Who’s Minding the Ichthyology Collection?

One in the series “Who’s Minding the Collection?” 

By Christine Sellers

The Academy is home to more than 1.5 million fish specimens representing some 15,000 species from all over the world. Among them are 20,066 type specimens. A type specimen is the specimen on which the description and name of a new species is based.

The Ichthyology Collection is used by researchers around the world who are studying a wide range of issues including evolution, human impacts on the environment, fish distribution, and other issues that affect people. Grants support digitization of the specimens, so the data is available online.

The collection is especially strong in fish from North and South America and the Caribbean and includes fish caught by some famous people including author Ernest Hemingway and Charles Bonaparte, Napoleon’s nephew.

To learn more about the Ichthyology Collection, its specimens, and fish in general, I spoke with Collection Manager Mariangeles Arce Hernandez.

Arce Hernandez's favorite specimens from the Ichthyology Collection include a red-tail catfish, a big stingray, and a big electric eel.
Mariangeles Arce Hernandez shows off some fish specimens during the Academy’s Members’ Night. Photo by Mike Servedio/ANS

I was drawn to the Academy because… of my interest in catfish. Our department has a real strength when it comes to studying catfish, and one of our scientists, Mark Sabaj Perez, has great expertise in working with thorny catfish.

My job at the Academy is…  to check that all the specimens are in good shape, take care of loans, welcome visitors, and mentor co-op students.

I knew I was interested in Ichthyology when… I was an undergrad completing my thesis and working in the Colombian portion of the Amazon River, and I learned of the existence of the family of thorny catfishes, Doradidae. The lack of available information about these fish made me want to learn more about them.

I have conducted research on… catfish, which is what I like the most. I’ve studied both North and South American catfish, and at some point I want to work with more and more families of catfish.

My favorite specimens in the collection are… I don’t think I have one favorite. But I like our big red-tail catfish specimens and a couple of our big electric eels and stingrays, too. Big specimens are harder to preserve, so it’s exciting to have them.

I enjoy studying fish because… I like learning about the processes of their evolution. I want to become an expert on all the different groups and families of catfish and understand the relationships between them.

Here's a lateral view of the Platydoras, a genus of the thorny catfish. Arce Hernandez first became acquainted with this fish while working on her thesis in the Amazon.
Here’s a lateral view of the Platydoras, a genus of the thorny catfish. Arce Hernandez first became acquainted with this fish while working on her thesis in the Amazon.

An interesting fact I can share about fish is… that there are 4,000 species and 40 families of catfish all over the world. They can be found in North and South America and Asia, among other places.

What I find most challenging about managing the collection is… loaning out specimens. You want to guarantee that the specimens are well preserved so they’ll arrive and return back to the Academy safely. In addition to managing the collection, I pursue my own research, which means I’m always trying to answer a steady stream of questions and obtain specimens to analyze.

What I find most rewarding about managing the collection is… to see our projects through to completion and close our outstanding loans.

If I could give one piece of advice to young people who are interested in studying Ichthyology, I’d tell them… keep sticking with what you’re passionate about because when you do, you end up in a good place. Also, don’t be afraid of knocking on doors; it will bring you valuable opportunities. That’s what happened to me.

Mariangeles Arce Hernandez greets a visitor at an Academy Members Night.
Arce Hernandez greets a visitor at an Academy Members Night. Photo by Mike Servedio/ANS

When I’m not working at the Academy, I like to… exercise. I recently completed my first triathlon, so I like to run and swim. I also like to cook. It’s a weird mix.

My favorite thing about the Academy is… everybody cares about each other. It feels like a family. It’s not a regular business.For information about the Ichthyology Collection, visit our websiteIf you would like to support ichthyology research and the collection, contact Monica Cawvey Gallagher, vice president of Institutional Advancement, at gallagher@ansp.org. Better yet, donate now by clicking the blue box above.


Here is the first post in the series:

Who’s Minding the Botany Collection?



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *