academy’s first curator of fishes, Henry W. Fowler, and currently include 766 primary types of 341 fishes described by Cope between 1861 and 1894. A prolific taxonomist, Fowler greatly expanded the type collection with 1,001 primary types of 997 species described by him between 1899 and 1958.

Other important types are among the collection of Charles Lucien Bonaparte, nephew of the Emperor Napoleon. Primarily from Italy and the Mediterranean, the Bonaparte collection includes 430 primary types (97% syntypes) of 49 species described by him between 1833 and 1846. Originally preserved in alcohol, the Bonaparte specimens have become uniquely valuable as sources of DNA for the characterization of species prior to man-mediated translocations. Ketmaier et al. (2004) amplified 786 bp of cytb (about 70% of the gene) from a syntype (ANSP 6212) of the minnow Scardinius scardafa (Bonaparte, 1837). They used this sequence data to help identify the single surviving “pure” population of S. scardafa in Italy and make recommendations for its proper management.

John G. Lundberg (lundberg@ansp.org) is the department's Curator and Chaplin Chair of Ichthyology. Mark Sabaj Pérez (sabaj@ansp.org) is the Collection Manager. See Collection Policies for more information on collection access, loan policy and specimen accession.