A swarm of bright red fish! That’s what I was seeing in this clear piedmont creek one sunny April afternoon. (I know I should call them a school since they were fish, but these were so tightly congregated–thirty-some, two-inch fish swimming madly in a cluster about a foot in diameter–they seemed more like a swarm.) They had yellow heads and fins,but their bodies were a brilliant red. These were male yellowfin shiners in a mating aggregation. Rather than a swarm or a school, this aggregation might properly be called a “lek”. A lek is a biological term for an assemblage of males congregating to attract females for mating. (The closest human equivalent we might have is a fraternity party or dudes on the street corner.)
These beautiful fish were hovering over a neat pile of small (1-inch) rocks. The rock pile was about a foot in diameter at the tail end of the pool.
I sat down on the creek bank and watched with binoculars, and before long, as they got used to my presence, I began to see different fish in the pool. There were several species engaged in a constant flurry of activity–chasing, feeding, and courtship. It seemed like there were fish with at least four different color patterns present. It was hard to know how many species because in some species of fish, including these yellowfin shiners, males and females have different patterns. The male yellowfins are bright red for only a few weeks during the spawning season.
Then two slightly larger (4 inch) fish moved into the center of the aggregation of yellow fins. At first I thought they might be feeding on the eggs that had been deposited by the yellowfins until I saw one of the fish swim to the edge of the rock pile, pick up a stone in its mouth, carry it to the center of the pile, and drop it. A four-inch fish carrying a rock that was practically an inch in diameter! It seemed like only one of the pair was the rock carrier. (It’s a guy thing.) I saw it transport at least a dozen rocks. This fish was tan-colored with a blue-grayish head with lumps on it. This was most likely a bluehead chub, one of the creek chubs locally known as “knotty-heads” or “horny-heads.” In spring the males develop these “nuptial tubercles” on the head. I had thought that these hardened growths were used to root or move stones around in the stream bed to create these stone nests. But my observations showed me that they simply pick the stones up with their mouths. Apparently, the male’s nuptial tubercles are used in courtship and mating. (The better to nuzzle you with, my dear!) So horny-heads is a perfect name for them. So once again we learn the appropriateness and wisdom of folk names. Nuptial tubercles–what a concept! I might be able to use a few of them sometime myself…
My later reading indicates that as many as 30 species of fish use these rock piles constructed by the chubs for laying their eggs. Apparently, this pile of similar sized rocks offers good aerated water circulation for the developing eggs as well as protection from silt and predators. A large male chub may carry over 7,000 stones, each as large as his head, as far as 25 yards to his nest site.It’s interesting to think of the lowly chub as an “ecosystem engineer” or a “keystone” species with a number of other species depending on the chubs to create optimal breeding sites. There are several species of chubs in different parts of the country that build these nests. So, keep your eyes on the creeks this spring. You might find yourself engaged in some very fishy, sexy, aggregations!
Feel free to check out the products page of my website for various books and recordings
Everybody’s Fishin’A Cross-Cultural Fishing Extravaganza
Sunfish, herring, mudfish, trout, Grab that catfish by the snout!
Join fisherman, storyteller and harmonica champ, Doug Elliott, on a cross-cultural fishing extravaganza – a celebration of fish, fisherpersons and other wet, wonderful, watery critters. Journey from the frigid North Atlantic to the sunny Caribbean – from tumbling mountain streams to bayous, cypress swamps, and jungle rivers. You’ll hear fantastic fish lore, lively tunes, piscatorial poems, some mighty fishy philosophical probing and true stories of fishing adventures with people of different cultures and nationalities.
Hear about a battle with a sea serpent and about catching fish with all kinds of bait, from dry flies, lures, spinners and spoons to wooly boogers, rubber worms, zoom lizards, pork rinds and even green tomatoes; using cane poles, rods and reels, nets, weirs, purse seines, pistols and dynamite. Learn how to tickle a trout with your fingers and how to get a fine fresh fish dinner just by talking.
On this DOUBLE CD, Elliott flavors his tales with regional accents and he wails away on his trusty harmonica, playing and singing a half-dozen songs, accompanied by guitar, bass and percussion. Double CD 98 minutes Normally $25 – NOW only $15
An Evening with Doug Elliott DVD
Stories, Songs, and Lore Celebrating the Natural World
Elliott performs a lively concert of tales, tunes, traditional lore, wild stories, and fact stranger than fiction–flavored with regional dialects, harmonica riffs, and belly laughs. One moment he is singing about catfish, the next he’s extolling the virtues of dandelions, or bursting forth with crow calls. He also demonstrates basketry, ponders the “nature” in human nature, tells wild snake tales, and jams and jives with his fiddler son, Todd.
OF GINSENG, GOLDEN APPLES, AND THE RAINBOW FISH
Ancient Tales, Traditional Lore, Lively Tunes, and a Modern Mythic Adventure
Doug Elliott visits Appalachian storyteller Ray Hicks, who is famous for his tales about the mythical folk hero Jack. Along with Jack’s exploits, Ray tells a few of his own hair-raising adventures, like when he was followed by a panther. He also recounts colorful folklore about the love life of ‘possums, bloodsucking owls, and tips for successful ‘seng hunting.
Driving home with his head full of wild tales, Elliott embarks on a true modern-day mythic journey where he catches a trout by hand; harvests wild apples, ginseng, and mushrooms; ponders Greek myths, Biblical verses, and the fungal web of life; meets three strangers; and finds himself living out his own folktale.
You’ll hear a poem by William Butler Yeats, quotes from the Roman poet Ovid, and a risqué herbal ballad by the great botanist Jim Duke. You’ll find out what happens when Artemis (aka Diana) gets caught skinny dipping and when Atalanta loses a foot race, as well as what happens when Jack leaves home to sell a cow and comes back with a rock. In this live recording of a standing ovation performance at the National Storytelling Festival, Elliott is accompanied by guitarist Keith Ward and his son Todd Elliott on fiddle.
Mushrooms of the Southeast
Todd Elliott’s new book is hot off the press and getting rave reviews. This guide features Todd’s award-winning photography, easy-to-use descriptions, discussions of more than 1,000 fungal species, and fully described illustrations of over 300 mushrooms. The geographic focus is from the mountains of West Virginia, south to Florida, and west to eastern Texas. This compact book covers a wide range of the region’s most common mushrooms, a variety of rare and unusual species, and some of the best edibles and most toxic fungi in the Southeast. Also included are previously unreported ethnomycology facts, notes on medicinal species, basics of fungal toxins, and much more!
If you want to read more about Todd, visit his website: www.toddelliott.weebly.com.
To see his photography, follow him on Instagram.
To keep up with his science publications, visit his ResearchGate.
Order the book directly from DougElliott.com $27.95
And there’s more at the products page of my website !