What's in a Latin binomial?

I don’t read Tropical Fish Hobbyist regularly, but every so often (maybe once a year) it will catch my eye on the newsstand with interesting teasers and I grab a copy. October ’08 was such an issue – the cover had a picture of half of one of my favorite marine duos – shrimp gobies and the shrimp that cohabit with them. That was enough to get me to leaf through – I saw an article on Betta macrostoma – sold!

Neither the shrimp/goby duo nor the betta are the subject of this post, though. One of the columnists, Wayne Leibel, hit one out of the park with his article on the etymology of the Latin name for one of the eartheater cichlids. A bit of background info for those who aren’t familiar with them: cichlids are cosmopolitan small to medium sized (mostly) freshwater perch-like fish that display an incredible range of morphological and behavioral adaptations. Interesting critters! The name he explicated – Satanoperca jurupari. Luckily, there’s a version of the article online, so I can quote extensively and link back.

Both the genus and the species name refer to the supernatural. Satanoperca = Satan’s perch; jurupari/yurupari is the Tupi name for a forest demon. What’s the link between the forest demon and a creature of the river?

I have always (at least since I first read that the name “Jurupari” had demonic associations) been obsessed with clearing up that etymological association and have always felt gypped by Heckel (and Natterer for that matter) for not having shared the entire story with us. Why was this fish called “juruparipindi?” Despite consultation with a variety of South American ethnographies and compulsive index checking of any and every book having to do with Amazonian exploration, I have never found a satisfactory answer, although Mr. Robinson’s contribution came the closest.

Well, I think I have finally stumbled across the full association. While browsing in a college bookstore the other week, I noticed — in the Anthropology/Sociology section — two books entitled, respectively, Mythology of North America and Mythology of Mexico and Central America by John Bierhorst. Upon further inspection, the fly leaves provided the information that this same author had written a companion — and earlier — volume entitled (you guessed it!) Mythology of South America (1988, Quill/William Morrow Co., New York, 270 pp.). Well, I thought just maybe he’d have the answer, so gambling $10, I special ordered it.
When it came, I paged quickly to the index and looked up Jurupari — nothing! Frantically, I paged to the alternate spelling and found seven pages devoted to “Yurupari,” mythological character! What Bierhorst had done in these books was to collect myths that pop up time and time again throughout the native tribes, noting their similarities and differences. These myths had been collected and reported on historically by a legion of earlier ethnographers: Bierhorst simply read all of the published material, put it together and wrote representative narratives of the major myths surrounding creation, etc. There on pages 45 and 46, in the chapter devoted to the mythology of greater Brazil, I read with rapt attention:

“As set forth in an intricate Baniwa version, the first three people on earth were created by the supreme being Nothing But Bones, who made them by pronouncing a simple word. The three were Exhaler and Inhaler, both males, and a female, Amaru, who became the mother of Yurupari. Amaru conceived her child by lightly touching a branch to her face.

“When Amaru’s little boy was born he had no mouth and could neither speak nor eat. But Exhaler nourished him by blowing on him with tobacco smoke. He grew so fast that in a single day he attained the age of six years. Still unable to speak, he was asked by Nothing But Bones if he was man, animal or fish. With his head the child signaled “no” each time and would not give assent until asked, “Are you Yurupari?” His body, it is said, was covered with hair like a monkey’s . Only his legs, arms, and head were human. When at last his mouth was formed, he let loose a roar that could be heard all over the world.”

Now we come to the interesting stuff.

“One day he followed some little boys who were going into the forest to gather wild fruit. The children had been forbidden to eat this fruit, and when they broke the prohibition, Yurupari called down thunder and opened his mouth so wide that the children thought it was a cave. Running inside to protect themselves from the storm, they were eaten alive. Later, when he returned to the village, Yurupari vomited the three children, filling four baskets.” *

Ok, we have a forest entity that eats kids and pukes them back intact. Folks who know cichlids can guess where this is going – the eartheaters are mouthbrooders.

Reflect that the practice of mouthbrooding, which characterizes all of the “juruparoid” Satanoperca that have been spawned in the aquarium hobby to date, was probably known to the natives. Indeed, it was the eminent Swiss/American scientist Louis Agassiz who first reported scientifically on this curious phenomenon in his book A Journey to Brazil, co-authored with his wife and published in 1868. On page 220 of that book he describes mouthbrooding in a “Geophagus” species from Tefe.

He writes: “This same fish has a most extraordinary mode of reproduction. The eggs pass, I know not how, into the mouth, the bottom of which is lined by them, between the inner appendages of the branchial arches, and especially into a pouch, formed by the upper pharyngeals which they completely fill. There they are hatched, and the little ones, freed from the egg case, are developed until they are in a condition to provide for their own existence.” Agassiz goes on to speculate about the anatomical innovation, the lobed gill arch, which he believes permits mouthbrooding.”

The book goes on to state: “Mr. Agassiz has already secured quite a number of the singular type of acara which carries its young in its mouth and he has gathered a good deal of information about its habits. The fishermen here say that this mode of caring for the young prevails more or less in all the family of acara. They are not all born there, however, some lay their eggs in the sand, and, hovering over their nest, take up the little ones in their mouths when they are hatched. The fishermen also add, that these fish do not always keep their young in the mouth, but leave them sometimes in the nest, taking them up only on the approach of danger.” Italics are mine again.

Clearly the native fishermen knew about the curious reproductive behaviors of geophagine cichlids well before science did! Just like the mythological Yurupari, parental Satonoperca “open [their] mouth so wide that the children [think] it is a cave” and the fry swarm and dive deep into their throats for protection only to be spat out later, when the danger is past. *

Interesting fish + interesting language = happy natural historian.

Hall of Mammals and Iridescence

More sets from the Harvard Museum of Natural History. The Hall of Mammals was my favorite room – classic in both layout and contents. There were other exhibits that were better, educationally and aesthetically, but taken as a whole this room took the prize.


Mammal set here.

The Hall of Mammals also contained a lot bird mounts, as did the South American Animals room. There was a wall of hummingbird mounts in the South American room – I managed to capture this bit of iridescence:


Bird set here.

Matters aquatic

Two oceanic items rolled in almost simultaneously – an update (via email) from J, the shark girl, and bunch of new inhabitants – the result of a collecting expedition that I wasn’t able to go on (drat) – in the touch tank down the hall from my office. I thought I’d mix passages from the email – permission having been granted – with pictures of touch tank inhabitants.


I had the chance to rock chain mail again and film 3 shark feeds for UNEXSO’s promo video!! Soooo happy to be in chain mail again and to dive with Cristina. Shark girls rock!! Filmed some dolphins as well. Ha ha! The dolphin dive is actually really cool. I enjoyed getting my kiss underwater.



The Searcher has been my home for the past 3 weeks as I finished the season as a divemaster/videographer at Guadalupe. Most amazing experience of my life!!! White sharks up close and personal and some incredible footage.  My first day on the boat I had my teeth dyed blue (food coloring in my coffee) and ate the heart of a yellowtail (you have to eat the heart of your first fish). I then found 8 storm petrels (bird that flies only at night) in my room our first night at Guadalupe. After all these pranks I was accepted as crew and then joined in on harassing other members.



I went in the submersible for the first time and I cannot begin to describe the experience. Being that close, as I stood on top of the cage with nothing between me and 17ft shark but my camera, was truly life changing. Never in my shark experiences have I felt so much power from these animals or respect for them. For a brief moment I was in their world and on their terms and it gives me chills as I sit here thinking about it.



I have to agree w/ J – shark girls rock. I’m looking forward to saying hi and looking at some of her photography when she swings though over Thanksgiving. For those who are interested, the touch tank Flickrset is here.

The Glass Flowers

Created in the late 1800s and early 1900s by Leopold (father) and Rudolph (son) Blaschka. They are amazingly realistic and beautiful pieces of work. I hesitate to call them art, only because they are intended to be neutral – an as accurate as possible representation of the subject – but they are certainly and example of craftsmanship of the first water.


Again – apologies for the quality of some of the pictures. Next time I visit the museum I’ll do a better job, I promise (Brian – thanks for the suggestion).

Got a Match?

Something a little different – a match on two categories of technology for reasons that are pretty abstract. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… the shotgun and the bicycle. Bear with me – I think a case can be made.

Near-platonic simplicity. Lightness is important for both – more so, perhaps for the bicycle, which could weigh nothing and not effect performance – for the shotgun, some weight damps recoil. The general unwillingness of folks to carry/pedal around extra ounces leads to a paring away that leaves just enough gun/bike to get the job done. On a good bike or shotgun, everything there is necessary; all parts contribute and integrate.


Fit. Shotguns are not so much aimed as they are pointed. When you put the gun to your shoulder, you want it to be in the same place every time and you want your head positioned so that you are looking down the length of the barrels consistently. If the gun is oriented slightly differently every time you mount it (stop giggling – that’s the right phrase), it doesn’t matter how well you swing through – you’ll miss more often than I do (in other words, lots). If you are looking to minimize wasted energy, fit is important on a bicycle. You can pedal a bike in a lot of different positions, but if the idea is to translate your effort into forward progress, you’ve got to pay attention to the saddle/pedal relationship. I can’t think of two other things (and I’m including clothing) that benefit more from a good body-object match.


Decorative elements. Somewhat in tension with point 1, but within the tight constraints of weight and function – and often augmenting the effort on both in an artistic way – is the human urge to decorate and add meaning thereby. Color case hardening (shotgun), pantographing (bicycle), engraving (shotgun), lugwork (bicycle), choice of wood (shotgun), drilling out (bicycle) – all, when done well, enhance the object. On a personal note, I’m nuts for color case work. My ideal would be a sidelock with a tiny amount of engraving around the edges of the sideplate and any screws and the rest bare save for an oil slick of case hardening (and gold-washed inside, where no one can see, but where it will help prevent corrosion).



Made by people. At the high end (where the similarities are most apparent), there are craftspeople involved – brazing, filing, carving, drilling. It shows, again, both in form and function.

I’ve had this little set of arguments (“bike and shotgun, why do I like thee so much? let me count the ways.”) floating around in my head for years. It’s getting attention now because of a recent post on Knucklebuster. Seems there was an American motorcycle manufacturer named Merkel.


Way back when, bicycle and motorcycle (and aircraft) technology bled into each other pretty seamlessly. Shotgun lovers will also recognize the name – not the same company, but there is a famous German shotgun maker also named Merkel.

So – here’s thought 1. Since old motorcycles shared a lot of elements in common with bicycles – what would be cooler than a board track-ish moped? Small motor in that U-shaped down tube, pedals well positioned, brass tank with ‘Flying Merkel’ lettered in green paint and gold leaf. Design student – we need to talk.

Thought 2 – perfect pairing with the slightly greater complexity of the Flying Merkel moped? A Merkel 96k drilling (that’s a side-by-side shotgun with a rifle barrel tucked underneath, usually) in 12ga x 12ga x .30/06. Dinah running along side, the little teckel that I hope to get this spring tucked in a saddlebag or in my coat – jaeger, jaeger, über alles.

The San Bartolo murals

Back in 2001, William Saturno found the San Bartolo murals.

When archaeologist William Saturno went to Guatemala six years ago, nothing worked out the way he planned. None of the local guides could take him to see the carved monuments he wanted to research, leaving him with nothing to do.

“Not being particularly good at sitting around and twiddling my thumbs,” Saturno says, he decided to investigate a rumor that three hieroglyphic Maya monuments had been uncovered by looters in the jungle nearby.

According to the map, Saturno and his guides could reach the monument site by driving forty kilometers and then trekking on foot through the jungle. At the beginning of the road that would take them to the site, however, Saturno’s team encountered a sign that read “Camino en mal estado.” The sign itself was falling apart, Saturno says. “That should have been an indication of what we were in for.”

After an arduous, twenty-two-hour journey, the group finally arrived at the San Bartolo site, which wasn’t the one they were looking for. Exhausted and dehydrated, Saturno ducked into a looter’s trench to escape the oppressive heat. “I shone my flashlight up on the wall,” he says, “and there was the mural.” *

I’ve heard him describe the trip and apparently “exhausted and dehydrated” is an understatement.

One of the Peabody Museum’s current exhibits is “Storied Walls: Murals of the Americas“; two walls of one room are devoted to the San Bartolo murals. There are some photos of the murals, but what held my interest were the 2 digital scan+watercolor recreations by Heather Hurst. Absolutely amazing – religious sequential art.

I’m going to post a couple thumbnails here, but no slide show. If you’de like to see more, please click through to my Flickrset – I’ve annotated some of the picture and all of them ought to be seen BIG.

Bloodletting was an important ritual practice. Stingray spines were used: women – tongues, men – foreskins (at least that’s what the plaque said – looks a little far back to me).



NPR’s Talk of the Nation on San Bartolo here. I have a video tour of the site stashed somehere – if I find it, I’ll post a link.

UpdateVideo here. You may have to download and play it locally – it played fine for me under Windows using VLC.

Glass Sea Creatures

On every walk I take there must be something to study of nature…I think a man can never finish these studies and is never too old to learn from nature. *

Off I went to Cambridge (MA) yesterday. The major motivator (answering the question, “why yesterday?”) was this book-signing event, but it seemed like a perfect opportunity for a two-fer – and so it was. I spent the morning at the Harvard Museum of Natural History and the Peabody Museum before braving the crowds of Harvard Square and meeting Chris Onstad.

I took so many pictures that I’m going to post them in batches, First batch – glass sea creatures created by the father and son team of Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka. The Blaschkas are probably best known for their glass flowers, but I thought I’d start with anemones of the oceanic persuasion. Modeling transparent/translucent bodies of marine inverts in glass is a perfect match of material and subject.

A blanket mea culpa for all the HMNH photos – I think the museum uses extra-reflective glass for the front of their cases. You’ll see a lot of odd angles – that’s me trying to minimize reflection – and a lot of reflection that I couldn’t avoid.


For the whole set (not a slideshow) click here.

Shop Smart! Shop S-Mart!

– or –


A couple political observations – then, back to critter-blogging!

Apparently, some folks feel that the Republican party’s problem is that they didn’t run far enough to the right and/or hold fast enough to principals. Good luck with that:

Voting shifts – 2008 v. 2004


My hunch is that there are a lot of people like me – pragmatists – who have figured out that if you want government to work, it’s probably best not to elect people who have moored themselves to the idea that the government doesn’t and can’t work. As a fan of functioning divided government (notice the important 1st qualifier), I’d love to see the return of grown-up Republicans – folks who are now disparaged as RINOs: the Bill Welds and Christie Whitmans of the party. Not sure that’s going to happen though – in the inevitable backstabbing attendant on a loss, Caribou Barbie is being promoted by some as the future of the party. Insofar as she represents a near-perfect amalgam of corruption and Christianism, I guess she does make sense if you think the problem is that Republicans are not past-8-years-of-Republicanism enough. As an aside, the name of one of the components of the circular firing squad – Operation Leper – is a nice counterpoint to the religious fervor of the woman they’re trying to protect. I’ll admit to not being the best CCD student ever, but I thought the carpenter guy was in favor of cleansing rather than creating lepers. I found this clip over at Hot Air – a nice visual representation of a post-November 2008 ‘lessons learned’ session:


In the other direction, The Onion has this to say about post election let-down: