My Love Affair With Snails!

Back in mid 1758 a Swedish scientist devised a universal system to classify all living beings, the Systema Naturae (Nature’s System) which is still used today. To keep it universal, Latin was the chosen language as it is a dead language, neutral, and not subject to changes.

The scientist’s name was Carl von Linné, and true to his system he latinised his name to Linnaeus. This fact is a hint of things to come for many of what we call “Latin” names are really latinised names from other languages, primarily Greek. For example, the genus that gave us the common name tetra is Tetragonopterus. The only piece of Latin in this name is the masculine suffix -us the rest is composed of three Greek words: tetra (four), gonos (side) and pteron (wing or fin). A true Latin name would be something like Quadrilateripinnius, and the common name for the fish in the group might be “quadri”. How do you like those neon quadris?

Other languages can be latinised also, and this is quite evident when people or place names are used. For example Carnegiella and Eichhornia are two genera derived from the names Carnegie and Eichhorn respectively. For species names one uses the Latin suffix -i for masculine names and the Latin suffix -ae for feminine names. For example Melanotaenia boesemani named after Marinus Böseman and Carnegiella marthae named after Martha Ruth Myers (Mrs. G. S. Myers). Note that accents are not used so the name Böseman becomes Boeseman (we don’t use œ anymore). The same rule seems to apply to place names. For example Corydoras metae is named after the river Meta in Colombia. Usually though the suffix -ensis is used to denote that the organism in question is from that locale, as in Aequidens portalegrensis named after the city of Porto Alegre in southern Brazil.

As you may have noticed, names have gender in Latin and it is customary to match the species’ gender with the genus’ gender. For example note how the species name of the guppy changed when it was reclassified from Lebistes reticulatus to Poecilia reticulata. The genus Lebistes is masculine and the genus Poecilia is feminine. How does one know if a name is masculine or feminine? Well, the last vowel gives you a clue: a is feminine; e can be either; i, o and u are masculine. Of course there are exceptions to every rule so when a genus is described, the gender is given so that other scientists know how to name the species. If a species is named after a person or a place, the gender of the person or place name overrules the gender for the genus.

Once you know the rules and some Greek and Latin radicals many of the scientific names start to make sense. Some are very descriptive, some are very creative, some are interesting and others make you wonder what the scientist was thinking at the time. Here are some examples:

Tetragonopterus: four-sided finsTanichthys albonubes:

Tan’s fish, white clouds. This is the white-cloud minnow.Chaca chaca

: “chaca” is the sound this catfish makes when held out of the water!Aequidens

: with teeth of same length.Trichogaster trichopterus

: hair-belly hair-fin. The blue gourami.You may wonder why scientists go to such trouble to create these names, and us too to remember them. Well, Linnaeus wanted a system that was unique and universal. Scientific names are standardized, unique, are valid all over the world, and group related fish together. On the other hand, common names are not standardized, are not unique, are limited by language, and can’t be relied to group related fish together (e.g. consider the great white shark, a true shark; the iridescent shark, a catfish; and the rainbow shark, a cyprinid). For an example of lack of uniqueness, I know of three very different cichlids that are known by the same common name of flag cichlid: the festivum (Mesonauta festiva), the curviceps (Laetacara curviceps), and the angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare). The latter is called acará bandeira in Portuguese, which translates into flag cichlid.

Now, cichlidiots reading this article will be quickly to point out that Laetacara curviceps is also known as Aequidens curviceps and Mesonauta festiva is also known as Cichlasoma festivum. Aren’t these names supposed to be unique? You bet they are. The names still uniquely describe one species of fish. Even though the fish may have more than one name, only one is current. The other names are called synonyms and kept for past reference only. Scientists must make sure that these names are unique, and that the oldest known species name remains. The reason for the changes is that as the body of knowledge increases, certain species that were grouped together need to be split up and re-grouped. That creates new genera and new names that we must learn. It is not fun, but it is for a good reason.

Something else that most people do not find fun is the pronunciation of scientific names. Having a Latin-based language (Portuguese) as my first language, I find listening to the pronunciation of Latin names in North America a painful experience. All the pronunciation guides I have seen treat Latin names as if they were English names. I found out why in Innes’ Exotic Aquarium Fishes. A group of nineteenth century English botanists decided to “modernize” Latin and Greek names by giving English pronunciation to the vowels. So much for universality! Why bother with a neutral language if you are going to change it to suit your pronunciation needs? What if Linnaeus decided that Latin was to be pronounced as Swedish? This “modern” system is what we see in North American publications. I haven’t seen it in European publications.

Here is the “modern” pronunciation of Latin vowels, but to be sure of the “correct” pronunciation one must use the accented version of the Latin name, which is rarely ever found in books these days. Follow this key and you are sure to pronounce Latin names as if they were English.

àlong, as in hay; á short, as in hat; ä broad as in bar.è

long, as in key; é short, as in met.ì

long, as in tie; í short, as in hit.ò

long, as in toe; ó short, as in top.ù

long, as in cue; ú short, as in nut.As a comparison, here is the true Latin pronunciation of vowels. Note how consistent the sounds are compared to the above system.

aas in father, or short as in but. But not as in cat.e

as in they, or short as in net.i

as in keep, or short as in pit.o

as in note, or short as in not.u

as in food, or short as in put.y

only found in Greek words, assimilated to i.The letter ‘u’ was actually not in the Latin alphabet, ‘v’ was used instead.

The question is when to use the short or the long version of the vowels. For that one must consult a Latin dictionary for it is not obvious from visual inspection alone. In a dictionary long vowels are marked with macron ( ¯ ) placed above them. When in doubt, the short form will get you by.

Two vowels are always pronounced separately unless they form a diphthong (where they run together or glide). The Latin diphthongs are:

aeas in

as in cow oe

as in soilei

as in reignue

as in you ui

as in quickAlso, some consonants differ from their English pronunciations:

bas in English except before ‘s’ and ‘t’ when it is pronounced ‘p’.c

as ‘k’,

as ‘k’, it is an emphasized ‘c’.g

as in game, never as in ginger.s

as in sun, not as in was (where it has a little of a ‘z’ sound).t

as in table, never as in nation.v

always as wish, never as in the English ‘v’.x

always as in exceed, never as in example.Latin was, to a large degree, phonetically written. So when pronouncing Latin names, make sure you pronounce every syllable. You can ignore the first consonant in the ‘pt’ and ‘ct’ pairs. Some of the above pronunciations may not sound correct, particularly given some words that have become very familiar to us in English. Caesar is a perfect example, but guess where the word “Kaiser” came from? Try it out on your favorite scientific names. If this all sounds foreign to you it should, after all it is Latin not English!

Now, how does one pronounce words like Moenkhausia, goodeid, jacobfreibergi, Farlowella? There is no need to get all tongue-twisted. The easiest thing to do is to find out how to pronounce the person’s name in its original language, then pronounce the Latin suffix after it: monk-hous’e-a, goode-id, yacob-fryberg’ee, farlow-ella.

So, what do to next? Use the “modern” pronunciation of the proper Latin one? I think it all depends on your personality and the people you converse “Latin” names with. Using the “modern” form is easier for English speakers and it is surely widespread here. The drawback is that it goes against the goal of scientific names being universal. Non-English speakers won’t necessarily understand what you say. On the other hand if you use proper Latin pronunciation, people familiar with the “modern” form will think you are mispronouncing names. Considering the universality goal of scientific names, the fact that most tropical fish come from non-English speaking countries, and that a significant portion of the scientific body of knowledge also comes from non-English speaking countries, I’ll stick to as true a Latin pronunciation as I can.


Allen, Gerald R. (1995). Rainbowfishes In Nature and in the Aquarium. Melle, Germany: Tetra-Verlag.

Betts, Gavin (1992). Teach Yourself Latin, A Complete Course. Chicago, IL: NTC Publishing Group.

Guralnik, David B. (ed.) (1984). Webster’s New World Dictionary. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Handford, S. A. (1966). Pocket Latin Dictionary. Berlin and Munich, Germany: Langenscheidt KG.

Innes, William T. (1979). Exotic Aquarium Fishes. Neptune City, NJ: T.F.H. Publications, Inc.

Pasquier, Roger F. (1983). “The Diversity of Birdlife”. In Poole, Robert M. (ed.). The Wonder of Birds. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society. pp. 18-53.

Reis, Roberto E. ?

Do You Have UTS?

If your anything like myself you just love your fish keeping hobby and you just love scouring the local fish stores and going to your local fish club auctions a lot. But you can’t help yourself when it comes to new and interesting species that you don’t have at home in your tanks right. So you buy this species here and that species there or the club auctioneer expertly convinces you to buy that bag of fish at the auction. And now you have to find somewhere to put them at home in your tanks. So put some in this one, some in that one. Everything is all right for a few days. One morning you go down to the fish room to do your morning feedings ” zap on goes the lights and UGHHH. What’s wrong with this tank or that tank over there? The water was crystal clear yesterday but now it’s cloudy milky white. OH NO! What to do? I know what I’ll do, put another aged power filter on and it should be OK. Next day the tank looks the same. The extra filtration isn’t working ” oh ya do a water change, say 50%, right? OK, lets do that. But a few days later the tank is still cloudy. What’s going on? You have what I’ll call UTS – Ugly Tank Syndrome.


You’ve just bought some beautiful plants again from the local fish store or the club auction. Well they’ll look really nice here or over there and presto planted and out of your mind. Again a week later what do we see? There is this dark blue green algae growing all over the place. Oh no ” it must have come from those new plants. I didn’t have this much before. So get the algae cleaner and scrub it all off. Over night it all comes back everywhere, on the leaves, on the decorations, simply everywhere. OK, put some algae control medication in, or maybe I need to change the lighting or something ” right? Well a few days later the stuff is still growing everywhere. It fact if the fish stood still for a while it looks like it would even grow on them. This is what I’ll call UTS ” Ugly Tank Syndrome.

There are many stories of UTS from different causes that we can come up with. But let’s look at scenario number 1. Again if you’re an avid hobbyist like me you tend to not follow the cardinal rule of 1 inch of fish to 1 gallon of water and maybe overstock the tank thereby stressing the filters and the good bacteria that is vital to good filtration. So why is it that if you add another power filter that the water still stays cloudy? It doesn’t make sense : supposedly the more filtration, the cleaner the water should be. I struggled with a couple of UTS tanks for almost a year. It wasn’t until one day I was browsing on the Internet at one of the FAQ sections on a web page. Another person also had UTS in their tanks and was as confused as I was. Luckily for us a hobbyist from Germany answered this question and here was the reply. It seems that the manufacturers of power filters and filtration are all scrambling to design and make the biggest and faster filters in the market. The problem according to this German hobbyist is they are breaking some rules about the efficiency of filters. First they are using too small filter media and not giving enough surface area for the good bacteria to live and attach to. Secondly they are also increasing the strength of the magnetic impellers so much that the water stream going through the small filter media is so fast and powerful that it is literally blowing away the bacteria from the filter media straight into the tank and thus you get cloudy water. This is not unlike an infusoria culture. Their advice was to either increase the filter surface area or slow down the speed of the flow going through the filter. Wow! So simple! I thought, “let’s try this at home”.

So that night I slowed down the filters on the problem tanks to half speed and quietly waited for any results. To my surprise within 24 hours the cloudy tank was disappearing and within two days it was all but gone. Thank you, very much Germany.

So let’s deal with scenario number 2 and the blue green algae all over the place. It grows faster than wildfire and covers everything right. I clean it all off once, twice, three times and it comes back as fast as before. I tried algae medications, tried fish that are supposed to like algae and all they do is stay away. I tried adjusting my light times, tried changing the type of bulbs to those with a different spectrum. I tried, tired, tried all with no success. What to do? Well again I went to the Internet site that gave me the answer to my filter problems. And again another person had similar problems in their tanks and again another German aquarist gave good advice to the problem. This German hobbyist said that my blue green algae are not algae but bacteria that grow and disguise themselves in the algal form. According to this learned person if you use a medication that has erythromycin in it will all go away in a few days. I’ve never heard of such a thing before but I’m desperate. So off to my local fish store I go and buy a product called EM Tablets that has this erythromycin in it. I religiously follow the directions and within hours I noticed that all of the air bubbles coming from the UG filters are all very, very small instead of the size they were before. Well something is happening but the algae are still there. The next day again to my delight I notice that the algae are somewhat diminishing in certain heavy areas. Within three days it is all gone and none is to be seen anywhere even on the downspouts of my power filter. The tank smells normally instead of like the rotting things you might smell in a fish factory, and all the fish are still alive and happy. Thank you, Germany again.

As an aside some of the other interesting facts that I have also learned from the FAQ’s on the web might be of interest to the readers. One of the other types of mistakes that hobbyists tend to make, myself included, is using too much air for your sponge filters or too big of bubbles through them. The reason this is an error is that if the bubbles travelling through the uplift tubes are too big (or too many) there is no room for water that the bubbles are suppose to carry with them to fit. This decreases the efficiency of the sponge filter and, well, you get my not-so-likeable UTS. So hopefully this information is of use to you, the hobbyist, and will prompt you to take the time to look at your tank setups a little more closely. It also reaffirms for me that bigger and newer doesn’t necessarily mean better for my fish. ?

What Ails Us In The Aquarium Hobby

This article is a review of the book Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam (Simon & Schuster, 2000), hardcover, 540 pages, ISBN 0-684-83283-6. This book looks at trends in civic engagement, why there has been a decline in non-profit organizations, what the effects of this are, and what is to be done. Aquarium clubs are not mentioned specifically, but the content of the book is in fact fully applicable to the hobby, and certainly should be seriously considered by those of us concerned about the future of fish clubs.


Professor Putnam starts off by pointing out that the decline of clubs and social groups is not specific to one or a even few activities, be they stamp collecting, science fiction fandom, or aquarium keeping. He illustrates this with examples from the Glenn Valley, Pennsylvania Bridge Club (died in the 1990s after 50 years), the Roanoke, Virginia, NAACP chapter (down from 2,500 members to 57), and many others. The rate of youth participation in sports relative to population has been stagnant or declining since the 1960s.

Some statistics can be misleading. The number of non-profit organizations has doubled since 1968, but very few are mass-membership organizations. Average membership size for a group is now one-tenth of what it was. Many are actually advocacy groups, not social groups. Most only require a cheque to pay the annual dues, and are basically mailing lists, such as Greenpeace, rather than genuine social groups such as the Rotary. The members of advocacy groups never meet each other and have no long-term commitment to the group. As Putnam writes, “Probing further reveals that mail-order ‘membership’ turns out to be a poor measure of civic engagement.“. Not only the quantity but also the quality of the membership has been affected: “ … the more demanding the form of involvement, actual attendance as compared to formal membership, for example, the greater the decline.“.

Chapter-based national organizations that use face-to-face relationships to recruit memberships have low but steady memberships. Organizations using high-pressure direct mail recruiting, where members write a cheque and never meet others, have an annual membership turnover as much as 85% (Greenpeace, 1990 to 1998) despite their higher totals. The renewal rate of the National Rifle Association is 25%. Says Putnam of passive mass-membership groups: “Citizenship by proxy is an oxymoron.“.

It should be noted that while a number of non-profits are apparently increasing their membership, their relative ratio as a percentage of population is declining. Passive activities, such as spectatorship at professional sports games, visiting museums, and attending concerts have increased, but playing in a local league, going to a club meeting, or learning a musical instrument have declined.


Putnam bases his thesis on the concept of social capital, the idea that social networks have value. He writes: “A society of many virtuous but isolated individuals is not necessarily rich in social capital.“. Social capital benefits the individual in job hunting, companionship, or a helping hand, but it also benefits the community at large with the spillover effect to non-participants.

There are two types of social change. Intracohort changes are basically fads within a particular generation, such as Pokemon among children or SUVs among yuppies. This type of change comes and goes quickly. Intercohort changes occur gradually as the tastes of one generation are swamped by the next. Rock-and-roll, for example, drowning out jazz and swing.

Volunteering is more common in small towns than big cities. It peaks in the age bracket of late 30s to early 40s, a reflection of the fact that most people only volunteer for youth activities while their children are young. Volunteering for charitable activities is most likely in people with active social networks such as local clubs (not just paying dues but actual attendance at meetings). Putnam writes: “When volunteers are asked how they happened to get involved in their particular activity, the most common answer is, “Someone asked me.”“.


One result of the decline of social capital is a trend to paid help in supposedly volunteer organizations. Instead of a local party worker contacting a voter during an election campaign, it is now a call-center operator from the other side of the continent. “Financial capital, the wherewithal for mass marketing, has steadily replaced social capital, that is, grassroots citizen networks, as the coin of the realm.“, writes Putnam.

This decline sets off a chain reaction and affects even those who still want to volunteer. There has been a more rapid decline in collective activities such as public meetings, rather than individual activities such as writing letters to the editor. Those who want to take collective action can’t find enough people to work with, and give up in despair.

Less-involved people pay less attention to the news, whether newspapers or television. This is generational. 60% to 70% of people born before World War Two follow the daily news on television or newspapers. Only 40% of the Baby Boomers (born between 1945 and 1965) do, and about 30% of Generation X (born late 1970s to 1980s).


Putnam devotes a section of his book to possible reasons for the decline in civic engagement. He uses hard data to demolish some of these reasons. Time and lack of money are often offered as an excuse for not volunteering. Contrary to popular belief, the average person has about the same amount of free time as 25 years ago. What appears to have changed is that instead of blocks of leisure time that everybody had in common (evenings and weekends), we now work different shifts and have free time chopped up inconveniently. This is not the villain of the story though, as studies show people busy at work also do more volunteer work, illustrating the truth of the saying that if you want something done, give it to a busy man. Further, the decline in social activity is just as steep for those who feel least harried for time as those who feel most harried.

Neither is the decline in social capital related to the ongoing decrease in real incomes (after inflation) which started in 1973. The decline began before the decrease, and is just as bad for financially secure people as those worrying about being laid off.

Women who work outside the home are less socially active, but this only mirrors the trend for other groups. Divorce rates and working moms cannot be blamed, since the decline began before those two increased. Again, neither can the heavy hand of government or big business (“Walmart wiped out the small businessmen who belonged to the social clubs”) be blamed.

Our mobile society cannot be condemned either. People who move house frequently tend to have less involvement in their community. Mobility rates have actually gone down from 20% of the population in 1950 to 16% today. Two-thirds of the people today are now homeowners.

While urbanites are less likely to become involved than small town dwellers, the majority of urbanization in North America was completed by the 1960s. What did change over the past few decades since was that more commuters now travel from suburb to suburb rather than suburb to city core. Putnam remarks that: “ … each additional ten minutes in daily commuting time cuts involvement in community affairs by 10%“. People with long commutes don’t want to go out of the house evenings and weekends. Their friends and co-workers are scattered over a wide area, not in a well-defined closely-knit neighborhood of easy access.

Since the decline of social capital began in the 1960s, the Internet cannot be used as a scapegoat. Internet users, when sorted by social class and education, are indistinguishable from non-users for civic engagement. In other words, nerds are nerds, whether on-line or off-line.


Previous civic activity was boosted periodically by wars, of which World War Two was the greatest in impact. People of that generation (80% of men born in the 1920s served in the military) got civic mindedness because everyone was in it together.

Television for entertainment has increased with each new generation, and is now 4 hours per day for the average viewer. It pulls people into their houses and away from social activities. It is one of the ringleaders in the decline of social capital. Putnam notes that: “The more fully that any given generation was exposed to television in its formative years, the lower its civic engagement during adulthood.“. Stamp collectors, for example, fondly hope that kids started on the hobby will come back as adults in later years, but that will not happen as it did with the pre-WW2 generation. If those kids do come back, it will be as lone wolf collectors, not club members.


The Baby Boomers are not as active as their parents in social groups. As the population ages, the older volunteer workers are dying out while there are fewer younger ones. There has been a 40% decline in social group membership since 1973, regardless of race, gender, education level, or geography. Putnam remarks that: “ … virtually all of this decline is attributable to generational replacement: members of any given generation are investing as much time in organizational activity as they ever were, but each successive generation is investing less.

The problem is lack of younger members, which seems to have begun in the late 1960s. Normally the bulk of volunteers are middle-aged, as they have the time, experience, and money for civic involvement. This led people to expect a surge of volunteerism in the 1980s from the Baby Boomers. The surge never happened.

Baby Boomers do not volunteer as much as the 1910 to 1940 generation do, and this carries on regardless of what age the Boomers are. That is, a Boomer is not likely to volunteer after retirement if he didn’t in his 40s. [For the record, I am a Boomer, born in 1955.]

If age determined volunteerism, then social clubs should have begun an increase in the 1980s as the Boomers reached their 40s and 50s. Instead, as Putnam writes: “ … each generation that has reached adulthood since the 1950s has been less engaged in community affairs than its immediate predecessor. … This generational math (coupled with the civic differences among the successive generations) is the single most important explanation for the collapse of civic engagement over the last several decades. … Thus a generational analysis leads almost inevitably to the conclusion that the national slump in civic engagement is likely to continue.

An appendix of 40 different organizations from a variety of hobbies and causes displays the trends of the past century. The graphs confirm the burst of social capital after World War Two and its decline in the late 1960s and 1970s.


Putnam considers that methods of restoring social capital must be different than before: “Our challenge now is to re-invent the twenty-first century equivalent of the Boy Scouts … What we create may well look nothing like the institutions Progressives invented a century ago … we should be wary of straining our civic inventiveness through conventional filters.

The old methods will not work on the younger generations, no matter how successful in the past. Putnam does not provide specific methods to overcome the problem. He can’t, he says, because the new world being born will have to invent things we can’t conceive of, we who are of previous generations.


I have until now not been too worried about the future of the organizations I belong to. I always relied on the idea that as Boomers reached retirement age, they would begin to volunteer. But the masses of hard data and graphs, sorted by generation, have shaken my confidence that my generation of Boomers and the subsequent Generation X will reverse the trend. Putnam has presented convincing evidence that doing things the way they have been done is a recipe for continued decline.

Stamp collectors say that kids will come back to the hobby as adults. While some do, their numbers are too few to sustain stamp clubs. Aquarium keepers fondly believe that their kids will carry on the hobby, but I wonder why in my twenty years in this hobby I have only seen one or two return out of dozens.

That the next generation will do things differently is shown by one blind spot that Putnam unwittingly illustrates himself. He discusses how the decline in voters in elections might be reversed. This decline is confined to post-WW2 voters, for the war generation still vote as much as they ever did. The younger generation, however, do not believe that voting or petitions or writing letters to elected politicians will make a difference. The politicians are bought off by multinationals and slick lobbyists in three-piece suits. The younger people are just as involved politically as their elders, but they do not register in the statistics because they have shifted to direct action. And direct action works. The World Trade Organization never paid any attention to traditional lobbyists from environmental or social movements, but the Battle In Seattle stopped them cold and forced them to put those concerns on the agenda. Like it or not, and rant against anarchists if you wish, but that is how politics of the future will be done by a generation that has no faith in elected representatives.

What of stamp clubs and aquarium keeping and science fiction fandom? Many organizations are learning now that their new recruits are coming from their Web sites, not the shopping mall displays or annual shows. The idea of regular monthly meetings may have to change if everyone is working shift and can’t come out on first Wednesdays of the month. Do we offer IRC chats instead? (If you don’t know what an IRC chat is, ask the nearest teenager.)

Anecdotal evidence that your club is booming must give way to the general statistics. Before you write in that your club has increased and is doing well, ask yourself the following questions.

1) Is the increase due to the activity and enthusiasm of one or a few members? If so, what happens when they burn out a few years from now or get transferred out of town?

2) Is the increase absolute or relative? If your town has grown by 10% in population but your club has only grown 5%, that is a warning.

3) What is the distribution of generations in your club? Divide your membership into the WW2 generation, the Boomers, and Generation X. Which generation is doing most of the actual work needed to run a club?

I don’t have answers as to how to reverse the declines, anymore than Putnam does. I agree with him that new methods of recruiting must be experimented with, and the old ways rigorously examined. Anecdotes about how it was when you were young fail to note that your memories are ancient history to the Boomers and Generation X, for whom the Boer War and the Korean War are both chapters in a boring history book they had to read in class. What is important is not how things were when you were young, but how they are to your children and grandchildren.


I have only summarized a small fraction of Putnam’s work. The graphs throughout Bowling Alone will bring pause to anyone who reads it. This is one of the major works of sociology of the last few decades, not just pop psychology. Anyone concerned about the future of their hobby should be reading it. ?