China is home to a fish so rare that photographs of living specimens can be counted on two hands. Its lineage is so bizarre that it has only one close relative, found a continent away, and its skeleton straddles the anatomical cues that divide cartilaginous and bony fish. Even within its kin group, its habits and anatomy are unique.
The Chinese paddlefish or báixún, Psephurus gladius, is the only apparent preferential piscivore in the order Acipenseriformes. (The North American paddlefish is a planktivore, and sturgeons prefer shellfish.) Unlike its American sibling, its “paddle” is conical, and it is sometimes termed the “Chinese swordfish,” “white sturgeon,” or “elephant fish.” As an active, predatory schooling fish, it was once known for leaping across the surface of the Yangtze in large numbers. Rumor holds it can exceed seven meters in length and therefore rivals the beluga sturgeon for status as the largest freshwater or anadromous fish on our planet. However, the largest recorded specimen did not exceed a still-impressive four meters. Chances are, no Chinese paddlefish ever will.
CN veterinary imagery
Continue reading “The Eerie Sadness of China’s Paddlefish”
Western culture is full of quirky superstitions and traditions. Many of them are leftover bits of former religious practice, retained long after the traditions and beliefs that gave them meaning fell away, while others are more recent inventions designed to convince people to spend money or part of quasi-religious traditions still gaining ground. I have one (las doce uvas de la suerte) I maintain for cultural reasons. Humans are peculiar creatures, and derive much benefit from activities whose instrumental utility is opaque or absent.
Perhaps the best-known such traditions are horoscopes and birthstones. Both of these connect the date of one’s birth to something in nature (a constellation and a gemstone, respectively), and have been used to generate loads of money for people who convince others that the association has magical or predictive significance. Horoscopes in particular get treated with bizarrely outsized seriousness in some circles, but for many of us, they’re a cute little game.
And why should folks interested in gems and stars have all the cute little games?
So here’s a new one: Your Birthfish. You’re now symbolically linked to this kind of fish, and obligated by the same rules that make people obsess over Gemini and Taurus to tell everyone that you’re now a Chinese high-fin banded loach or pumpkinseed sunfish. May this amusing bit of fake superstition entertain and confuse your friends and family, and lead to some seafood-themed birthday dinners and greater appreciation for the beauty of fish.
Continue reading “Learn Your Birthfish”