« EelmineJätka »
fifty. Insects, there were none at all; and other good birds excessively rare. “My canoe is now getting ready for a further journey up to near the sources of the Rio Negro in Venezuela, where I have reason to believe I shall find insects more plentiful, and at least as many birds as here. On my return from there I shall take a voyage up the great river Uaupés, and another up the Isanna, not so much for my collections, which I do not expect to be very profitable there, but because I am so much interested in the country and the people that I am determined to see and know more of it and them than any other European traveller. If I do not get profit, I hope at least to get some credit as an industrious and persevering traveller.” I then go on to describe the materials I was collecting for books on the palms and on the fishes of these regions, and also for a book on the physical history of the Amazon valley. Only the “Palms ” were published, but I give here a few copies of the drawings I made of about two hundred species of Rio Negro fishes, which I had hoped to increase to double that number had I remained in the country.
The two first figures (Cynodon scombroides and Xiphostoma lateristriga) belong to the family Characinidae, a group which abounds in the fresh waters of tropical America and Africa, where it replaces the carps (Cyprinidae) of Europe and the Old World generally, though not very closely allied to them. Many of the species are very like some of our commonest riverfish, such as gudgeons, dace, roach, tench, and bream, and I have drawings of no less than sixty-five species of the family. They are all, I believe, eatable, but are not held to be fishes of the best quality.
The next figure (Pimelodus holomelas) is an example of the family Siluridae, which is found in the fresh waters of all parts of the world. The cat-fishes of North America and the sturgeons of Eastern Europe belong to it. I obtained thirty-four species on the Rio Negro, many being of a large size. They are generally bottom-feeding fishes and are greatly esteemed, the flesh being very fat and rich, quite beyond any of our English fishes.
The next figure (Plecostomus guacari) is one of the Loricariidae, which are allied to the Siluridae, but characterized by hard bony scales or plates, and dangerous bony spines to the dorsal and pectoral fins. Many are of very strange and repulsive forms, and though eatable are not esteemed. I obtained seven species of these curious fishes.
The remaining two figures serve to illustrate the family Cichlidae, one of the most abundant and characteristic groups of South American fishes. All are of moderate size, and feed partially or entirely on vegetable substances, especially fruits which grow on the river-banks and when ripe fall into the water. They are caught with fruits as a bait, and the fisherman gently lashes the water with his rod so as to imitate the sound of falling fruit, thus attracting the fish. Some of these are the most delicious fish in the world, both delicate and fat, to such an extent that the water they are boiled in is always served at table in basins, and is a very delicious broth, quite different to any meat broth and equal to the best. It is more like a very rich chicken broth than anything else. I obtained twenty-two species of this family of fishes, the little Pterophyllum scalaris, called the butterfly fish, being one of the most fantastic of fresh-water fishes. The other, Cichlosoma severum, is one of the best for the table.
I have presented my collection of fish drawings to the British Museum of Natural History, and I am indebted to Mr. C. Tate Regan, who has charge of this department, for giving me the names of the species represented. In a paper read before the Zoological Society in August, 1905, he states that he has named about a hundred species, and that a large portion of the remainder are probably new species, showing how incomplete is our knowledge of the fishes of the Amazon and its tributaries.
Looking back over my four years' wanderings in the Amazon valley, there seem to me to be three great features which especially impressed me, and which fully equalled or