Fishing for Sturgeon (Acipenser spp.)

These fishermen are likely fishing for the European sea sturgeon (Acipenser sturio), a now-critically-endangered species whose other colloquial name is ironically the “common sturgeon”. They’re using a technique known as “longline fishing”, which is highly effective, but produces very high levels of bycatch - that is, fish or sea life that are unintended targets. Since most baits will attract multiple species to them, it’s very difficult to control for bycatch when using longlines, and many countries have strict regulations on them today.

Unterhaltungen aus der Naturgeschichte: Der Fische 1-2. Gotlieb Tobias Wilhelm, 1799.

Seahorse from Heinrich Rudolf Schinz’s Naturgeschichte und Abbildungen der Fische, 1856. Seahorses belong to the genus Hippocampus, a name derived from the Greek hippos meaning horse and kampos for sea monster. Far from monsters, these charming fishes are today greatly threatened by overharvesting for traditional medicines, curios, and the pet trade. 

See this and many other aquatic illustrations in Opulent Oceans, now on view at the Museum. 

When a hermit crab’s shell becomes too small for its body it needs to find a bigger empty shell lying around. The crab may take pretty much a shell of any other gastropod. However, as often more then one crab is looking for a new house to live in, a competition for the shells can become quite fierce. It is common to see many crabs forming what is known as a vacancy chain, in which crabs of different sizes are swapping their shells at the same time. This video shows one such house swapping party (as ever perfectly dubbed by Sir David Attenborough). 

Drawing from Gemeinnüzzige Naturgeschichte des Thierreichs : darinn die merkwürdigsten und nüzlichsten Thiere in systematischer Ordnung beschrieben und alle Geschlechter in Abbildungen nach der Natur vorgestellet werden by Georg Heinrich Borowski

Johann Friederich Wilhelm Herbst (1743-1807), a German churchman, naturalist, and superb artist, drew this illustration of the crab Cancer reticulatus for his book series Versuch einer Naturgeschichte der Krabben und Krebse… (Attempt at a natural history of crabs and crayfish…). In this three-volume work, Herbst illustrated and described crabs and crayfish. Thanks to their meticulous detail and coloring, the beautiful images endure as a useful scientific resource. 

See this and other illustrations from the Museum’s Rare Book Collection in Natural Histories: 400 Years of Scientific Illustration from the Museum’s Library.

In his major encyclopedia of nature, Allgemeine Naturgeschichte für alle Stände (A general natural history for everyone), German naturalist Lorenz Oken (1779-1851) grouped animals based not on science, but philosophy. Nevertheless, his encyclopedia proved to be a popular and enduring work. Here Oken is illustrating variation in egg color and markings found among water birds. 

Find this print in the exhibition Natural Histories: 400 Years of Scientific Illustration from the Museum’s Library, now on view!


In 1869, the year the Museum was incorporated, the Trustees turned to the critical task of building its collections. Within a few months, they sent Daniel Giraud Elliot, a noted ornithologist and naturalist, and Museum Trustee William T. Blodgett to negotiate the purchase of “certain collections of specimens in Natural History” in Europe.

Elliot and Blodgett ultimately purchased the collection of Prince Maximilian zu Wied (1782–1867), an explorer from the German principality of Wied-Neuwied. Prince Maximilian’s collection “is regarded as one of the most important private collections in Europe, and has long been consulted by the scientific world,” wrote Blodgett in his report. It was a fantastic opportunity for the nascent Museum to acquire specimens that would form the nucleus of its holdings.

The value of the Maximilian collection lay largely in its diversity and the rarity of its specimens, containing 4,000 mounted birds, 600 mounted mammals, and about 2,000 fishes and reptiles, either mounted or in alcohol. Researchers at the Museum still study these today.

Read the full story on the Museum’s blog.


Common name: Squirrelfish
Class Actinopterygii (the bony fish)
Order Beryciformes
Family Holocentridae
Subfamily Holocentrinae
Genus Holocentrus (Scopoli, 1777)

Mainly found in the north Atlantic Ocean.Scientific illustration from: Allgemeine naturgeschichte der fische,  D. Marcus Elieser Bloch, circa 1782                    

(My German sucks).

Naturgeschichte des Menschen. Grundriss der somatischen Anthropologie

Carl Heinrich Stratz
Stuttgart: Verlag von Ferdinand Enke in Stuttgart, 1920.