The Chetodon croissant, better known to us as the raccoon butterflyfish, is native to the Indo-Pacific region. It is widely spread, found as far as East and South Africa to the Hawaiian islands. It’s a nocturnal species that usually lives in small groups, feeding mainly on soft-bodied molluscs and small invertebrates as well as algae and coral polyps. Its English name comes from its distinct markings around the eyes, similar to those of a raccoon.
This illustration is found in Histoire naturelle des poissons, a multi-volume collection compiled by Georges Cuvier and Achille Valenciennes. Cuvier was a major figure in the natural sciences, establishing the fields of comparative anatomy and paleontology by incorporating both living species and fossils into the existing taxonomy system. His work also revealed extinction to be fact, when previously it had been considered merely controversial speculation. Cuvier is best known for his book Le Règne Animal, or The Animal Kingdom, published in 1817. However, his researches on fish had begun as early as 1801. With the help of Achilles Valenciennes, who carried on the project after Cuvier’s death in 1832, he published the twenty-two volumes of Histoire naturelle des poissons between 1828 and 1849. The books contained descriptions of nearly 5,000 species of fish.
Both the Chetodon croissant (pictured here) and Holocanthe à demi-cercles come from the same multi-volume collection compiled by French naturalist and zoologist Georges Cuvier and his apprentice and successor Achille Valenciennes. When our curatorial team first reeled in the two vintage ichthyological illustrations from the 1800s, we were instantly hooked. Maybe it was the bright, beachy colors, or the mesmerizing swirls and stripes on their scales, or the delicate details rendered with exceptional precision, or the script-y french subtitles giving each aquatic critter a special je ne sais quoi ... Read more on the blog!
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