Cichlid Room Companion


A Visit to Dr. Robert Rush Miller

By , 1993. printer
Juan Miguel Artigas Azas,

Classification: People and associations.

" An account of a visit to the legendary emeritous professor of ichthyology of the University of Michigan, top authority on Central American freshwater fishes, Dr. Robert Rush Miller "

University of Michigan Museum of Zoology The main building of University of Michigan Museum of Zoology at Ann Arbor.

The University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, about thirty minutes driving west from Detroit, holds one of the largest preserved freshwater fish collections in the world, and according to the way it is organized, perhaps the most useful one.

The Emeritus Professor of Biology and Curator of Fishes of the Museum, Doctor Robert Rush Miller, is known as the most authoritative person concerning Freshwater fish from México, besides being a person of refined manners that makes a pleasure to treat him. Doctor Miller has described uncounted new fish species from México and Middle America, species whose types are located in the Museum collection. He is constantly working in new fish topics, in a seemingly impressive rate.

Dr. Miller Juan Miguel Artigas Azas (leaft) and Dr. Robert Miller (right) at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.

All this reasons had made irresistible to me to give a visit to the Michigan University some day, so, during a trip I made to the Cleveland area in the Northeastern United States, a trip when all I would had left because of my tight schedule was Saturday 22 of May of 1993, I asked my good friend Don Danko to try to make an appointment for visiting the museum at that day. I of course realized how difficult it would be that this could be arranged, but it was my only chance and decided to try.

Don not only said he would call for the appointment, but that he would take me to the museum to visit it with me, a visit he had already done eight years ago. I was surprised when Don communicated me that the visit could be possible for that day, and that Doctor Miller himself would be waiting for us at the museum at 10:30 am.

Excited as I was, we left Cleveland very early on Saturday morning, and after breakfast we arrived to the building precisely at the scheduled time. Dr. Miller was already waiting for us at his office and came to meet us at the entrance of the building, after greetings he led us to the Fishes Laboratory, Dr. Miller then invited us to register in the visitors log of the Museum, a very good log that immediately showed us the exact date in which Don had made his previous visit eight years ago, he then teased about the fact that Don had promised Dr. Miller he would come back soon.

After this we were lead down the basement to the preserved fish collection which is kept in the dark, the collection area, something around fifteen meters wide by eighty meters long, hold racks and racks of preserved fish species in bottles that are classified by groups of fishes and then by alphabetical order; each species is kept in a labeled shallow wooden box that holds several bottles each one containing specimens collected in a different collection site. All the specimens in the collection are classified by Dr. Miller and other professors, students are not allowed to do it, so the collection is very reliable about the identity of the fish there. The collection is huge, over three million specimens included, later I learned from Dr. Miller that I was just standing at a room were 40% of this collection is held, the rest was moved in 1965 to the basement of the wing of the museum where a room was built for it, the entire collection we were told by Dr. Miller is now computerized in the Museum.

The "Cichlasoma" area, generic name that is still used for most of the species, takes two racks, with an impressive collection of specimens, many of them collected by Dr. Miller himself in his countless trips to México. The part that makes this collection so special is the fact that contains the types of many cichlid species, some of them described by Dr. Miller himself. Types of Cichlasoma hartwegi, Cichlasoma grammodes, Cichlasoma gibbiceps, Cichlasoma popeinoei, Cichlasoma pantostictum, Cichlasoma regani, Cichlasoma synspilum, Cichlasoma hogabomurum, Herichthys cyanoguttatus, Herichthys tamasopoensis, Herichthys pearsei, Thorichthys ellioti, Thorichthys socolofi, Tomocichla underwoodi are found in the Museum collection.

Paratype of Cichlasoma hartwegi A paratype of Cichlasoma hartwegi at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology at Ann Arbor.

We told Dr. Miller our interest in photographing some specimens of the collection and he gave us no restrictions, instead he handed us a special box for transporting the bottles to the lab, where a surface was provided for placing the fish for photograph. Up and down Don and myself went, taking bottles of preserved fish that were opened one at a time, taken then a specimen and the label out and then we each took a couple of snapshots of the specimens. After several hours in which Dr. Miller patiently waited while chatting with us, we were able to take pictures of most of the Cichlasoma species hold in the museum, and of some species we even took pictures from several collecting sites.

During photograph time we just made a break for lunch with Dr. Miller in a restaurant around the University area, time we used for talking about many Cichlasoma themes. Dr. Miller told us he is actually working among many other things on a revision of the genus Petenia, where he intends to place the species now placed in the Cichlasoma sub-group Caquetaia like spectabile and kraussi, he handed us a drawing in Steindachner's description of kraussi (by the way placed by this author in Petenia) and showed us the mouth structure characteristic of Petenia.

During the talk it came out that Regan's "Cichlasoma" Sub-group Parapetenia should be actually not considered, but because both Parapetenia and Nandopsis are based upon the same species from the West Indies, the older name Nandopsis ought to be used for the specimens that are comprised in the group, a fact that is lately becoming more common in Cichlid fancier publications.

One interesting thing came when I asked him about a specimen in the museum collection named Cichlasoma pasorela, which Don Danko had photographed in his previous visit and was published in "Cichlasoma power" magazine (Danko 1985) with a stated collection place in Rio San Pedro flowing north from Guatemala into México and into the Mexican gulf at the Campeche state. I had recognized this fish as the newly described Vieja argentea Allgayer, 1991. A visit Don and myself made to the river in the company of our mutual friend Ad Konings early this year showed us after collecting a specimen that I was right in the identification, but then Dr. Miller told me that indeed this fish had been placed in the museum collection in 1935 by Carl H. Hubbs, with the intention of being described posteriorly, something that never happened until Robert Allgayer did it.

This same thing happened with Cichlasoma nourissati, a fish also placed by the same Hubbs in the Museum in 1935 with a name of Cichlasoma caerulora collected in Rio de la Pasión, Guatemala; it was never actually described until Allgayer did it in 1989, this fish was discovered by aquarists in 1986 when Jean Claude Nourissat visited the area in the company of Antonio Hernández Rolón, who saw this fish in a small creek in the Lacantun jungle in Chiapas. Both species now hold the new names at the Museum collection.

Conference room Don Danko lecturing Dr. Robert Miller on Mexican fish.

Some other topics we talked about included Dr. Miller's strong opposition about the proposed construction of dams in the Lacantun river course, this man-made accidents change completely the environment and breeding sites and lead to ecological disasters. He told us he exposed this recently in a talk he gave at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in México city.

Dr. Robert Miller, with 77 years, is the owner of a brilliant mind with a prodigious memory for facts, details and dates, as we could see as he told us during our visit, he is in fact a person in love with fish, as he confess to us, "I like fish in all his forms, I even love to eat fish".

After the photograph session we proceeded to the conference salon where Don Danko gave Dr. Miller a slide presentation of our last trip to Chiapas, which he observed with great interest.

With this we had finished our visit to the Museum with the promise we would go back as soon as we could, something I surely look forward to.

References (1):


Artigas Azas, Juan Miguel. (May 27, 1996). "A Visit to Dr. Robert Rush Miller". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on December 04, 2021, from:

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