First Field Guide to Fishes of Southern Africa

These little guides are an invaluable resource for beginners
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First Field Guide to Fishes of Southern Africa

Author: Rudy van der Elst
Struik Publishers
Cape Town, 1999
ISBN: 9781868722884
Paperback, 11x17 cm, 56 pages, throughout colour photos


These natural history guides have been developed in the hope that young people and anyone with a budding interest in natural history will take up the challenge to learn the secrets of southern Africa’s fascinating fauna and flora.

These little guides are an invaluable resource for the beginner, providing information at a glance through superb photographs, maps and easy-to-read text.

• handy pocket size
• easy-to-read text
• suitable for the beginner naturalist
• each species is photographed

About the Author:

Professor Rudy van der Elst is director of the Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI) based at Durbans uShaka Marine Park. He works with a team of scientists in focusing in particular on sustainable harvesting of resources and the protection of marine biodiversity. Rudy has published many scientific and popular articles and books on marine topics.


Fish are fascinating creatures. They are the most numerous back-boned animals (vertebrates) on earth, and display an amazing variety of adaptations and unique biological features.

Since their first appearance on earth almost 400 million years ago, fish have evolved and dispersed to colonise virtually every body of water on earth. They range from the deepest of oceans to the highest mountain streams and from freezing polar seas to tropical lagoons and hot springs.

The southern African region is endowed with 160 species of freshwater fish and more than 2 200 species of sea fish, which is about 15 % of the worlds total. This variety is due in part to the many different habitat types found on the southern African coastline.

Most common of all fishes are the bony fish, which have skeletons made entirely of bone and also an airbladder (to control their buoyancy), scales which cover the body, and a single gill opening on either side of the head. Included in this group are marine and freshwater types, ranging from minute gobies to giant and powerful marlins.

In contrast there are fish which have their skeleton constructed entirely of cartilage. These are the sharks, rays and skates, which all have more than one gill opening on either side of the head and rather fine but sharp scales, known as denticles.

Very few of these occur in freshwater. The world’s largest fish, the harmless Whale Shark, belongs to this group, as do the fearsome Great White Shark and the Manta Ray. Despite their often bad publicity, most sharks are harmless and play an important role in many ecosystems.

Fish are well equipped to survive the often harsh conditions of their natural environment. They are able to breathe, move, forage for food, detect prey and predators, and to navigate in their underwater habitat. This ability to survive and even thrive in this realm allows them to build up the reserves needed to reproduce their own kind.


Estuaries, bays and beaches
Blue Stingray 46
Cape Stumpnose 10
Dusky Kob 15
Flounder 40
Grey Mullet 14
Lesser Sandshark 45
Lionfish 17
Pipefishes 16
River Bream 11
Seahorses 16
Sole 40
Spotted Grunter 13
Tonguefish 40
White Steenbras 12
Zambezi Shark 48
Rocky shores and tidal pools
Blacktail 19
Blennies 18
Catface Rockcod 23
Galjoen 21
Hottentot 20
Karanteen 22
Shad 32
Open water or pelagic fish
Anchovy 42
Cape Snoek 34
Cape Yellowtail 33
Hake 39
King Mackerel 35
Maasbanker 44
Mackerel 43
Martin 37
Sailfish 37
Sardine 41
Swordfish 38
Tuna 36
White Shark 47
Offshore reefs
Red Stumpnose 30
Roman 28
Seventyfour 31
Slinger 29
Coral reefs
Butterflyfish 24
Morays 27
Surgeonfish 25
Wrasses 26
Rivers, streams, dams and lal
Carp 54
Largemouth Bass 51
Largemouth Yellowfish 53
Mozambique Tilapia 49
Rainbow Trout 52
Sharptooth Catfish 50


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