January 4, 2015
Book about way more than bass
About half of the world’s more than 62,000 species of vertebrate animals are mostly hidden from view — the fishes, which live in a watery world largely off-limits to people.
The aquatic community is one of mystery; its secrets are only occasionally revealed to the casual observer.
Dan Rice and Gary Meszaros are hardly strangers to aquatic ecosystems. Both men have spent decades surveying Ohio’s fishes, in every corner of the state. They have paired to produce a beautiful new book, Native Fishes of Ohio (Kent State University, 113 pages, $24.95). Their project shines a light on Ohio’s stunning fish fauna in a way that no previous work has managed.
Rice spent much of his career as a zoologist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and dedicated much of his time to surveying Ohio’s fishes. Meszaros, a retired teacher, has been photographing natural history for almost four decades.
Their pairing was the perfect combination to produce this outstanding book. Rice’s intimate knowledge of all aspects of the state’s fishes comes across in the text, and Meszaros’ incomparable photos provide visual pizazz.
Native Fishes of Ohio features 156 color photos spread throughout its pages. The images alone are worth the price. Paging through the book is like viewing the inhabitants of a sophisticated zoo’s aquarium, except that these denizens all occupy Ohio’s wild waters.
I won’t reveal photographic trade secrets, but a lot of knowledge and hard work — far beyond what is required of most photographic styles — goes into making images such as these. Seldom has a book featured such stunning photos of live fish.
The book pictures 124 species — including everything a person is likely to encounter, as well as many rarities. About 146 species are known to occur in the state, but those not pictured are so rare that few people would ever encounter them.
The book is divided into 11 chapters that break Ohio’s fishes into groups. Clever chapter subtitles pique interest, such as “Darters: A Rainbow of Colors” or “Catfish: Night Stalkers.”
Each chapter introduction gives a robust overview of the family or families in question, peppered with habitat information, status in Ohio and behaviors. Following the introduction, photos are captioned with statements about the fish.
Native Fishes of Ohio opens a portal to a fascinating subsurface world that few people know well. Even seasoned fishermen will be surprised at what lives beneath their boat. I highly recommend the book.
Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a biweekly column for The Dispatch. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com.
Redside Dace, photo by Gary Meszaros