Posted by: Rob Viens | September 17, 2012

“A Ton of Fish”

No entry from Darwin today, but yesterday the bounty of fish and game continued and hunting and fishing continued to dominate his diary:

“The party who went out to shoot fresh provisions brought home 2 deer, 3 Cavies & an ostrich.— With the net also a most wonderful number of fish were caught; in one drag more than a tun weight were hauled up;—including ten distinct species.” (Sept 16)

It is funny, though not surprising I guess, how a single theme can run through Darwin’s diary for one or two weeks at a time.  Early on seasickness dominated his thoughts for days, in Rio it was the forest, in Montevideo the revolutionaries – here is was hunting. I suppose we all do this to some degree – if I kept a diary I suspect I too would do the same.

So let’s turn to Darwin’s Zoological Notebook to see what sort of fish he brought in today. (Technically he doesn’t list exact dates for all his entries in the notebook, but it appears that these descriptions correspond to Sept 16th.).  Unless otherwise noted, all the descriptions below are from Darwin – the names/identifications are from the fish volume of Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle by Leonard Jenyns.

(1) Alosa pectinata (now Brevoortia pectinata – Argentine menhaden)

“Caught on a sand bank in the net:— body silvery: dorsal scales iridescent with green & copper; head greenish: tail yellow.”

Argentine menhaden

(image from Zoology of the Beagle – Jenyns)

(2) Umbrina arenata (now Menticirrhus americanus – Southern Kingfish)

“Body mottled with silver & green; dorsal & caudal fins lead colour: common”

Southern Kingfish

(image from

(3) Mugil liza (Mullet)

“Back coloured like Labrador feldspar; iris coppery: plentiful”

Mugil liza

(image from Kowalsky Fisheries)

(4) Platessa orbignyana (now Paralichthys orbignyanus – Brazilian flounder)

“Above dirty reddish brown; beneath faint blue; iris yellow: plentiful”

Brazilian flounder

(image from Wikipedia Commons)

(5) Rhombus (?)

“Above pale purplish brown, with rounded darker markings”

Jenyns’ description in Zoology of the Beagle helps identify this one as a type of flounder:

“Oval, approaching to rhomboidal. Breadth a little exceeding half the length. Eyes on the right side, near together, equally in advance, or the lower one perhaps rather more forward than the upper; between them a double osseous ridge.”

Painting of Scophthalmus rhombus (Brill) by William MacGillivray from the 1830’s


Never thought I’d know so much about the fisheries of Argentina…(RJV)

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