Papa's Fish: A Note on Neomerinthe Hemingwayi

By Chakrabarty, Prosanta | The Hemingway Review, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview
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Papa's Fish: A Note on Neomerinthe Hemingwayi

Chakrabarty, Prosanta, The Hemingway Review

This illustrated note identifies and describes the species of fish named in honor of Hemingway by ichthyologist Henry W. Fowler of the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia.


ERNEST HEMINGWAY'S connection to ichthyology has been well-established in the pages of this journal (see Martin). His work on Gulf Stream fishes with Charles M. B. Cadwalader, director of the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia and Henry W. Fowler, its most eminent ichthyologist, produced many important discoveries. Included among these are descriptions of the ecology and behavior of marlin, tuna, and other large game fish. For Cadwalader and Fowler, Hemingway was a much-needed field assistant who provided them with specimens of and scientific information about these unwieldy beasts. Hemingway even went so far as to take intricate measurements and record gut contents before sending fish off to the Academy.

In return, he was given at the very least another reason to carry out his favorite hobby. From the great lengths Hemingway went to please his scientific friends, it appears that he truly enjoyed studying the natural history of these fishes.

In the tradition of taxonomists over the ages, Fowler expressed his gratitude and paid homage to Hemingway by naming a new species after him. Neomerinthe hemingwayi is no giant tuna, swordfish, or other big game fish usually thought worthy of Hemingwayian lore, but rather the stout little spiny-cheeked scorpionfish. Scorpionfishes, as their name suggests, are dangerous. This fact and Hemingway's usually unshaven or "spiny-cheeked" state at sea may have been the reasons why the author came to mind when Fowler was searching for a name for this new species. Considering the many other species that Fowler discovered and named in the year 1935, including the Bangkok river sprat (Corica laciniata), the blue-spotted damsel (Chromis dasygenys), and the barred rubberlip (Plectorhinchus plagiodesmus), Hemingway was fortunate in his namesake ("Fowler, 1935").

Fowler sent a scientific paper to Hemingway about "the new sculpin which I named for you,' observing in the accompanying letter that it was intended to be "a little tribute of admiration, and best wishes" (Fowler to Hemingway, 4 June 1935 and 22 April 1935). Hemingway replied on 23 July, thanking Fowler and expressing himself very honored and pleased. Despite the fact that both Fowler and Hemingway call the new species a "sculpin," it really is not. True sculpins belong to the Family Cottidae; Fowler described the new species as a member of the Family Scorpaenidae. Because both of these fish families belong to the Order Scorpaeniformes, some ichthyologists, Fowler apparently among them, call the entire order "sculpins" in familiar speech, despite it being a rather imprecise moniker.

Scorpaenidae are more accurately called scorpionfishes or rockfishes. Almost exclusively marine, the family includes nearly 400 species in over 50 genera (Nelson 310). They have numerous spines bearing venom glands located around their bodies in association with the dorsal, anal, and pelvic fins. Among the most dangerous fishes in the world, they are oddly enough among the most sought-after commercially. A variety of alkaloids from the skin of these animals are released during cooking, adding a distinctive flavor to a bouillabaisse of "rascasse" (rockfish), a French delicacy using these fishes (Pauly 181).

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