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Ichthyology is the branch of zoology devoted to the study of fish. This includes skeletal fish (Osteichthyes), cartilaginous fish (Chondrichthyes), and jawless fish (Agnatha). An estimated 25,000 fish species exist, comprising a majority of vertebrates. While a majority of species have probably been discovered and described, approximately 250 new species are officially described by science each year.

The practice of ichthyology is associated with marine biology, limnology, and oceanography.



Ichthyology originates to the Upper Paleolithic Revolution to the present day. This science was developed in several interconnecting epochs, each with various significant advancements.

Pre-historical Era

(38,000 BC–1500 BC)

Fish compose approximately 8% of all figurative depictions on Mimbres pottery.
Fish compose approximately 8% of all figurative depictions on Mimbres pottery.

The study of fish receives its origins from the human desire to feed, clothe, and equip themselves with useful implements. According to Michael Barton, a prominent ichthyologist and professor at Centre College, "The earliest ichthyologists were hunters and gatherers who had learned how to obtain the most useful fishes, where to obtain them in abundance, and at what times they might be the most available." These insights of early cultures were manifested in abstract and identifiable artistic expressions.

Judeo-Christian Era

(1500 BC–40 AD)

Informal, scientific descriptions of fish are represented within the Judeo-Christian tradition. Moses, in the development of the kashrut, forbade the consumption of fish without scales or appendages. Theologians and ichthyologists speculate that the apostle Peter and his contemporaries harvested the fish that are today sold in modern industry along the Sea of Galilee, presently known as Lake Kinneret. These fish include cyprinids of the genus Barbus and Mirogrex, cichlids of the genus Sarotherodon, and Mugil cephalus of the family Mugilidae.

Mediterranean Era

(335 BC–80 AD)

Aristotle incorporated ichthyology into formal scientific study. Between 335 BC–322 BC, he provided the earliest taxonomic classification of fish, in which 117 species of Mediterranean fish were accurately described. Furthermore, Aristotle observed the anatomical and behavioral differences between fish and marine mammals. Proceeding his death, some of his pupils continued his ichthyological research. Theophrastus, for example, composed a treatise on amphibious fish. The Romans, although less devoted to the pursuit of science, 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 respectively. Pliny's documentation was the last significant contribution to ichthyology until the European Renaissance.

European Renaissance Era

(13th–16th century)

The writings of three sixteenth century scholars, Hippolyte Salviani, Pierre Belon, and Guillaume Rondelet, signify the conception of modern ichthyology. The investigations of these individuals were based upon actual research in comparison to ancient recitations. This property popularized and emphasized these discoveries. Despite their prominence, Rondelet's De Piscibus Marinum is regarded as the most influential, identifying 244 species of fish.

Exploration and Colonization Era

(16th–17th century)

The incremental alterations in navigation and shipbuilding throughout the Renaissance marked the commencement of a new epoch in ichthyology. The Renaissance culminated with the era of exploration and colonization, and upon the cosmopolitan interest in navigation came the specialization in naturalism. Georg Marcgrave of Saxony composed the Naturalis Brasilae in 1648. This document contained a description of 100 species of fish indigenous to the Brazilian coastline. In 1686, John Ray and Francis Willughby collaboratively published Historia Piscium, a scientific manuscript containing 420 species of fish, 178 of these newly discovered. The fish contained within this informative literature were arranged in a provisional system of classification.

The classification used within the Historia Piscium was invented by Carolus Linnaeus, the "father of modern taxonomy". His taxonomic approach became the systematic approach to the study of organisms, including fish. Linnaeus was a professor at the University of Uppsala and an eminent botanist; however, one of his colleagues, Peter Artedi, earned the title "father of ichthyology" through his indispensable advancements. Artedi contributed to Linnaeus's refinement of the principles of taxonomy. Furthermore, he recognized five additional orders of fish: Malacopterygii, Acanthopterygii, Branchiostegi, Chondropterygii, and Plagiuri. Artedi developed standard methods for making counts and measurements of anatomical features that are modernly exploited. Another associate of Linnaeus, Albertus Seba, was a prosperous pharmacist from Amsterdam. Seba assembled a cabinet, or collection, of fish. He invited Artedi to utilize this assortment of fish; unfortunately, in 1735, Artedi fell into an Amsterdam canal and drowned at the age of 30.

Linnaeus posthumously published Artedi's manuscripts as Ichthyologia, sive Opera Omnia de Piscibus (1738). His refinement of taxonomy was culminated subsequent to the development of the binomial nomenclature which is in use by contemporary ichthyologists. Furthermore, he revised the orders introduced by Artedi, placing 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. However, these alterations were not grounded within the evolutionary theory. Therefore, it would take over a century until Charles Darwin would provide the intellectual foundation from which we would be permitted to perceive that the degree of similarity in taxonomic features was a consequence of phylogenetic relationship.

Modern Era

(17th century–Present)

Close to the dawn of the nineteenth century, Marcus Elieser Bloch of Berlin and Georges Cuvier of Paris made an attempt to consolidate the knowledge of ichthyology. Cuvier summarized all of the available information in his monumental Histoire Naturelle des Poissons. This manuscript was published between 1828 and 1849 in a 22 volume series. This documentation contained 4,514 species of fish, 2,311 of these new to science. This piece of literature still remained one of the most ambitious treatises of the modern world. The scientific exploration of the Americas progressed our knowledge of the remarkable diversity of fish. Charles Alexandre Lesueur, a student of Cuvier, who made a cabinet of fish dwelling within the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence River regions.

Adventurous individuals such as John James Audubon and Constantine Rafinesque figure in the faunal documentation of North America. These persons often traveled with one another and composed Ichthyologia Ohiensis in 1820. In addition, Louis Agassiz of Switzerland established his reputation through the study of freshwater fish and organisms and the pioneering of paleoichthyology. Agassiz eventually immigrated to the United States and taught at Harvard University in 1846.

Albert Günther published his Catalogue of the Fishes of the British Museum between 1859 and 1870, describing over 6,800 species and mentioning another 1,700. Generally considered one of the most influential ichthyologists, David Starr Jordan wrote 650 articles and books on the subject as well as serving as president of Indiana University and Stanford University.

Modern Publications

Publication Frequency Date of Publication Affiliated Company
Copeia Quarterly 27 December 1913 American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists
Journal of Applied Ichthyology Bi-monthly Unknown Blackwell Publishing


Organizations Organizations
  • American Elasmobranch Society
  • American Fisheries Society
  • American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists
  • Association of Systematics Collections
  • Canadian Association of Aqarium Clubs
  • Native Fish Conservancy
  • Neotropical Ichthyological Association
  • North American Native Fishes Association
  • Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology
  • Society for Northwestern Vertebrate Biology
  • Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections
  • Southeastern Fishes Council
  • Southwestern Association of Naturalists
  • The World Conservation Union

Notable ichthyologists

The names are followed by their fields of specialization and major contributions:

  • Alexander Emanuel Agassiz
    Louis Agassiz
    HM Emperor Akihito of Japan
    Peter Artedi
    William O. Ayres - California
    Spencer Fullerton Baird
    Tarleton Hoffman Bean
    Lev Berg - Russia
    Pieter von Bleeker - East Indies
    Marcus Elieser Bloch
    George Albert Boulenger
    Edward Drinker Cope
    Georges Cuvier
    Francis Day - India
    Bashford Dean
    Carl H. Eigenmann
    Rosa Smith Eigenmann
    Samuel Garman
    Charles Henry Gilbert
    Theodore Nicholas Gill
    Charles Frédéric Girard
    George Brown Goode
    Albert Günther
    Carl L. Hubbs
    David Starr Jordan
    Seth Meek
    George S. Myers
    John Treadwell Nichols - China, founder of Copeia
    John Richardson Norman
    C. Tate Regan
    J.L.B. Smith
    Donn E. Rosen
    Edwin C. Starks
    Franz Steindachner
    Achille Valenciennes
    Francis Willughby

See also

  • Ichthyology terms


  • Carl E. Bond, Biology of Fishes (Saunders, 1996) ISBN 0-03-070342-5
  • Joseph S. Nelson, Fishes of the World (Wiley, 2006) ISBN 0-471-25031-7
  • Michael Barton, Bond's Biology of Fishes Third Edition (Julet, 2007) ISBN 0-120-79875-1

External links

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