Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tiny but Monstrous Type Specimens from the Deep

One of the greatest things about our type collection of fishes is that most of them are deep sea fishes! And the reason we have all of these deep sea types is an unlikely story: it's in large part thanks to the efforts of -- not any scientist or scientific organization -- but an independent New York businessman named Harry Payne Bingham. Bingham was a curious guy who, in the 1920's, developed a serious interest in marine biology. So, of course, upon developing this interest, he hired a biologist, a few assistants, and even an artist, and he set sail exploring and collecting fishes in his own yacht, the "Pawnee." I say we need more businessmen like that! :)

The Pawnee sailed three times, in 1925, 1926, and 1927, and after this last expedition, Bingham donated all the specimens of his "Bingham Oceanographic Collection" to the Peabody Museum. Many of his specimens were new to science, hence all of our type specimens.

Here are some excerpts from an article published in the Yale Alumni Weekly in 1928 that convey the excitement of these discoveries at the time:
"Mr. Bingham is to be congratulated on the success with which he has carried out thus far his venture in studying marine life. Few men have combined the means, the foresight and the inclination to undertake such work.... A natural desire to preserve some of the fishes he found in tropical waters increased his interest in ocean life, leading to expeditions which have yielded invaluable returns to science."
Bingham apparently even acquired a novel, giant, high-tech net for use in the third expedition:
"The third expedition, by far the most successful judging it by the importance of its results to science, visited the waters about the Bahama and Bermuda Islands. Mr. Bingham had come more and more to appreciate the value of deep-sea investigations, and had included in the equipment of the "Pawnee" a specially constructed circular net fourteen feet in diameter at the opening. This was probably the largest net of its kind ever used in deep-sea collecting, and proved its worth by capturing a great many new of little known free-swimming organisms between the depths of 3000 and 6000 feet. Remarkable indeed are the bizarre fishes preserved from the hauls of this net. Thirty new species have already been described by Mr. Alfred E. Parr, whom Mr. Bingham had engaged as oceanographer for this cruise. As many more will probably be found."
Those thirty new species, however, only included those in the third expedition! Regarding the entire collection resulting from all three Pawnee trips, the author, Peabody curator Stanley Ball, writes:
"The hundreds of these fishes now deposited in Peabody Museum, preserved in alcohol and formalin, constitute one of the country's most extensive and valuable deep-sea ichthyological collections... The entire collection of fishes at present time requires about 3000 catalogue numbers. Not less than one hundred new species, as well as many rare forms, are included. The larval eels alone would gladden the heart of any ichthyologist..."
OK but enough history already. Now for some of these deep sea types! These are anglerfishes of the family Linophrynidae. I think all the anglerfishes are awesome, but these are double awesome. All anglerfishes have an appendage on top of their heads known as the esca-- it's a fleshy growth that derives from their first dorsal spine which harbors symbiotic bioluminescent bacteria, and it acts as a lure. But most Linophrynid anglerfishes have this esca AND another appendage- a "complex bioluminescent chin barbel." Out of their anglerfish relatives, they also have  the largest mouths, "with the longest dagger-like teeth of any fish and perhaps of any vertebrate."

Here are some of these spectacular Linophrynids. This is the holotype of Linophryne coronata diphlema, described in 1934 by Albert Parr. It has a chin barbel longer than its body length! It was collected near New Providence Island in the Bahamas:

This is the holotype of Linophryne brevibarbis, described by Parr in 1927. It was collected off Bermuda with that famous 14 foot circular trawl!

And here is the holotype of Linophryne arborifer, also described by Parr in 1927. It was collected off Bermuda, again with the 14 foot circular trawl:

These guys all look pretty scary, but as I alluded to in the title, each one is actually only about the size of a nickel.


Pietsch, Theodore W. Linophrynidae. Tree of Life Web Project.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this information.
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