re-animated Life I

We scientists look at our natural history collections as a great resource for our studies. Specimens tell us about life in the past (where species lived, what they looked like, how many individuals existed etc.) and let us hypothesize about the future. This is one way of looking at these dead “things” that we so meticulously curate. Artists may have a quite different view. This was greatly illustrated by a Moving Image Art class organized by Amy Youngs, Associate Professor of Art, last semester. Students visited our collections of dead things and were asked to find ways to re-animate these animals. We were amazed by the imagination of these young artists-to-be. Over the next days we will share some of the best pieces with you. Here is the first animation, Re-Animated Life by Alina Maddex: Birds and one turtle moving in their natural environment

THANK YOU Stephanie Malinich, collection manager of Tetrapods, Marc Kibbey, Associate Curator of the Fish Division, Caitlin Byrne, Collections Manager of the Division of Molluscs, and Luciana Musetti, curator of the OSU Triplehorn Insect collection for facilitating the students’ visit.

About the Author: Angelika Nelson is the outreach and multi-media coordinator at the Museum of Biological Diversity and facilitates visits of school classes and students.

*** Which of these animals is your favorite? ***

More than just a pretty (fish) face – Do you recognize some of these small fish from your aquarium?

As I mentioned in Monday’s post, species in the genus Anableps post the largest size (at just about a foot long) in an order of rather small fishes, the Cyprinodontiformes. Don’t let their small size fool you, it does not reflect their importance in several areas. Many are quite easy to raise, and some are cultivated for beautiful colors, particularly in their fins. Unfortunately, being popular fishes in aquaria frequently results in introductions to non-native areas from aquarium owners. In several instances exotic populations have become established. Here are some of the more enigmatic species that the OSUM Fish Division has vouchers for, arranged by family:


Sheepshead Minnow, Cyprinodon variegatus, occur along the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts south to northern South America.  Abundant and easily cultured for the aquarium trade, also used as bait.  One introduced specimen was actually caught (back in the 1950’s) next to the Olentangy Indian Caverns in a small stream tributary to the Olentangy River.

Flagfish, Jordanella floridae, are common in the St. John’s and Ocklocknee Rivers to southern Florida. This species is listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as the fish with the fewest eggs, laying only 20 over several days.


Members of this family are distributed across North and Central America including some of the Caribbean islands, in coastal and interior low gradient, slow moving rivers, streams, and swamps.

Male Northern Studfish; note the twisted maxilla (posterior portion of the upper jaw bone) that is characteristic of the Fundulidae, photo by Uland Thomas

Northern StudfishFundulus catenatus. Although reputed to be difficult to keep it is popular in the aquarium trade because of the male’s vibrant breeding coloration. This species is native in disjunct populations in several states along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, but has recently been introduced and established in small to medium streams in Ohio and West Virginia.

OSUM 104822 Fundulus catenatus

OSUM 104822 is the voucher for the first specimen found on the eastern side of Ohio, in little Pipe Creek, across the Ohio River from Graves Creek in West Virginia, where there is a well established and thriving population that is believed to have been intentionally introduced.

Golden Topminnow, Fundulus chrysotus.  Common in Florida, but can be found in low lying swamps and backwaters from North Carolina along the Atlantic seaboard and around the Gulf of Mexico to eastern Texas.


Female Mummichog, photo by Dave Neely

The MummichogFundulus heteroclitus, frequently spawns inside mussel shells, a life history attribute that is hypothesized to be facilitated by a very long urogenital sheath.

The Diamond Killifish, Fundulus xenicus, inhabits marine, freshwater and brackish waters of the Gulf of Mexico shoreline from Florida to Mexico.

Bluefin Killifish, photo by Julie Zimmerman

Bluefin Killifish, Lucania goodei

Male Rainwater Killifish, photo by Brian Zimmerman

Rainwater Killifish, Lucania parva


This family contains many species that are critically endangered in Mexico and Central America, due to their endemism to restricted bodies of water that are denigrated by anthropological modifications.

Tuxpan SplitfinAlldontichthys tamazulae, is endemic to the Rio Tuxpan in the State of Jalisco, Mexico.

Butterfly SplitfinAmeca splendens, is endemic to the State of Jalisco, Mexico, raised and sold commercially to the aquarium trade.

Redtail Splitfin, Xenotoca eiseni, are listed as endangered and declining.  The species was split as recently as 2016 to add two new species from the original distributions, where the critically endangered X. lyonsi is found in the Tuxpan and Tamazula Rivers and the critically endangered X. doadrioi in the “endorheic region of Metzatlan in the state of Jalisco, Mexico”.


Possibly due to the ease of breeding, this family contains many popular aquarium species like guppies and swordtails.  One species, Poeciliopsis latidens, lives in marine waters, although several others are secondary freshwater species.

Sailfin MollyPoecilia latipinna, is native to coastal lowlands from North Carolina to Vera Cruz, Mexico, but has been introduced to many countries with “adverse ecological impacts” reported.

Variable Platy, Xiphophorus varietus, is endemic to Mexico but is another popular aquarium fish that has been carelessly introduced with resultant harmful ecological impacts (for this species the impacts are primarily competition with native fishes for resources).  These and several other species in the genus Xiphophorus are listed as exotic pests by governmental agencies.

The fact that many cyprinodontiforms (and cichlids) are tolerant to higher salinities as opposed to the primarily freshwater orders of fishes has made them the subject of biogeographical studies particularly for dispersal from one stream to another along coastal areas.  It is hypothesized that their adaptability to variable habitat conditions facilitated their invasion and predominance of the Central American fish fauna as they made their way across the narrow, open waters from South America to Central America before the rise of the Panamanian isthmus.  This hypothesis, formulated by ichthyologist George S. Meyers in the mid ’60s, has been strengthened by genetic work in the current decade.

Photo Credits:
All photos of museum specimens were taken by Marc Kibbey; other photos with permission of members of the North American Native Fishes Association (

Detailed information for each specimen is available through the OSU Fish Division Database.

About the Author: Marc Kibbey is Associate Curator of the Fish Division at the Museum of Biological Diversity.


*** Which of these fish species do you have in your aquarium at home? ***

Hey, Four-Eyed Fish!

Sure, those of us who wore glasses when we were younger may have been called “Hey, four eyes!”.  But I wonder if anyone ever took offense to the level of “Hey, you four-eyed fish!”.  ‘Cause that would be combining two insults, the discrimination against an ocular disability and the idea that you were kind of cold…or wishy-washy…well, anyway.  I sometimes get to share the fact that I once caught a Four-eyed Fish, and recently I found out that the species belonging to the Genus Anableps that I caught is rather rare, so I feel even more special!

(Imagine me affecting a British accent here, to make my story sound more adventurous).  “There I was, standing in the river with my doughty crew, when one of the young stalwarts excitedly shouted “Quatros ojos, quatros ojos!””.  Yes, just a few feet away from me cruised the rare and dangerous (dangerous if you’re an insect, that is) Pacific Foureyed Fish Anableps dowei!

In 1999 I accompanied members of my church on a mission trip to the area of Siguatepeque, Honduras, to assist in building cement block housing for victims of Hurricane Mitch (in 1998 Mitch was responsible for the death of at least 11,000 people in Central America) that caused a flood perhaps 40 feet deep in a valley near Siguatepeque.  After the rest of the mission left I stayed behind to travel to the Pan American School of Agriculture near Tegucigalpa, where the fisheries instructor there graciously allowed me to accompany them on trips to waters near the school.

view of Universidad Zamorano

Universidad Zamorano. Photo by EAP Zamorano [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The streams we sampled were the mainstem and tributaries of the Rio Choluteca, the major river on the Pacific slope of Honduras that winds through mountainous terrain until it empties into the Gulf of Fonseca, an estuary shared by El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.  At a site on the Choluteca, near the village of Zamorano, the school’s students and I seined up the Pacific Foureyed Fish (Anableps dowei).  This was a species I’d read about prior to making the trip, so when I heard the student’s cry I became quite excited!

Drawing of a Foureyed Fish

Drawing by Unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The species is named for a Captain J. M. Dow, who skippered the steamer “Guatemala” of the Panama Railway Company.  Captain Dow collaborated with two associates to send over specimens from over 1500 samples in Central America to the U.S. National and the British Museums.

The reason for the Four-eyed Fish’s common name is the presence of two pupils in each eye, one in the upper and one in the lower half, separated by a band of tissue. This enables them to see above and below the water while they cruise at the surface of the water body and makes the Four-eyed Fish extremely difficult to catch with a seine: they are able to see you (or an eagle, or other bird of prey) coming from a long ways away. They are known to leap right over a seine and like fish in another family, topminnows, they dive down to the bottom to avoid capture.  An effective method of capture is described as using a group of fishermen to drive a school of quatros ojos toward a concealed individual waiting with a cast net that is thrown over the school, ensnaring a “bushel full” of the prey.

photo of Largescale Foureyes (from above water)

Largescale Foureyes, Trinidad. Photo by Charlesjsharp [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Anableps‘ eye is flattened on the top and rounded on the bottom half, with a thickening of the lens from the bottom to the top to adjust for the refractive differences in the two mediums.  The upper pupil casts the terrestrial image through the lens on the lower retina, while the lower pupil’s image is reflected on the upper retina.  The Four-eyed Fish’s eye recently inspired at least one contact lense company to develop lenses that work extremely well both out of and in the water.


Scheme of the eyes of a four-eyed fish showing the basic functions

Diagram of the eye of a four-eyed fish, [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

1. Underwater retina 2. Lens 3. Air pupil 4. Tissue band 5. Iris 6. Underwater pupil 7. Air retina 8. Optic nerve

Swimming at the surface with the head exposed is relatively unusual for fishes in general, but species of this genus show other oddities as well.  Not only do the quatros ojos leap out of and skip along the surface of the water, but when they see terrestrial insects on the banks they will actually leap onto the shallow, inundated bank side areas to capture their prey.  These fish have been observed lying in the sun, sometimes for several minutes, before pushing their way back into the water.  Once they’re out of the water their mobility is severely limited since unlike eels they cannot locomote with a wriggling motion, nor can they push off with their tails to leap forward on land. Unlike mudskippers and the “walking” catfish their pectoral fins are unsuited to pulling themselves along.  So, although they may push themselves along with their tail and pectoral fins to chase their prey, the extent to which they are able to do so is severely limited.

Another anomaly that characterizes anablepids is that their genital organs are oriented either to the left or right, thus they can reproduce only with mates having compatible organs.  They share this character with the group of species to which they are said to be most closely related, the “One-Sided Livebearers”, or Jennysina.  The functional significance of this anomaly is not known.  Anableps species are viviparious, meaning the young are birthed live rather than from an egg deposited in the water.  The eggs are carried to term inside follicles in the female’s ovary at which point they hatch and are extruded from the genital pore.  The male of the species has a gonopodium, a modified anal fin ray that develops as the males mature and facilitates placement of the sperm into the oviduct, fertilizing the female’s eggs.

At present three species of Four-eyed Fish are recognized: Anableps anableps, the Largescale Foureyes, is found in South America from the island of Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela to the Amazon Basin of Brazil.  Anableps dowei, the Pacific Foureyes, has the most limited distribution of the three species, occurring in Central America from southern Mexico to Nicaragua. Anableps microlepis, the Foureyes, is the most salt tolerant species of the three. They are found in open marine areas in full seawater (also from Trinidad to the Amazon Basin in Brazil) and follow tidal rhythms, moving up into sheltered lagoons and further upstream with the high tides, and back out into open waters as the tide wanes.

Anableps congregate in schools of up to 200 or so as juveniles, with their gregariousness decreasing with age until at adulthood they are as likely to be found as individuals as in small groups.  Some of their known fish associates include characins, pimelodid catfish, poeciliids, atherinids, eleotrids, flatfishes and cichlids.

If you are looking for an unusual fish for your aquarium the species that is most commonly available from suppliers (there are several that raise their own stock), the Four-Eyed Fish, is moderately hardy, but they are comparatively large in size, growing to around a foot in length.  Since they are surface swimmers they do best in a long, relatively shallow tank in fresh to moderately brackish water (depending on the species).  They are gregarious so it is best not to keep them singly or in pairs.  They will probably do well with Sailfin Mollies, bottom-dwelling Gobies, Mudskippers, and even Orange Chromide Cichlids, Archer Fish and Monodactylus.

The Family Anablepidae is placed within the Order Cyprinodontiformes (and, the Pacific Foureyed Fish attains the largest size of any species in that order).  That order contains a bounty of fascinating forms, with a wide variety of reproductive types, a plethora of adaptations to environments, and high importance in terms of biogeography.  My next post will portray some of those very diverse species.

About the Author: Marc Kibbey is Associate Curator of the Fish Division at the Museum of Biological Diversity.

*** Have you ever seen a four-eyed fish? Let us know, leave a comment ***

Everyday Life at the Museum-part2

Following Monday’s post, here are some illustrations of everyday life in the rest of our collections:

In the Adams lab ants are busy tending their fungi gardens. No students are working the day I stop by, but Rachelle Adams, Assistant Professor in the department of Evolution, Ecology & Organismal Biology, is happy to take a break from her computer work and she shows me the ant colonies in her lab.

In the Herbarium long-time volunteer Donna Schenk relabels some of the folders that hold the plant specimens. Taxonomy is not static, molecular studies reveal new relationships and classifications are revised. To keep the collection up-to-date and to make it easy to find each specimen we need to keep up with these changes.

In the mollusc collection I find Collection Manager Caitlin Byrne working on the computer. Student worker Trevor Smoot sorts through a bag of mussel shells which a researcher donated to the collection. With a big smile Trevor lays out the shells on top of the cabinets, apparently these are some his favorite species. Others will be identified and catalogued later.

In the fish collection Sampling Coordinator Brian Zimmerman and Assistant Curator Marc Kibbey both work on their computers.

Zoology major Elijah Williams catalogs fish specimens from a recent acquisition:


About the Author: Angelika Nelson is curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics and the museum’s social media and outreach manager.

*** Do you have any questions? We would be happy to answer them ***