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The Animal Answer Guide

Gene Helfman and Bruce Collette

Publication Year: 2011

One fish, two fish, red fish, nearly thirty thousand species of fish—or fishes, as they are properly called when speaking of multiple species. This is but one of many things the authors of this fascinatingly informative book reveal in answering common and not-so-common questions about this ubiquitous group of animals. Fishes range in size from tiny gobies to the massive Ocean Sunfish, which weighs thousands of pounds. They live in just about every body of water on the planet. Ichthyologists Gene Helfman and Bruce Collette provide accurate, entertaining, and sometimes surprising answers to over 100 questions about these water dwellers, such as "How many kinds of fishes are there?" "Can fishes breathe air?" "How smart are fishes?" and "Do fishes feel pain?" They explain how bony fishes evolved, the relationship between them and sharks, and why there is so much color variation among species. Along the way we also learn about the Devils Hole Pupfish, which has the smallest range of any vertebrate in the world; Lota lota, the only freshwater fish to spawn under ice; the Candiru, a pencil-thin Amazonian catfish that lodges itself in a very personal place of male bathers and must be removed surgically; and many other curiosities. With over 100 photographs—including two full-color photo galleries—and the most up-to-date facts on the world's fishes from two premier experts, this fun book is the perfect bait for any curious naturalist, angler, or aquarist.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: The Animal Answer Guides: Q&A for the Curious Naturalist

Front Matter

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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi

Our answers to many of the questions in this book are based on knowledge gained while writing a college-level ichthyology textbook, The Diversity of Fishes. We are therefore grateful to our coauthors in that project, Doug Facey of Saint Michael’s College and Brian Bowen of the University of Hawaii for their efforts in that venture. Our work here would have been much ...

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pp. xiii-xv

Bruce Collette and I have both been fascinated by animals, especially fishes, since we were young. I had my first aquarium before I was 10, and by high school in Van Nuys, California, my bedroom was a chaos of tanks, pumps, heaters, and bubbling noises. With encouragement from my biology teachers, a couple of other fellow fish nuts and I started a shark research group. ...

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1. Introducing Fishes

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pp. 1-9

While probably everyone thinks they know what a fish is, it turns out to be very difficult to actually define “fish” because of the vast diversity of different species of fishes. Recognizing this diversity, one can define a fish as an aquatic vertebrate that breathes with gills and has limbs in the shape of fins. Several other groups of aquatic animals, such as shellfish (clams ...

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2. Form and Function of Fishes

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pp. 10-25

Body length ranges more than a thousand‑fold in fishes. The largest living species of fish is a shark, the Whale Shark, Rhincodon typus (in its own family, Rhincodontidae). Whale sharks reach at least 12 meters (about 40 feet) in length and 12,000 kilograms (about 26,000 pounds) in weight but are known to grow much larger, perhaps as large as 18 meters (60 feet) and ...

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3. Fish Colors

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pp. 26-36

Surprisingly, silvery fishes are silver in order to be invisible. Silver coloration is a characteristic of many fishes that swim up in the water column, often in open water. These fishes—especially the so-called baitfishes such as herrings, minnows, silversides, anchovies—are actually mirror-sided. They have highly reflective crystals in their scales and tend to be very narrow ...

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4. Fish Behavior

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pp. 37-60

Fishes interact socially with members of their own species (conspecifics) and with other species in many ways. Apart from breeding behavior (see chapter 6), fishes interact socially in groups, over territories, around food, and in mutually beneficial relationships with other fishes or animals. The most common form of sociality that many people associate with fishes is schooling, a topic deserving detailed exploration (see below, “Why ...

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5. Fish Ecology

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pp. 61-73

Many fishes are very mobile, undertaking daily, seasonal, reproductive, and life cycle migrations. Daily migrations can be measured in meters or feet, whereas annual and life cycle migrations can crisscross entire oceans. Fishes in both fresh and sea water move back and forth between habitats on a daily basis. In most locales, fishes feed during either the day or ...

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6. Reproduction and Development of Fishes

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pp. 74-86

Most fishes reproduce sexually, males fertilizing the eggs of females. Most fish individuals are one gender throughout life, either male or female (minnows, catfishes, salmons, black basses, perchlike fishes, tunas). Although it is often hard (for us) to tell the genders apart, in many species the difference is obvious, especially during the breeding season. Regardless ...

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7. Fish Foods and Feeding

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pp. 87-102

Taking the 31,000-plus fish species worldwide, you could say that fishes eat everything. Some fish species are in fact omnivorous generalists, eating vegetation, insects, other fishes, detritus, zooplankton, you name it. Such generalist feeding habits help explain the amazing success of a few species that have been introduced in many places. Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio, ...

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8. Fishes and Humans

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pp. 103-109

Fishes make excellent pets, and most ichthyologists kept aquarium fishes when they were younger and many still do. In fact, aquarium keeping is one of the most popular hobbies in the world, with $15 to $30 billion worth of fishes and aquarium equipment sold annually. If the right species are purchased from a reputable dealer, fishes are relatively cheap and relatively ...

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9. Fish Problems (from a human viewpoint)

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pp. 110-116

A pest is something that causes problems for people, usually because of unnaturally large numbers (ecologists also include plants and animals that are a problem for other plants and animals). Most pest fishes are found in areas that have been disturbed, because numbers seldom get to the pest level in natural communities where predators and disease usually keep populations ...

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10. Human Problems (from a fish’s viewpoint)

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pp. 117-128

Many fish species have gone extinct recently, and many more are in danger of extinction. The official, global list of threatened and endangered species is kept by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). IUCN publishes a Red List of endangered plants and animals that it updates regularly. The most recent list identified 93 fish species that ...

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11. Fishes in Stories and Literature

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pp. 128-143

The sea is a dangerous and mysterious place and understandably the source of many myths. Innumerable sea monsters gobbled up sailors, landing a place in history. Some of these monsters were in reality whales, giant squid, and sharks, others were bony fishes, and some were the result of imaginations fed by the perils of long ocean voyages, without decent ...

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12. “Fishology”

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pp. 144-148

They figure out how to differentiate between different species of fishes and work out their evolutionary relationships. They study ecology, behavior, physiology, genetics, and distribution of these different species of fishes to answer many of the questions addressed in the first 11 chapters of this book. Fishery biologists use this information plus additional information on life histories and population sizes to manage fish ...

Appendix A: The Classification of Fishes

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pp. 149-160

Appendix B: Some Organizations That Promote Ichthyology and the Conservation of Fishes

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pp. 161-162


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pp. 163-170


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pp. 171-178

E-ISBN-13: 9781421403441
E-ISBN-10: 1421403447
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421402239
Print-ISBN-10: 1421402238

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 33 color photos, 85 halftones
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: The Animal Answer Guides: Q&A for the Curious Naturalist