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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Department ofVertebrate Zoology

Division of Fishes

Spencer F. Baird
Spencer F. Baird circa 1875
© Smithsonian Institution

John Xantus (1825-1894)

John Xantus was a Hungarian expatriate who came to the United States in 1851 after being involved in Hungary's unsuccessful war of independence from Austria. He has been described as "a most unusual man, a mixture of real scientific ability and general unreliability." (Hume, 1942: 514). Xantus's accounts of his own career are often highly embellished, sometimes to the point of mendacity. His superiors frequently found his work unreliable, and he never remained in any position very long. He was, however, a superb and dedicated collector.

John Xantus
John Xantus
Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Archives

After arriving in the United States, he joined the American army in 1855 and was posted to Fort Riley, Kansas, where the surgeon, Dr. W. A. Hammond, was one of Baird's collectors. Xantus developed an interest in natural history and soon became an enthusiastic collector himself. Through Baird's influence, Xantus was transferred to Fort Tejon, California, where he collected many specimens for the Smithsonian. He was discharged in 1859 and, again through Baird's influence, joined the Coast Survey as a tidal observer at Cape San Lucas, Baja California. There Xantus collected massive amounts of material, including many fishes. He left Baja California in 1861, and the following year was appointed as United States Consul in Manzanillo, Mexico, where he continued to collect specimens for the Smithsonian. In 1864, he returned to Hungary, where he finished his career at the National Museum in Budapest. Xantus was one of the most productive collectors Baird ever had. The fishes he collected at Cape San Lucas were studied and reported upon by Theodore Gill (1863-1864), and Jordan and Gilbert (1882); they included many new species.

Among the fishes named after John Xantus are the blenny Labrisomus xanti Gill, 1860, the wrasse Halichoeres xanti (Karoli, 1882), and the drum Umbrina xanti Gill, 1862.

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