an e-newsletter for students and alumni of saint michael's biology department

New course on fishes: BI 331 Ichthyology
by Doug Facey
  The Fall 2009 Ichthyology class collects fishes in the Winooski River.
So many fishes, so little time. But in reality there are so many kinds of fishes because as a group, theyíve been around for such a long, long time. There are about 28,000 species known (far more than any other group of vertebrates) and more species are still being discovered as we explore the Earthís vast and varied aquatic environments. But with a fossil record that goes back about 500 million years, this diversity isnít really all that surprising.

I became fascinated with fishes early in life - at first through fishing with my father, and later through reading and some television. There were limited TV channel options back then, but alumni of my generation may remember The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, and American Sportsman. Who could resist watching Cousteau swim among sharks, or Curt Gowdy and his fishing guides land tarpon or bonefish? My love of fishing led to a love of fishes in general - and the more I learned the more interesting things got ... and still continue to get. Just recently I read about fishes that generate electrical pulses as a form of communication and can alter their output by regulating the number of ion channels in the appropriate cells - an adjustment that they can make within minutes.

So Iím really glad to have the opportunity this fall to share my obsession with some students in the biology program. We talk about the adaptations that allow different fishes to crawl onto land to feed, find home by their sense of smell, breathe air, see UV light, glow in the darkness of the deep sea, detect electricity in their environment, and communicate by sounds they create. And the list goes on.

Studying any group of organisms closely will reveal amazing adaptations at the molecular-cellular, organismal, and population-community levels. This is why many of us have become captivated by biology - and why we love to share that amazement with students. It just so happens that for me, this sense of awe developed through study of the incredible diversity of fishes.



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