Re: NANFA-- silverjaw minnow

Christopher Scharpf (
Fri, 09 Mar 2001 09:21:30 -0400

>Thanks. When I was in school in the mid 80's I was taught it was
>Ericymba. That one paper I cited from 1981 also called it Ericymba. I
>wonder why the AFS kept it as Notropis in the 1991 names publication?

The AFS was following the advice of a paper by Coburn and Cavendar which
submerged various notropin subgenera -- Ericymba, Hybopsis, Pteronotropis --
back into Notropis. According to the authors, "...raising subgenera of
Notropis (s.l.) [i.e., sensu lato, in the widest sense] to generic level before
the interrelationships of these nominal groups have been determined with more
certainty that at present could create polyphyletic taxa. Therefore, we submerge
Hybopsis and Ericymba into Notropis. Both may, and probably will, re-emerge as
genera enlarged by species now placed mostly in Alburnops."

In other words, because no one's yet figured out the precise lineages of all
notropin sugenera, let's just toss them into the Notropis "wastebasket" until
someone does.

Ten years later the AFS names committee is reconsidering this decision.
According to Melvin Warren, "The committee felt the reallocation of this
long-established genus name for the silverjaw minnow [Ericymba] into the genus
Notropis was premature and reflected a 'wastebasket' reallocation of an
established genus in the absence of demonstrated close relationships." However,
as of June 2000, the AFS had not reached a final decision whether to retain

I know that many of you are thinking -- assuming you've even read this far! --
that all this nomenclatural switching back and forth is confusing and pointless
and just the work of egghead scientists too old or lazy to do field work. Well,
in the case of Ericymba, you may be right! But the thing to remember is, a
fish's scientific name is more than just what everyone from around the world
calls it, irrespective of native language. A scientific name should also give us
some sense of how the organism is related to other organisms. Notropis is a big,
catch-all genus with many species that may look similar, but followed multiple
separate evolutionary paths. Slowly but surely systematists are tracing these
paths. It's not always perfect and precise work. There's a lot of guessing and
subjectivity involved. But as any scientific pursuit should be, it's

Personally, I find the work stimulating because it forces one to look at each
species very closely. Morphology, osteology, genetic structure, historical
ecology, and life history are all taken into account to determine a fish's
lineage. I confess that I don't understand 90% of what systematists are talking
about. And I get frustrated when it appears that no two systematists can agree
on a resolution. But still, I try to keep up and learn what I can. As Rick
Mayden demonstrated at the NANFA convention in Jackson, understanding a species'
evolutionary relationships can aid in its conservation.

> also wonder why this wasn't named the silverjaw
> shiner instead of silverjaw minnow. I never understood
> the shiner, chub, minnow logic.

That's because there is no logic!

In a broad sense, they're all minnows, since that's the vernacular name for the
family Cyprinidae. Although chub, shiner and dace are used to distinguish
between various genera of minnows, the words themselves are informal and have no
scientific meaning. For the most part, shiners are compressed and predominantly
silvery, chubs are stout-bodied and less silvery, and daces are small minnows
with very fine scales. But that doesn't mean that all chubs are related to other
chubs, all daces to other daces, and so forth. Nor do the names always describe
the fish. The spotfin chub (Erimonax monachus), for example, is clearly a
shiner, while the chub shiner (Notropis potteri) is, well, Išll leave that one
up to you.

Chris Scharpf

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