Re: NANFA-- Large Mammals

Christopher Scharpf (
Thu, 16 Nov 2000 07:44:42 -0400

>Does anyone know why many fish are named after large Mammals (Buffalo, Sheep,
>Red Horse, etc)?

Neat question, Bob. But fish are named after all kinds of animals, not just
large mammals (e.g., catfish, ratfish, batfish, dogfish, goatfish, hogsucker,
tiger barb, lionfish, lizardfish, parrotfish, salamanderfish, elephantnose fish,
butterflyfish, snakehead, bumblebee goby, etc., etc., etc.). Since terrestrial
animals are much more familiar than aquatic ones, their names serve as a handy
descriptive handle.

As to your specific questions I can offer the following partial answers:

buffalo -- comes from the genus name Ictiobus, which is a combination of the
Greek words for fish and bull. Whoever described this genus (I think it was
Valenciennes back in the eastly 1800s) was presumably reminded of a buffalo by
the fish's shape. And since the genus occurs in many Great Plain states, that
may have been an obvious comparison to make ("the buffalo of the river").

redhorse -- red for its reddened fins, horse presumably because of its size,
among the largest of suckers. ("Golly, that's a horse of a fish!")

sheep -- as in sheepshead or sheepshead minnow. I don't know about this one. I
gotta go digging...

Chris Scharpf

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