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The Climbing Fish
By R. D. O. JOHNSON
P IN the Andean heights of the Department of Antioquia, Republic of Colombia, there is a climatic stratum marked by a uniformly cool temperature and great humidity. The rainfall is enormous in quantity. The topography included within the stratum is mountainous in the extreme. The streams are many and torrential in character, and their waters rush roaring down the steep and tortuous channels to the placid rivers of the plains belowthey are but a series of falls, cascades, and blustering "riffles." The country rock is schistose in character and comparatively soft and the erosion of the stream beds is very rapid.
Ancient stream beds high up on the cañons' sides are pitted with many potholes of unusual interest to the student of dynamic geology. There is not a waterfall in the region today so small or insignificant that it is not busily engaged in boring out a more or less cylindrical hole in the rock beneath. The falling water at the point of impact seems inevitably to set up a rotary motion, carrying stones, sand, and gravel around with it, and the resulting wear bores out the pothole.
Into these potholes falls the drifting, goldbearing quartz with which the upper Andean regions abound, and within these mills of nature it is ground to an impalpable powder, and the gold freed from its matrix finds lodgment in the gravels and the alluviums of the plains and the river bottoms. It was the lure of the gold that indirectly drew my brother and myself so far into the junglejungle that answers the most rigid definition of the term.
selected the one most convenient to the camp for beginning our work. The bed of this power stream held an average angle of thirty-eight degrees from the horizontal and, for a considerable distance, slipped down over the smooth surface of the worn rocks in a thin broad sheet.
Our first efforts were directed toward ascertaining the volume of flow of the stream. To do this it was necessary to introduce a measuring weir at a point above the takeoff of the plant. The weir was soon established and the deflecting dams were built in. When the water was turned, a part of the bed of the stream lay uncovered, exposing a couple of old gravel-filled potholes. Since such potholes not infrequently contained gold, my brother proceeded to dig out one of them while I was engaged in taking the readings from the weir.
He had been at this task for only a few minutes when he called out to me:
"Say, here's a fish."
I replied saying something about his "seeing things," and proceeded to expatiate upon the impossibility of his finding a fish in such a place, and upon the utter inability of any fish, even among the best swimmers, to surmount the difficulties of such a stream.
I pointed out the absurdity of imagining a fish swimming with nine-tenths of its body out of the water, as it would have to be, up that part of the stream where the water passed in a thin sheet over the smooth rocks. "He'd have to be an aviator," I said. So I pooh-poohed the idea recklessly.
Harry listened with suspicious patience to my lengthy dissertation, while I, from a theoretical standpoint, utterly demolished his unthinking assertion, then he blurted out:
"Well, are you all through? Here's the fish! This is a fact, not a theory you've butted up against."
He held in his hand a living fish, and a catfish at that, resembling the catfish or horned pout of the North. I took it and looked it over. There it was, a real live fish, nearly a half foot long. There could be
We were employed to install a hydroelectric plant to be used in connection with the operations of a company engaged in placer mining. A permanent camp had been established in niches cut in the steep sides of the cañon and was located at an elevation of 115 feet above the roaring Santa Rita Creek.
Since power streams were numerous, we
1 "Notes on the Habits of a Climbing Catfish (Arges marmoratus) from the Republic of Colombia." By R. D. O. Johnson, Annals New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. XXII, pp. 327-333, December 20, 1912.
no possible doubt about it, in spite of the utter impossibility of the thing.
Harry had his laugh and returned to his digging. I was completely puzzled-but I had pressing work to do. I carefully placed the fish in a small pothole at one side. This hole was about four inches in diameter and twelve inches in depth and held perhaps two or three inches of water. Catfish are hardy, so I figured that there was enough water to last this little fellow until I could give him more attention.
After I had finished my work at the weir, I returned to the little pothole to give that amazing fish a closer scrutiny.
He was not to be found, so I called out, "What did you do with the fish, Harry?"
Harry asserted that he had not taken the fish and that he had paid no attention to it. That certainly was a mystery. I did not think it possible for a five-inch catfish to jump out of a four-inch pothole twelve inches deep. I concluded, however, that that was the only way of escape and contented myself with this rather lame explanation.
Before we returned to the camp that afternoon, Harry had caught two more "cats" in another pothole. These we carried down to the camp in our dinner pail. We arrived at the camp just as the late afternoon meal was being served. I hastily poured the water and the fishes from the dinner pail into a three-gallon galvanized bucket and set it in an inconspicuous place outside the kitchen. After dinner I sought the bucket to get a better look at the fishes which had destroyed a good theory. They were not in the bucket. I inquired of several who might possibly have freed the fishes but no one knew anything about them. This mystery was getting too thick for comfort. The next day I made a special trip up the power stream and managed to secure two more of these fishes. I brought them down to camp and placed them in the same pail that had held the others and sat down to watch their maneuvers.
For a time they were content to swim about, butting their blunt noses against the sides of the vessel. Then, to my amazement, one of them thrust its "nose" out of the water and began creeping up the side of the pail. I watched it hitch itself up by short longitudinal movements until it had reached the top edge and fell out
side of the bucket. I put it back and watched the performance repeated. Then I transferred one to a tall glass jar and through the glass watched the operation of the creeping mechanism. I caught others and dissected them and studied them until I was in possession of their secret.
This lies in the combined action of two sucking mechanisms. One of these is the ordinary sucker mouth, surrounded by a soft flap, very thin and flexible at the edges. The other is an interesting structure consisting essentially of a bony plate beneath the skin on the under side of the fish where the ventral fins are attached. These fins are broad and flat and their surface is studded with small sharp teeth pointing backward. The bony plate is given a shuttle action by muscles attached fore and aft so that the fins may be moved lengthwise of the fish through a distance equal to about one sixth its length. With this apparatus the fish is able to create a suction pressure, and by means of the alternate action of the two suckers, it is enabled to crawl, inchwormlike, on a smooth vertical surface.1
Shortly after this, the mining company undertook the cleaning out of a large pothole which was eight feet in diameter and twenty-two feet in depth. Before the bottom had been reached, the water that remained in the pothole was found to be full of these climbing catfishes. They were naturally greatly agitated by the action of the workmen who were shoveling out the gravel. Several times some of them started to climb out but were frightened by the men and dropped back. I surmised that as soon as the work was stopped for the lunch hour these fish would essay the long climb to the top. I was not mistaken and my watch
1 The climbing catfish which Mr. Johnson describes is not the only species of fish which is able to climb by means of its ventral musculature. In the Himalaya Mountains-so similar to the Andes in ruggedness-there occur several species which have adapted themselves in various ways to this environment. Nemachilus rupicola and perhaps other species of mountain cyprinids adhere to the rocks by means of their smooth, ventral skin and enlarged lips. The silurid genera Pseudecheneis and Glyptosternum cling by means of a well developed abdominal sucker. The mountain torrents of the Himalayas form the nursery for many species of frogs. Their tadpoles, like the fish, have become adapted to these terrific floods. Some of the tadpoles, such as Megalophrys parna, cling by means of their lips and the ventral musculature, while other species, such as Rana afghana, possess a well developed ventral sucker. -G. K. N.
ing was rewarded by seeing four climb up a distance of eighteen feet to the pool of water above. They followed a thin film of water that trickled down the rock. This water
kept their gills wet and susta ed them on a climb that must have been arduous. It required half an hour to make the ascent. To my own satisfaction I had answered the question of how it was done; there remained the question of why. The fish was evidently a case of extreme modification and adaptation to fit a peculiar environment. Some catfish do not climb, why should these? An analysis of the environment brought the an
I found that the Andean torrents were the habitat of myriads of these curious creatures, "capitanes" they are called by the natives. The individuals I had examined were living in a torrential stream almost daily subjected to the sudden fury of sweeping floods. The violence of these floods is unimaginable to one who has not witnessed
MR. EDWARD D. ADAMS has presented to the American Museum the oil painting of the solar eclipse of June, 1918 (reproduced in color in this number of NATURAL HISTORY), by the artist, Howard Russell Butler, N.A. It is the first time in the study of such astronomical phenomena, that the colors of the corona and its prominences have been observed by a trained artist, and recorded at the moment, eliminating the chance of inaccuracy. In connection with this most remarkable painting Mr. Adams writes of the especial interest attached to the 1918 eclipse from the fact that observations of it were confined to the area of the United States. It is true also that it was observed only by people of the United States and Canada, as the great war prevented foreign astronomers from coming to this country to witness the event. The resemblance of the flame at the tip of one of the prominences to the outspread wings of an eagle prompted the association of the eagle with the astronomical event (it was just at the time of the victorious advance of the American and Allied armies) and suggested the use of the term "eagle prominence" in referring to the corona of the eclipse of 1918.
them. It seems that nothing unanchored in the stream bed can withstand their wild energy. As swimmers, however, these fishes are clumsy and inept. To witness their awkward, wriggling, swimming movements is to know at once that they could not by that means of propulsion alone make any headway against even moderate currents.
We can understand that to remain at home in time of flood, these denizens of the wild waters anchor themselves by means of their sucker mouths. Yet these catfishes are to be found in all parts of the streams, from the slender spring branches of the high mountains to the sluggish rivers of the plains. Travel they must and by using the climbing mechanism I had seen operate-the alternate action of mouth and ventral suction plate. That they are able to surmount even great falls is evident from their presence in the Santa Rita Creek, for this stream falls into the Santo Domingo River over a precipice more than two hundred feet in height.
LAWRENCE M. LAMBE, the well-known Canadian palæontologist, died of pneumonia on March 12, 1919. He had been on the palæontological staff of the Canadian Geological Survey for thirty-five years, and for the last fifteen years had devoted especial attention to vertebrate palæontology. In recent years he had come to be regarded as one of the leading authorities on dinosaurs. When the Geological Survey collections were moved to the Victoria Memorial Museum at Ottawa in 1910, he took charge of the fossil vertebrates and succeeded in building up a remarkable collection, especially rich in the Cretaceous dinosaurs of Alberta. In securing this fine material he availed himself of the aid of the veteran American collector, Mr. C. H. Sternberg, and of his sons. The American Museum staff has followed with interest the work and success of Mr. Lambe, as he studied vertebrate palæontology in 1903 under Professor Henry Fairfield Osborn and learned here much of the field technique and methods of research which he applied to Canadian palæontology with such notable results. His unexpected death in the midst of a busy and successful career comes as a shock to his many friends and as a
great loss to the science to which he had devoted his life.
A ROOSEVELT Memorial Exposition to commemorate the life and achievements of Theodore Roosevelt will be held by Columbia University in the Avery Library during May. The University has previously established in Columbia House one of the first of the college centers for Americanization in the country and will establish there a permanent memorial to Colonel Roosevelt.
PROFESSOR and Mrs. Henry Fairfield Osborn, accompanying Mr. C. William Beebe, left New York February 26 to inspect the unusual facilities for research at the New York Zoological Society's station in British Guiana. Colonel Roosevelt in 1915 wrote of this station enthusiastically as marking "the beginning of a wholly new type of biological work capable of literally illimitable expansion."
THE Tropical Research Station of the New York Zoological Society in British Guiana has reopened for scientific investigation, after a lapse owing to the absence of most of the staff with the American Army. Mr. C. William Beebe, the director, sailed for Bartica on February 26. Bartica is favorably situated for the study of both fauna and flora and its climatic conditions are ideal for the work. General ecological investigation will be made on the relations of plant and animal life in the jungle while special work will be carried on by individual investigators. Professors William Morton Wheeler, of Harvard, Ulric Dahlgren, of Princeton, and Alfred Reese, of West Virginia, will make special study of ants, electric fishes, and crocodiles, respectively, while Director N. L. Britton, of the New York Botanical Garden, will make a survey of the forests. The New York Zoölogical Society assumes the financial support of the project through the generosity of five members of the board of managers, Colonel Anthony R. Kuser, Messrs. C. Ledyard Blair, Andrew Carnegie, George J. Gould, and A. Barton Hepburn.
DR. LIVINGSTON FARRAND, president of the University of Colorado, formerly professor of anthropology in Columbia University (in 1903-4 assistant curator of ethnology in the
American Museum), has resigned his administrative work in the university to become executive head of the American Red Cross.
THE establishment of a new Jardin des Plantes is proposed for France in the park of Versailles between the Trianon (villas of Louis XIV and XV) and the Forest of Marly. The new garden of about fifteen hundred acres will be, to a large extent, supplemental to the old Jardin des Plantes in Paris, the further expansion of which has been shut off by the growth of the city.
DR. HENRY ALLAN GLEASON, assistant professor of botany at the University of Michigan, was recently appointed first assistant to the director-in-chief of the New York Botanical Garden, to succeed Dr. W. A. Murrill who occupies the newly created position of supervisor of public instruction.
THE New York Aquarium is to have constructed a seaworthy well boat for purposes of marine collecting. Such a boat with a 10 × 11 foot well for preserving the fish alive will make possible hereafter the transportation in good condition of not only the local fish of Long Island shores but also the tropical species that migrate in summer up the Gulf Stream, and other large fishes reported taken in the trap nets of local fish
AN example of the development of modern museum methods of instruction in conneetion with university work is shown in the expansion of the museum of the University of Illinois. The plan includes, in zoology, both general synoptic series illustrating the principal forms of animal life, living and extinct, and ecology groups, such as life in and about an old decaying log of the local woods. The first of a series of economic groups to show the presence and activities of common insect pests is also completed.
THE fight of the entomologist against insect pests has been greatly increased during the war. Dr. L. O. Howard, chief of the Bureau of Entomology at Washington, has recently reviewed the work of his Bureau and of the subcommittee on medical entomology of the National Research Council. The
SHARK LIFE IN THE WARM WATERS OF THE SARGASSO SEA
Photograph of a group in the American Museum, recently constructed under the supervision of Dr. Bashford Dean
The Blue-shark Group, recently completed at the American Museum, was modeled from a cast of a female shark formerly on view at the New York Aquarium. The shark, with its young, is mounted as though seen from below the surface of the ocean in that tract of comparatively still water in the Atlantic known where seaweed and wreckage collect from the ocean currents as "Sargasso Sea'