Nomenclature And Distribution Of Aquarium Fish

The inhabitants of our aquariums - fish, plants, or small invertebrates- all have individual names. These, however, are often the subject of unresolved disputes: a single species can, in fact, have several different names! Let's try and shed some light on this...

Xiphophorus helleri exists in a considerable number of varieties: hifin, lyretail, wagtail, etc. •


Scientific and common names • Scientific names

The scientific name is the only one which is recognized internationally: it ensures a universal means of communication between workers in the field. It is given in Latin, following a tradition dating back to the 18th century, and consists of two parts:

- the genus name, with an initial capital or uppercase letter.

-the species name, without a capital. The scientific name is chosen by whoever discovers the fish, but new scientific advances may cause the name to be changed. The old name, now of secondary importance, continues as a synonym. These changes mostly affect the name of the genus. When the species name is not known for certain, we use the abbreviation sp., an abbreviation of the Latin word species.

Often the origin of the common name is obscure. It may be translated from Latin, from another language, borrow a scientist's name, or simply be invented as circumstances dictate, often somewhat controversially. The absence of any strict rule gives rise to confusion; while some fish have no common name, others have several. Such is the case with Gymnoco-rymbus ternetzi, which has been variously called the black tetra, the black widow, the blackamoor, and the petticoat fish, but all referring to the same fish.


A genus can comprise several species sharing common characteristics. A group of genera related biologically and anatomically is called a family. Related families make up an order. This gives us the following general scheme:

• Barbus oligolepis.








oligolepis scbwanenfeidi


schubertt titteya







Where problems arise

Problems of nomenclature — commoner with fish and plants than with invertebrates - can involve confusions between one species and another. Sometimes the Latin name continues to be used in the literature, among commercial dealers, and in contacts between aquarists, until the new scientific name asserts itself. Some newly discovered species are initially designated by a numerical code or a provisional name. On the other hand, sometimes the "new" species turns out to be one already known: the result is that one species now has two names. In this case it is the confusion between species which gives rise to the problem. The multiplication of breeds, varieties, and hybrids hardly helps matters; scientists themselves sometimes have trouble finding their way through the maze, so what hope for the ordinaryhobbyist? In this book, we employ the scientific names in common use today and have deliberately omitted those too recently coined to win general acceptance. You will also find Latin synonyms, and names of breeds and varieties.


In the natural world, local breeds and strains exist, often differentiated by color. In addition, breeders try to evolve new colors and shapes by crossing. In both instances these varieties are denoted by adding epithets to the original scientific or common name. So we speak of the marble angelfish, the smokey angelfish, and the veiltail angelfish; or the veiltail sword-tail, lyretail swordtail, or Berlin swordtail.

Parrot cichlid: a crossbetween Cichlasoma labiatum and Heros labiatus.


Different species - usually, but not necessarily, belonging to the same genus — can be crossed; this rarely happens in the wild, but is a technique in common use among aquarists. Crossbreeding, if successful, produces a hybrid combining the characteristics of both parents. This hybrid will not receive a special name, but will be known by the joint names of the two parents, separated by the sign "x," which simply indicates crossbreeding: Fish 1 x Fish 2. If the hybrid does not prove sterile, it can interbreed in its turn, either with another hybrid or with a purebred. After several generations, it is hard to tell exactly what you are dealing with! This is true of certain species of plants and fish found in the aquarium trade: the Latin name is frequently unreliable, and the plant or fish will have moved on a long way from the original, recognized species and exhibit different characteristics.


Feral and captive-bred fish

Today's hobbyist is unlikely to come across more than 300-500 of the 1,500 so-called aquarium species. Formerly, these went under the name of tropical fish, as they were caught in their natural habitats in tropical areas all over the world (see map on following page). Nowadays, 80-85% of freshwater species are bred in captivity, and by no means always in their native regions, so the term "tropical" is no longer appropriate.

The dominant output is from South-East Asia, shared between Hong Kong, the Philippines and Singapore, accounting for over three-quarters of species. The neon tetra. for instance, originally from South America, is bred at the rate of thousands per month.

Other areas of the world produce a limited range of species; some, like the former Czechoslo

Parrot cichlid: a crossbetween Cichlasoma labiatum and Heros labiatus.



Barbus Titteya Distribution

vakia, are beginning to breed on a large scale. Breeders either use imported juveniles or raise their own stock, thus reducing the number of catches made from the wild and helping to preserve the natural fauna. All the same, some species no longer exist in their former abundance -for example in the Amazon basin - and proposals are afoot to declare certain areas protected zones to safeguard local populations.

As for marine fish, almost all species are caught in the wild. Aquarists are frequently accused of abetting the plundering of coral reefs; the argument is that, for every fish arriving in our aquariums, nine die at the time of capture, during transport, or at various stages of handling. Without precise studies, it is extremely dif

Catchingtropical fish with a net. •

Catchingtropical fish with a net. •

ficult to know the real effects on the natural environment of catches that are made to supply aquariums.

Harvesting of tropical marine fish

There was a time when any method of catching fish was considered legitimate: explosives or cyanide were used to stun them, for example, inflicting severe losses on their populations. At the present moment, the genuinely professional firms employ more sophisticated and humane methods: a team of several divers works around a section of reef after sealing it off with a net. After selecting fish according to various criteria (especially size) and catching them in hand nets, they carefully bring them to the surface and house them in holding tanks to await export.

Protected species

Hobbyists do not keep protected species; it is therefore unfair to blame them for the reduction in numbers or disappearance of these fish from the wild. Most aquarium species exist in large numbers in Nature; some even provide a food source for the local human population.

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The COMPLETE guide to Aquariums

The COMPLETE guide to Aquariums

The word aquarium originates from the ancient Latin language, aqua meaning water and the suffix rium meaning place or building. Aquariums are beautiful and look good anywhere! Home aquariums are becoming more and more popular, it is a hobby that many people are flocking too and fish shops are on the rise. Fish are generally easy to keep although do they need quite a bit of attention. Puppies and kittens were the typical pet but now fish are becoming more and more frequent in house holds. In recent years fish shops have noticed a great increase in the rise of people wanting to purchase aquariums and fish, the boom has been great for local shops as the fish industry hasnt been such a great industry before now.

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