Skip to main content
Geosciences LibreTexts

20.1: Ichthyology

  • Page ID
    13086
  • Ichthyology is the study of fish. The description below separates fish into 3 groups- Agnatha, bony fish, and cartilaginous fish. 

     

    Agnatha

    Moving into the vertebrate category, it is important to start off with the superclass Agnatha, more commonly known as the jawless fish.  Two of the classes comprising Agnatha are Cyclostomata (lampreys) and Myxini (hagfishes). It is commonly accepted that the evolution of vertebrates began with the segmentation of a vertebral column. This gave rise to a ‘backbone’ [1].  This vertebral column typically incorporates and/or replaces the primitive notochord.  Further vertebrate adaptations include the development of sensory organs, a complex neural system, and a brain encased in a skull.  Vertebrate Chordates also exhibit bilateral symmetry, having a closed circulatory system with a chambered heart.  The degree to which the heart is chambered (i.e. one, two, three and four chambered hearts), varies with taxonomic class.

    Lampreys (Cyclostomata) are jawless fish that are parasitic on other fish.  As juveniles they derive their nutrition from filter feeding on plankton and particles floating in fresh water.  Lamprey juveniles wait until maturity to migrate into salt water environments.  In the ocean, lampreys may often be observed attached to larger reef fish and megafauna. They press their mouth to their host and using a tongue, they draw blood and tissue out of their victims.

    Image result for lamprey
    “Sea Lamprey, 2015” by Joanna Gilkeson [CC by 2.0]

    The Myxini Class are commonly known as hagfish and reside solely in marine environments.  They are similar in structure to eels and are jawless.  Myxini can be either consumers or detritivores, feeding on the flesh of weakened or already dead fish.  They have also been known to prey upon small invertebrates.  Just like the lamprey, hagfish tongues resemble a rasp, and are similar to serrations on a knife.  One of the defense mechanisms exhibited by the Class Myxini resembles that of many amphibians in that when threatened, they will release mass amounts of high-viscosity fluids. These fluids help to distract, escape from, confuse or deter potential predators [1].

    File:Eptatretus stoutii heads.jpg
    “Eptatretus soutii, 2005” by Stan Shebs [CC by 3.0]

    Osteichthyes and Chondrichthyes

    Fish can be divided into the two main groups,  Osteichthyes and Chondrichthyes.  Osteichthyes, traditionally considered as an taxonomic class, is now known to be a paraphyletic group.  As their name suggests, they are boney fish that dwell in both fresh water and salt water around the globe.  Boney fish are comprised of a hard calcareous skeleton and are coated in slippery, sometimes sharp scales.  An important feature of boney fish is their lateral line. This is a zone that runs horizontally along the body of the fish and is predominantly used in the detection of vibrations.  The lateral line has been attributed to the coordinated and navigational success of schools of fish, in which mass quantities of individuals conglomerate for various reasons.  There are currently over 34,000 known species of fish on the planet, and that number is both growing and shrinking [ fishbase ].  Many fish populations are threatened by egregious over-fishing practices which has caused species diversity and abundance in various ecosystems to move into a downward spiral.

    File:Osteichthyes-examples.png
    “1. Oncorhynchus mykiss 2. Pontinus nematophthalmus 3. Aracana aurita 4. Peristedion gracile” by Public Domain [CC 0]

    The skeletons of Chondrichthyes are comprised of cartilage rather than bone. Cartilaginous fish include the Rays, Sharks and Chimaeras.  The vast majority of sharks are predators, much of their power and deadliness comes from their evolutionary adaptations in their physiology. Their streamlined and highly muscular body lends to their high proficiency as consumers.  The flattened bodies of rays contributes to their free-flowing nature through water. Often times rays consume invertebrates that are found in the benthos of the ocean, however they are highly diverse in size, morphology and behavior.  Giant Manta Rays can get up to 7m in width and filter feed on masses of zooplankton, whereas the southern stingray may only be a few dozen centimeters in width and feed on the bottom in sandy flats near coral reefs [ NOAA ].

    Image result for Chondrichthyes
    “Hypanus americanus, 1992” by Barry Peters [CC by 2.0]

    Chimaera

    The Chimaera are an interesting group of organisms that inhabit the deep sea. Their physiology is atypical and they possess a cross of several characteristics as their name suggests.  Rather than a jawline filled with teeth Chimaeras have a flat dental plate. Origins of Chimaeroid marine species can be traced back upwards to 280 million years, predating the earliest dinosaurs of the Triassic period.

    File:Dunkleosteus (15677042802).jpg
    “Dunkleosteus Skull, 2014” by Zachi Evenor, courtesy of Vienna History Museum, Austria [CC by 3.0]

    A January 2017 discovery of a fossilized Dwykaselachus oosthuizeni  skull showed that there are few structural differences in ancient Chimaeras compared to modern Chimaeras.  CT scans of the fossil showed significant cranial nerves, inner-ear structure, and nostrils, which are all exhibited by modern Chimaeras [ UChicago Medicine ].  An incredible aspect of this would pertain to Earth’s projected geological history.  The presence of modern-day Chimaeras with little difference from ancient species means that these organisms survived two mass extinction events, showing the perseverance of the beings that dwell in the ocean depths.

    Image result for Chimaeras
    “Modern Deep Sea Chimaera” by NOAA, Public Domain [CC 0]
     

    In Text Reference:  1. Peachey, Donna & Gordon, The Biocam Museum of Life Series.  Kelowna, B.C. Canada VIY 7N8 Box 417 PBC, 2000

    The information in this chapter in thanks to content contributions from Jason Charbonneau

     

     
    • Was this article helpful?