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in the river channels. It reaches a weight of five to ten pounds and is readily salable, but its
flesh is not better than that of its less attractive relatives. It takes the hook readily. This species
is abundant in the Saint John's River, Florida. In 1878 many were taken near the bar at Mayport
in brackish water. For table use they are much more highly esteemed than the Mud Catfish.


This species, the largest of our Catfish, is found in the Mississippi, and probably in its larger
tributaries, where it reaches a weight of about one hundred and fifty pounds. Little distinctive
is known of its habits, which probably agree with those of the next species.



This species, the most abundant of the large Catfishes, abounds in the Great Lakes and in
the larger streams of the West and South as far as Florida. It reaches a weight of fifty to one
hundred pounds, perhaps more. In all the markets of the region where found it is one of the
most important species, and its flesh, which can be cut in "steaks" like halibut, is generally
esteemed. Nothing distinctive is known of its breeding habits or rate of growth. Professor Goode
remarks: " I have observed frequently enormous specimens of this species in the Saint John's River,
where they are called Mud Cats."


The White Catfish of the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay is very abundant in the Susque-
hanna and Potomac Rivers, and forms an important part of the fish supply of the Washington
market. It reaches a weight of two to five pounds, being much smaller than the preceding species,
which it resembles.


The common "Horned Pout," "Bull-head," "Bull-pout," or "Minister" of the Northern and
Eastern States is the most generally abundant and familiar representative of this family. It
reaches a length of about eighteen inches and rarely exceeds three or four pounds in weight, while
the majority of those seen in the markets are still smaller. It is probably the hardiest of all our
fresh-water fishes, thriving in any waters, but preferring those which are quiet and shaded.
Numerous other species very similar to this occur in our fresh waters.

The Bull-head has been introduced from the Schuylkill into the Sacramento and San Joaquin
Rivers in California. It has there very rapidly multiplied, and is now common in all the sloughs
and bayous of the lower courses of these rivers. As a food-fish it is not very highly valued by
the Califomians, most of those brought to market being taken by the Chinese.


The "Mud Cat," "Yellow Cat," "Goujon," or "Bashaw" is found in all the large rivers of the
West and South. It reaches a weight of at least fifty pounds. It is found only in the larger
streams, swimming near the bottom. It is less attractive in its appearance than the other Cat-
fishes, but we are not aware that its flesh is inferior to that of the others. This species, and other
of the larger Catfishes, are often caught by "jugging," the bait being attached to a jug filled with
air, which will in time tire out the fish and bring it to the surface.


This species reaches a length of about a foot ; the other Stone Cats (Noturua) are still smaller,
and none of them can be considered as food- fishes.


This species, which ranges from Cape Cod to Florida, is found chiefly in brackish water. It is
not uncommonly taken at Arlington, Florida, and Empire Point. It is known here and at Pensa-
cola as the " Sea Cat," and at Brunswick, Georgia, as " Gaff- topsail," in allusion to the shape of
the first dorsal fin. According to Mr. H. 8. Williams, it is abundant in the Indian River. It is
common also along the Gulf Coast, but is nowhere valued as food. Many of the fishermen believe
this species to be viviparous. 'Mr. 8. C. Clarke, writing from New Smyrna March 31, 1874,
remarks : " They have eggs in them as large as cherries."

Till. ( Al.irni.'MA ri\c,i;i; KKI,. 629


The Salt water Cattish is found along the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico to as far north as Capo
Ilatteras. In the first volume of the Proceedings of the United States National Museum, p. 278,
is an interesting account of its breeding habits, as observed by Prof. N. T. Lupton. The species
spawns there in July, and the parent (sex not stated) carries the eggs in its mouth. Silas Stearns
says of this flsh :

"The Salt-water Catfish is very abundant everywhere on the Gulf coast. It is found on the
sea-beaches, the shores and bottoms of bays and bayous, and even some distance up fresh-water
streams. It is a bottom-loving flsh, feeding upon worms and small crustaceans chiefly, but will
readily eat anything else fish, flesh, or fowl, dead or alive. As the pest of these waters, it is ever
present and never welcome. It breeds in the summer, in June, July, and August. The spawn is
deposited in the depression in the sand and impregnated with the milt. One of the parent flsh
then takes the eggs in his mouth and by some movement fixes them against the gills, or between
the leaves of the gills. The eggs are carried in this position until the embryo flsh are hatched and
have become perfect and able to care for themselves. The eggs when full size resemble white
grapes; they are large and clear. Sometimes the parent fish's jaws are much distended by the
eggs anil young inside and its appearance is comical.

The Catfish emits a grunting noise (similar, although louder, to several fishes of this coast
the grunt, drum, mademoiselle, croaker, etc.), which comes, I believe, from the swimming bladder.
This noise, when there are many fish present and all else is still, is very annoying, and I have passed
more than one wakeful night from hearing it on the Southern coast, where the fish were swimming
under my boat. The Catfish will always take the hook, and is not at all particular as to the kind
of bait; attains a weight of ten or twelve pounds, though the average is much less. It is seldom
eaten except as a last resort for fresh food ; it is, however, quite palatable. When canght it is
almost invariably mangled and consequently thrown away."


On our Southern coasts are several species of eel-like fishes belonging to this family. On
account of their sharp teeth and strong jaws they are rather dreaded by the fishermen, who fear
their bites. Some species, however, are here, as in various parts of the "West Indies, in considerable
demand for food. The most important species is the Speckled Moray, Sidera ocellata, which is occa-
sionally brought to the Key West markets.


"This species," writes Jordan, "is always "known as 'Conger Eel' or 'Congeree.' It reaches
a length of five feet and a weight of fifteen or twenty pounds. It is found among rocks about
the Santa Barbara Islands, and southward along the coast of Lower California. About the islands
it is qnite common. It is remarkable for its ferocious disposition. When captured it shows fight
and bites savagely, striking like a snake. Its flesh is very fat, resembling that of Angnilla, and
is very palatable when fried. The skin is said by the fishermen to be 'very pizen.' This species
is brought into the Los Angeles market, where it meets with a ready sale. Considerable numbers
are salted and dried by the Chinese."

The Sea-snakes (Ophichthyx ocellatus, 0. chrysops, etc.) are occasionally seen on the fishing-
smacks in the Gulf of Mexico, having been obtained from the stomachs of large groupers and
snappers, with which it is a favorite food. Stearns has obtained specimens at Pensacola canght
with hook and line on the snapper banks, sixty miles east of that port.



CLASSIFICATION. There is no group of fishes concerning the classification and history of
which there is so much doubt as the Eel family; an infinite number have been described, but
most are so badly characterized or founded on individual or so trivial characters that the majority
of ichthyologists will reject them. 1

In his "Catalogue of the Fishes in the British Museum" Dr. Giinther has claimed to retaiu
those as species which are distinguished by such characters that they may be recognized, though
he remarks that he is by no means certain whether really specific value should be attached to
them, remarking that the snout, the form of the eyes, the width of the bands of teeth, etc., are
evidently subject to much variation. lu his more recent work he remarks, "Some twenty-five
species of Eels are known from the coast waters of the temperate and tropical zones."

Other recent writers have cut the knot by combining all of the Eels into three or four, or
even into one, species, and it seems as if no other course were really practicable, since the different
forms merge into one another with almost imperceptible gradations. In his monograph of the
family of anguilliform fishes, 2 M. C. M. Dareste remarks:

"Dr. Giinther has recently published a monograph of the apodal fishes in which he begins
the work of reducing the number of specific types. The study of the ichthyological collection
of the Paris Museum, which contains nearly all of Kaup's types, has given me the opportunity
of completing the work begun by Dr. Giinther, and of striking from the catalogue a large number
of nominal species which are founded solely upon individual peculiarities.

"How are we to distinguish individual peculiarities from the true specific characters? In
this matter I have followed the suggestions made with such great force by M. Siebold in his
'History of the Fresh-water Fishes of Central Europe.' This accomplished naturalist has shown
that the relative proportions of the different parts of the body and the head vary considerably
in fishes of the same species, in accordance with certain physiological conditions, and that conse-
quently they are far from having the importance which has usually been attributed to them in the
determination of specific characters.

"The study of a very large number of individuals of the genera Conger and Anguilla has
fully convinced me of the justice of this observation of Siebold; for the extreme variability of
proportions forbids us to consider them as furnishing true specific characters.

" I also think, with Siebold, that albinism and melanism, that is to say, the diminution or
augmentation of the number of chromatophores, are only individual anomalies and cannot be
ranked as specific characters. Risso long since separated the black Congers under the name
Murcena nigra. Kaup described as distinct species many black Anguillas. These species should
be suppressed. I have elsewhere proved the frequent occurrence of melanism and albinism more
or less complete in nearly all the types of fishes belonging to this family, a fact especially interest-
ing since albinism has hitherto been regarded as a very exceptional phenomenon in the group of
fishes. This also occurs in the Symbranchidai. I have recently shown it in a specimen of Monop-
terug from Cochin China presented to the museum by M. Geoffrey St. Hilaire.

"I must also signalize a new cause of multiplication of species; it is partial or total absence
of ossification in certain individuals. This phenomenon, which may be explained as a kind of
rachitis (rickets), has not to my knowledge been noticed, yet I have found it in a large number of
specimens. 1 had prepared the skeleton of a Conger of medium size, the bones of which are

1 GONTHER: Catalogue of the Fishes in the British Museum, viii, p. 24.

' < :. .in j itcs-rc ml i is of the Academy of Sciences, Paris.

t;i. <><;i; AiMiir.M. l>isTi:i!;i TION OF Tin; i:i i . 631

flexilili- ami ha\e remained in an entirely cartilaginous state. Still ii is not necessary to prepare
the skeleton to determine the absence of ossification, for we can establish this easily in nnskinned
specimens by the tlc\ibilitv of the jaws. It is very remarkable thai this modification of the
skeleton is not incompatible with healthy existence, and that it does not prevent the fish in whiuh
it is found from attaining u very large si/e.

"Those lislies in which ossification is absent are remarkable by reason of the great reduction
of the number of teeth, which, although the only parts which become hard by the deposit of cal-
careous salts, remain however much smaller than in individuals whose skeletons are completely

We can thus understand how such specimens could present characters apparently specific,
and that they should have been considered by Kaup as types of new species. These considera ;
lions have led me to reduce, on an extensive scale, the number of species in the family.

"So, in the genus Anguilla, I find but four species: Anguilla vulgariit, occurring throughout
the northern hemisphere, in the New World as well as the Old; Anguilla marmorata and A. motca
of the Indian Ocean, and Anguilla megalostoma of Ocean ica.

"There are at least four distinct types, resulting from the combination of a certain number of
characters; but the study of a very large number of specimens belonging to these four specific
t\ IKS has convinced me that each of these characters may vary independently, and that conse-
quently certain individuals exhibit a combination of characters belonging to two distinct types. It
is therefore impossible to establish clearly denned barriers separating these four types.

"The genus Anguilla exhibits, then, a phenomenon which is also found in many other genera,
and even in the genus Homo itself, and which can be explained in only two ways: Either these
four forms have had a common origin and are merely races, not species, or else they are distinct
in origin, and are true species, but have beeu more or less intermingled, and have produced by
their mingling intermediate forms which coexist with those which were primitive. Science is not
in the position to decide positively between these alternatives." 1

It is the disposition of American ichthyologists, at least, to accept the views of Dareste, and
to consider all the Eels of the northern hemisphere as members of one polymorphic species.
Giinther is inclined to recognize three species in North America: one the common Eel of Europe,
Anguilla vulgaris; one the common American Eel, Anguilla bostoniewti* (roxtrata), which he finds
also in Japan and China; and the third, Anguilla texana, described and illustrated by Girard, in the
"Report of the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey," under the name of A. texuna, which,
he remarks, is scarcely specifically distinct from A. bostoniennui, from which it differs only in the
greater development of the lips, a distinction which seems to be imaginary. The distinction
between A. bontoniensis and A. vulgariti, as stated by him, consists chiefly in the fact that the dorsal
fin is situated a little farther back upon the body, so that in the former the distance between the
commencement of the dorsal and anal fin is shorter than the head, while in the latter it is equal
to or somewhat longer than it. This character does not appear to be at all constant.

GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION. Assuming the specific identity of the Eels of the Old and the
New World, the distribution of the common Eel may be defined somewhat as follows: In the rivers
and along the ocean shores of Eastern North America, south to Texas and Mexico, and north at
least to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, but absent in the waters tributary to Hudson Bay, the Arctic

'These conclusions of Dareste Lave a very mediaeval ring. "Science" is certainly in the position to say that
neither of these hypotheses can be true. From the stand point of modern zoology, the common origin of the gpecing
of Anguilla admits of no reasonable doubt. Between the four " species " of Dareste ami tln-ii K-.ss xliarply defined
races, no permanent difference exists. The name " species" certainly cannot be refused to forms having snpposably
a common origin. J.


Sea and the Pacific; present in Southern Greenland (?) and Iceland, latitude 65 north; on the
entire coast of Norway, from the North Cape, latitude 71, southward; abundant in the Baltic,
and in the rivers of Russia and Germany which are its tributaries, and along the entire western
and Mediterranean coasts of Europe, though not present in the Black Sea, in the Danube or any
of its other tributaries, or in the Caspian; occurring also off Japan and China and Formosa; also
in various islands of the Atlantic, Grenada, Dominica, the Bermudas, Madeira, and the Azores.

HABITS. The habits of the Eel are very different from those of any other fish, and are as yet
but little understood.

"This, so far as we know," writes Professor Baird, "is the only fish the young of which ascend
from the sea to attain maturity, instead of descending from the fresh to the salt water. Its
natural history has been a matter of considerable inquiry within a few years, although even now
we are far from having that information concerning it that would be desirable, in view of its
enormous abundance and its great value as a food-fish.

''The eggs of the Eel are for the most part laid in the sea, and in the early spring, the period
varying with the latitude, the young fish may be seen ascending the rivers in vast numbers, and
when arrested by an apparently impassable barrier, natural or artificial, they will leave the water
and make their way above the obstruction, in endeavoring to reach the point at which they aim.
Here they bury themselves in the mud and feed on any kind of animal substance, the spawn of
fish, the roes of shad, small fish, etc. At the end of their sojourn in the ponds or streams they
return to the sea, and are then captured in immense numbers in many rivers in what are called
fish-baskets. A V-shaped fence is made, with the opening down-stream into the basket, into
which the Eels fall, and from which they cannot easily escape. This same device, it may be
incidentally stated, captures also great numbers of other fish, such as shad, salmon, and other
anadroinous fish, to their grievous destruction.

"As might be expected, however, the Falls of Niagara constitute an impassable barrier to their
ascent. The fish is very abundant in Lake Ontario, and until artificially introduced was unknown
in Lake Erie. At the present time, in the spring and summer, the visitor who enters under the
sheet of water at the foot of the falls will be astonished at the enormous numbers of young Eels
crawling over the slippery rocks and squirming in the seething whirlpools. An estimate of hun-
dreds of wagon-loads, as seen in the course of the perilous journey referred to, would hardly be
considered excessive by those who have visited the spot at a suitable season of the year.

"The economical value of the Eel as a food-fish has been well established, and it is now
greatly sought after for introduction into the localities where, for some physical or other reason, it
is unknown. The advantages, as summed up by a German writer, are, first, that an Eel will live
and grow in any water, however warm, and whatever be the general character of the bottom,
though it prefers the latter when muddy and boggy ; second, the Eel requires no special food, but
devours anything living or dead ; it is an excellent scavenger, feeding upon dead fish, crabs, etc.,
as well as upon any living prey it can secure ; third, but few conditions can interfere with its
development, while it grows with very great rapidity, being marketable at the age of three years;
fourth, the young, on account of their hardiness, can be transported in a crowded condition, and
to any distance, with very little risk of destruction. These considerations are, in the main, well
established, and there is no question but that the Eel can be introduced In many waters to
advantage, supplementing the earlier inhabitants. It has been planted in the waters of the
Upper Lakes and the Mississippi River; in the latter they have reached an advanced development.
It is, however, a very undesirable inmate of rivers in which fish are taken by means of gill-nets,
the destruction of shad and herring in the waters of the Susquehanua and others farther south


enormous. It is not unfrequcnt that, when a gill-net is hauled np, the greater part of the
ratrh consists simply of heads ami backbones, the remainder being devoured by myriads of Eels
in tin- short time tin- net is left out. The spawning shad are considered by them a special delicacy,
and arc found emptied at the vent and completely gutted of the ovaries. Sometimes a shad,
apparently full, is found to contain several Eels of considerable size. They do not seem to be
very destructive of living fish of any magnitude, although the young fry are devoured with
gusto." '

In describing the geographical distribution of the Eel it was stated that it occurs in the rivers
and along the ocean shores of North America. This being the case, as might be supposed, there
are many inland lakes and streams of the United States in which this fish does not occur; for
instance, the chain of the Great Lakes above Niagara Falls, and the upper waters of other
streams in which there are considerable obstructions. The cutting of canals in various parts of
the country has, however, produced a great change in their distribution ; for instance, it is stated
by Mitchill* that Eels were unknown in the Passaic above the Great Falls until a canal was cut
at Patersou, since which time they have become plentiful in the upper branches of that river.
They have also been placed in many new localities by the agency of man. Concerning this Mr.
Milner remarks:

The Eel ( Aiiiinil/ii Inintiiiiii-Hsis), appreciated in some localities and much vilified in others, is
another species that has been frequently transplanted. It is pretty evident that it never existed
naturally in the chain of Great Lakes any higher up than Niagara Falls, although specimens have
been taken in Lakes Erie and Michigan. Their existence there is with little doubt traceable to
artificial transportation.

"A captain of a lake vessel informed me that it was quite a common thing some years ago to
carry a quantity of live Eels in a tub on the deck of a vessel while on Lake Ontario, and they
were often taken in this manner through the Welland Canal. He said that it was a frequent
occurrence on his vessel when they had become tired of them, or had procured better fishes, to
turn the remainder alive into the waters of Lake Erie.

"In 1871 Mr. A. Booth, a large dealer of Chicago, had an Eel of four pounds' weight sent him
from the south end of Lake Michigan, and a few weeks afterward a fisherman of Ahnapee,
Wisconsin, nearly two hundred miles to the northward, wrote him that he had taken a few Eels
at that point. It was a matter of interest to account for their presence, and a long time afterward
we learned that some parties at Eaton Rapids, Michigan, on a tributary of the lal;o, had imported
a number of Eels and put them in the stream at that place, from which they had doubtless made
their way to the points where they were taken. The unfortunate aquarium-car in June, 1873, by
means of the accident that occurred at Elkhorn River, released a number of Eels into that stream,
and about four thousand were placed by the United States Commission in the Calumet River at
South Chicago, Illinois, two hundred in Dead River, Waukegan, Illinois, and thirty-eight hundred
in Fox River, Wisconsin." 3

They have since been successfully introduced into California.

LIFE HISTORY. Concerning the life history of the Eel much has been written, and there have
been many disputes even so late as 1880. In the article upon ichthyology, contributed to the
Encyclopedia Britanuica, Giinther writes:

"Their mode of propagation is still unknown. So much only is certain, that they do not

'MS. note by Professor Baird.

* Transaction* Literary and Philosophical Society New York, i, p. 48.

'Report United States Fish Commission, part ii, 1874, 536.


spawn in fresh water; that many full-grown individuals, but not all, descend rivers during the
winter mouths, and that some of them at least must spawn in brackish water or in deep water in
the sea; for in the course of the summer young individuals from three to five inches long ascend

Online LibraryG. Brown (George Brown) GoodeThe fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) → online text (page 106 of 146)