200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 124: “Named for a Mailroom Supervisor ”

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Rhinodoras gallagheri
Rhinodoras gallagheri, the new species of catfish named after Frank Gallagher.

Named for a Mailroom Supervisor

Before his retirement in 2003 after 37 years at the Academy, affable mailroom supervisor Frank Gallagher used to say to staff, “I’ve been here so long, I should be part of the collection by now.” In 2008, this statement pretty much came true. Frank is the inspiration for Rhinodoras gallagheri, a new species of catfish described by Academy ichthyologist Dr. Mark Sabaj Pérez in the March 2008 issue of Copeia. New species often are named for prominent scientists, generous benefactors, or even spouses. But rarely, if ever, has a new species been named for a postman.

“I wanted to honor Frank for his many years of dedicated service to the global community of taxonomists and systematists in handling the shipping and receiving of countless loans of biological specimens,” said Mark, who manages the Academy’s collection of 1.3 million fish. “I was impressed by Frank’s dedication, his love for fellow employees, and his keen interest in the science we do. I simply thought, here is a guy who should be honored with his own catfish.”

Rhinodoras gallagheri, commonly known as the Orinoco thicklip catfish, occurs in the Orinoco Basin in Venezuela and Colombia. It is a secretive fish that hides during the day in hollow logs or the deep, dark channels of large rivers. At night it sometimes can be found in swift-flowing rapids, foraging the bottom for aquatic insects. Mark discovered two specimens of this fish in the Academy’s collection a few years ago and recognized them as distinct from other species in the same genus, Rhinodoras. The specimens had been collected in 1989 by former Academy scientists and their Venezuelan colleagues. Mark secured more specimens from Venezuela and proved that the species was distinct.

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