On the identity of Ophicephalus and Channa, two genera of labyrinth fishes

George S. Myers ; Stanford University, California, U.S.A.
Leo Shapovalov ; Stanford University, California, U.S.A.

In a recent paper on the Labyrinth Fishes of Ceylon, Deraniyagala (1929) has given an excellent review of the characters of various species of Ophicephalus and of Channa orientalis . His data together with our finding of a specimen of O. gachua from Formosa which lacks both pelvic fins, leads us to the conclusion that Channa cannot be regarded as a natural genus distinct from Ophicephalus . The data on which we base this conclusion are as follows:

  1. The genus Channa has been separated from Ophicephalus solely by the absence of pyloric caeca and pelvic fins. ( Günther 1861 ; Day, 1878 ; Oshima, 1919; Herre 1924 ) 1
  2. Hora (1921) has shown that pyloric caeca are present in Channa burmanica and in a Chinese Channa (doubtless C. asiatica ). Further, Deraniyagala (1929) finds that caeca similar to those of O. gachua are present in C. orientalis , the genotype of Channa .
  3. Deraniyagala finds that in the important character of the head shields. C. orientalis and O. gachua are identical, and together differ widely from the other Ceylon Ophicephalids .
  4. The same author gives detailed descriptions and measurements of O. gachua and C. orientalis [of/in?] Ceylon, and no differences of any importance (save in the pelvics) are evident.
  5. The size attained in Ceylon by both is apparently about the same.
  6. The bold, transversely barred pectoral coloration, which distinguishes gachua from most other Ophicephali , is found in C. orientalis . Deraniyagala states (p. 98), «This fish ( orientalis ) is almost identical with O. gachua in color».
  7. He further states (p. 100), «It [orientalis] is often taken together with O. gachua , which it resembles greatly in shape and colour».
  8. Day (1878-1888, p. 368) says, «It is not uncommon in India to find specimens of Ophiocephalus gachua having a ventral fin deficient, but I have not observed both wanting.»
  9. In working over a collection of fishes from Formosa, the junior author has found a specimen agreeing with descriptions of O. gachua but lacking both pelvic fins, which, by existing classifications, we must perforce refer to Channa orientalis , a from hitherto known only from Ceylon 2 .
  10. In view of the above facts, it seems reasonable to suspect that Channa orientalis may be nothing but a series of anomalous specimens of O. gachua , a species which in certain streams of Ceylon, more than elsewhere, shows a tendency to lose its pelvic fins 3 .
  11. In either case it is impossible to regard Channa as a natural genus whose members are more closely related to each other than to species of other genera.
  12. We therefore regard the species hitherto referred to Channa and to Ophicephalus as forming a single genus, to which we apply the name Channa for reasons hereinafter given.

Channa Scopoli

The International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature, in Opinion 86 (Smithsonian Misc. Coll., 73, no. 3, 1925, p. 27) has finally rejected the names of Gronow, 1763, from consideration in nomenclature. Thus Channa Gronow 1763 is eliminated.

According to the present writers' opinion, Channa of Scopoli, 1777, being unaccompanied by any specific name, should not be regarded as binomial. However, the International Commission, in its Opinion 46 (Smithsonian Inst., Wash., Publ. 2060, 1912, p. 104), has definitely ruled that in cases such as the present one, the name is to be accepted.

«If an author clearly shows that the name be proposed is to be applied in a generic sense, and if this name is uninomial, the name in question becomes available under the code, for his paper shows that he applied the principles of binary nomenclature, although he may have failed to name the species». - Opinion 46, p. 105.

This being the case, it is necessary to adopt Channa Scopoli 1777, with its type (as designated by Bloch and Schneider 1801) C. orientalis BI. and Schn. 1801 in preference to Ophicephalus Bloch 1794 4 . This is unfortunate in that it replaces the name of a large and well-known genus with that of a small and much less known group. The recognized species of Channa may now be listed 5 .

  1. Channa africana (Steindachner) 1879 .
  2. Channa obscura (Günther) 1861 .
  3. Channa insignis (Sauvage) 1884 .
  4. Channa marulia (Hamilton) 1822 .
  5. Channa leucopunctata (Sykes) 1841.
  6. Channa pseudomarulia (Günther) 1861 .
  7. Channa barca (Hamilton) 1822 .
  8. Channa micropeltes (Cuvier and Valenciennes) 1831 .
  9. Channa striata (Bloch) 1793 .
  10. Channa stewartii (Playfair) 1867 .
  11. Channa punctata (Bloch) 1793 .
  12. Channa marulioides (Bleeker) 1851 .
  13. Channa melanoptera (Bleeker) 1855 .
  14. Channa melanosoma (Bleeker) 1851 .
  15. Channa bistriata (Weber and de Beaufort) 1922.
  16. Channa bankanensis (Bleeker) 1852 .
  17. Channa pleurophthalma (Bleeker) 1850.
  18. Channa lucius (Cuvier and Valenciennes) 1831 .
  19. Channa asiatica (Linné) 1758 .
  20. Channa burmanica (Chaudhuri) 1919 .
  21. Channa gachua (Hamilton) 1822 .
  22. Channa argus (Cantor) 1842 .
  23. Channa güntheri (Sauvage and Dabry) 1874.
  24. Channa maculata (Lacépède) 1802.

On examination of the type of Channa formosana Jordan and Evermann (1902, p. 331) we find that the palatine teeth are present. This removes the principal distinguishing character of the species, the transverse scale series being variable. We therefore sink formosana in the synonymy of asiatica . We are unable to understand Oshima's statement (Oshima, 1919, p. 287, top of page) that the palatine teeth are absent, as we have examined some of his material and find them present

Rendahl (1926) has shown that the nominal Chinese forms known as ocellata and fasciata are synonyms of asiatica of Linné.

Literature cited

Day, Francis. 1878-88. The fishes of India . 2 vols. London.

Deraniyagala, P.E.P. 1929. Deraniyagala, P.E.P. 1929. The Labyrinthici of Ceylon. Ceylon Journ. Sci. B, (Spolia Zeylanica, XV, pt 2) PP 79-111, pl. XXIII-XXXI.

Günther, A. 1861. Catalogue of the fishes in the British Museum. VOL 3. .

Herre, A. W. C. T. 1924. Distribution of true fresh-water fishes in the Philippines. II. The Philippine Labyrinthici, Clariidae, and Siluridae. . Philippine Journ. SCL, 24, pp. 683-709 pl. 1.2.

Hora, S. L. 1921. Notes on the occasional absence of the paired fins in fresh-water fishes, with some observations on the two apodal genera Channa Gronow and Apua Blyth. Rec. Indian Mus XXII. pp27-32.

Jordan, D. S., & Evermann, B. W. 1902. Notes on a collection of fishes from the island of Formosa. Proc. U. S. Nat. Mus. XXV, pp. 315-368.

Myers, G. S. 1926. Die Nomenklatur der Labyrinthfische. Blätter für Aquarien- und Terrarienkunde, Stuttgart, Jahrg. 37, Heft 8, pp. 190-193.

Nichols, J. T., and Pope, C. H. 1927. The fishes of Hainan. Bull. Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist., LIV, pp. 321-394. pl. XXVI.

Oshima, M. 1919. Contributions to the study of the fresh water fishes of the island of Formosa. Ann. Carnegie Mus., Xll, pp. 169-328, pl. XLVIII-LIII.

Oshima, M. 1926. Notes on a collection of fishes from Hainan, obtained by Prof. S. F. Light. Annot. Zoolog. Japonensis, II, pp. 1-25.

Rendahl, H. 1926. Einige Bemerkungen über die ostasiatische Art der Gattung Channa. Blätter für Aquarien- und Terrarienkunde. Stuttgart, Jahrg. 37, 18. pp. 444-445.

Rendahl, H. 1928. Beiträge zur Kenntnis der chinesischen Süsswasserfische. Arkiv für Heft Zoologi, Bd. 20a, No. 1, pp. 1-194.

Wales, J. H. 1930. Biometrical studies of some races of Cyprinodont fishes from the Death Valley region, with description of Cyprinodon diabolis , n. sp. Copeia, 1930, No. 3. pp. 61-70.


1 These authors all mention the absence of the caeca as a character of Channa . Rendahl (1926 and 1928) does not mention caeca in his diagnosis of Channa and Weber and de Beaufort (1922) do not mention this character in their diagnosis of Ophicephalus . Myers (1926) has merely listed the genera without characterization. Back

2 O. gachua is known from Yunnan (Rendahl, 1928, p. 178) and from Hainan (Oshima. 1926, p. 20, and Nichols and Pope, 1927, p. 385). Otherwise it does not seem to have been recorded from China. This fact makes the discovery of a specimen (without definite locality) in our Formosa collection rather surprising, but there is no surety that the fish will not be discovered along the mainland into Fukien. There is, of course, the possibility that gachua has been introduced into Formosa, Ophicephalids being commonly carried about by the Chinese as food fishes. The junior author intends to give further data on our anomalous Formosan specimen in a later paper on Formosan fishes. Back

3 The absence of one or both pelvic fins in some specimens of certain fishes, notably Cyprinodonts inhabiting hot springs, is a well-known phenomenon. (See especially Wales, 1930) Tallia apoda is a small cyprinodont, apparently constant in lack of pelvics, from thermal springs in the Atlas Mountains of Algeria. Empetrichthys merriami of the Amargosa Desert of Nevada is another example. Hora (1921) gives notes on various Indian fishes lacking pelvic fins. Back

4 Unfortunately we have been unable personally to examine copies of Gronow 1763 , of Scopoli 1777 , or of the text of Bloch 1794 . Our references are taken from Günther's Catalogue and Jordan's Genera of Fishes . Back

5 Y. T. Chu, in his recent Index piscium Sinensium , (Biol. Bull. St. John's Univ. of Shanghai, No. 1) lists a number of species of Ophicephalus not included in this list. Several of these, such as jovis , iris , aspilotus , and miliaris , are doubtless nominal forms which belong synonymy of some of the better known species. It should be pointed out to the rather large number of young and active Chinese ichthyologists who have begun work in the last few years that the reduction of many obscure names such as these to their proper place is one of the most important problems facing those who wish to clarify the exceedingly confused state of Chinese ichthyology. This reduction will involve the critical reexamination and redescription of a great number of type specimens, particularly in the museums of Paris and London. The continued description of large numbers of supposed new species from the immensely rich Chinese fish fauna, without an adequate knowledge of the specimens described by the older writers, is bound to result in still greater confusion than now is present. Back

Acknowledgement and Source(s)

This text was originally published under the above title in: Peking Natural History Bulletin . 1931. Vol. 6; Part 2. pp. 33-37.

© 2001 - 2004 snakeheads.org HOME of this page