History of Animals

Author: Aristotle  | Date: 350 BC


Marsh-fishes and river-fishes conceive at the age of five months as a general rule, and deposit their spawn towards the close of the year without exception. And with these fishes, like as with the marine fishes, the female does not void all her eggs at one time, nor the male his sperm; but they are at all times more or less provided, the female with eggs, and the male with sperm. The carp spawns as the seasons come round, five or six times, and follows in spawning the rising of the greater constellations. The chalcis spawns three times, and the other fishes once only in the year. They all spawn in pools left by the overflowing of rivers, and near to reedy places in marshes; as for instance the phoxinus or minnow and the perch.

The glanis or sheat-fish and the perch deposit their spawn in one continuous string, like the frog; so continuous, in fact, is the convoluted spawn of the perch that, by reason of its smoothness, the fishermen in the marshes can unwind it off the reeds like threads off a reel. The larger individuals of the sheat-fish spawn in deep waters, some in water of a fathom’s depth, the smaller in shallower water, generally close to the roots of the willow or of some other tree, or close to reeds or to moss. At times these fishes intertwine with one another, a big with a little one, and bring into juxtaposition the ducts- which some writers designate as navels- at the point where they emit the generative products and discharge the egg in the case of the female and the milt in the case of the male. Such eggs as are besprinkled with the milt grow, in a day or thereabouts, whiter and larger, and in a little while afterwards the fish’s eyes become visible for these organs in all fishes, as for that matter in all other animals, are early conspicuous and seem disproportionately big. But such eggs as the milt fails to touch remain, as with marine fishes, useless and infertile. From the fertile eggs, as the little fish grow, a kind of sheath detaches itself; this is a membrane that envelops the egg and the young fish. When the milt has mingled with the eggs, the resulting product becomes very sticky or viscous, and adheres to the roots of trees or wherever it may have been laid. The male keeps on guard at the principal spawning-place, and the female after spawning goes away.

In the case of the sheat-fish the growth from the egg is exceptionally slow, and, in consequence, the male has to keep watch for forty or fifty days to prevent the spawn being devoured by such little fishes as chance to come by. Next in point of slowness is the generation of the carp. As with fishes in general, so even with these, the spawn thus protected disappears and gets lost rapidly.

In the case of some of the smaller fishes when they are only three days old young fishes are generated. Eggs touched by the male sperm take on increase both the same day and also later. The egg of the sheat-fish is as big as a vetch-seed; the egg of the carp and of the carp-species as big as a millet-seed.

These fishes then spawn and generate in the way here described. The chalcis, however, spawns in deep water in dense shoals of fish; and the so-called tilon spawns near to beaches in sheltered spots in shoals likewise. The carp, the baleros, and fishes in general push eagerly into the shallows for the purpose of spawning, and very often thirteen or fourteen males are seen following a single female. When the female deposits her spawn and departs, the males follow on and shed the milt. The greater portion of the spawn gets wasted; because, owing to the fact that the female moves about while spawning, the spawn scatters, or so much of it as is caught in the stream and does not get entangled with some rubbish. For, with the exception of the sheat-fish, no fish keeps on guard; unless, by the way, it be the carp, which is said to remain on guard, if it so happen that its spawn lies in a solid mass.

All male fishes are supplied with milt, excepting the eel: with the eel, the male is devoid of milt, and the female of spawn. The mullet goes up from the sea to marshes and rivers; the eels, on the contrary, make their way down from the marshes and rivers to the sea.


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Chicago: Aristotle, "Book 6, Chapter 14," History of Animals, trans. D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson Original Sources, accessed March 2, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=49S3DZ75HWMPPHW.

MLA: Aristotle. "Book 6, Chapter 14." History of Animals, translted by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, Original Sources. 2 Mar. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=49S3DZ75HWMPPHW.

Harvard: Aristotle, 'Book 6, Chapter 14' in History of Animals, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 2 March 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=49S3DZ75HWMPPHW.