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Appalachian Aquatic Delights

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#1 Guest_farmertodd_*

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Posted 30 June 2011 - 12:58 PM

Hi folks,

In May, in conjunction with the NANFA annual Convention and some preliminary research in regard to the Pigeon River Reintroduction Project, I took a trip across Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee to look at fish and any "bi-catch" I could get my eyes on. The trip summary is: 2700 miles, 1 speeding ticket, 1 lost UT credit card, 8 hours of film, 1500+ photographs, 72 species of fish and some phenomenal encounters with some of the coolest critters in eastern North America. I've managed to get some of the film online, so I thought I would share.

Part 1 - Lamprey Love and Minnow Mountains

First off, the mountain brook lamprey were in peak spawn time. This is a small, non-parasitic lamprey that spends most of its life eating on organic material in the substrate, but emerges and transforms into the adult form to spawn and die. They'll use their sucker mouths to excavate pits under rocks... The vibrating you see in the film is the spawning event. It's bodies everywhere.

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Mountain Brook Lamprey Spawning Video:

Next up, we have a species in which probably any kid that's played in creeks has encountered, which is the creek chub. Although, here's a slightly different spin on their presence... They build spawning pits in gravel with their mouths that other species will use if they let them. In this case, the nest "associate" is the magnificently colored Tennessee dace!

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Creek Chub and Tennessee Dace video:

Originally, it was thought that the nest associates were parasites on the chub nest. However, a recent work (Mollie Cashner) has been studying these processes and has found that the eggs of the "parasite" serve as a buffer for predation on the "hosts" eggs, and as such, the relationship may actually be mutualistic. As well, Mollie has found that the color red is a very "calming" color for the host species... You'll notice he's quite aggressive toward other creek chubs and the striped shiners hanging in the periphery, but pretty much ignores the dace.

While the creek chub may live in larger systems, the dace only live in very small streams. This is the habitat just upstream of the pool where I was filming these fish:

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Now we'll take that idea of nest builder to whole different level... Meet Mr. River Chub. The river chub is part of a genus of nest building minnows that live across most of the eastern US. This picture will show you the nest... I had poor light and turbid water which disallowed getting a good picture of Mr. Chub (plus the dumb minnows keep flying in front of the chub as he drops his rocks). In this picture, you'll see the warpaint shiner (top), the Tennessee shiner (redish with black band) and the Saffron shiner (with the yellow). Unfortunately, the Tennessee and saffrons weren't all the way amp'ed up. They both become brilliant red, the saffron gets a ridiculous gold stripe (you might be able to see some of it in the video). You'll figure out pretty quickly which one is the river chub :)

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River Chub Nest Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsIcoRA2Jg4

As you can see, there's a lot of males vying for position on the nest, and this is their competitive forum. The females are swimming behind the nest and are watching the action from a safe distance.

Part 2: How does it feel to look like candy?

If you're not familiar with the darters, they're a group of about 200 described species of fish related to perch and walleye that are only found in North America. The variation and coloration of these fish is mind boggling, much like what you see in warblers and other Passerine birds. Here's a couple hand held stills so you can get an idea of the size and color of these fish:

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Tangerine Darter (photo by Erika Buri)- A species of cool yet productive streams along the Blue Ridge, Ridge and Valleye and Cumberland Plateau streams of the upper Tennessee River. One of the largest darter species, they're sometimes caught by trout fisherman on flies. I will have some film of these guys here shortly and will repost to this thread once I have a chance to get to it.

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Redline Darter - A unbiquitous, yet strangely range-limited species of the Tennessee River drainage. In the Pigeon River, where pollution has extirpated most species, the redline is prevalent. There can be thousands on a riffle... which although common, is always something to see! Again, some film is on its way, just haven't had time to get to it.

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Greenfin Darter - A species that lives in the Blue Ridge of Tennessee and North Carolina and to a certain extent in Georgia and Virginia. These guys will be found in the fastest water among trout streams, and getting pictures and film like this is earned, not given - I apologize with the bumpy ride. FWIW folks who've witnessed this fish in the wild actually congratulated me for the amount of stabilization I was able to achieve :) Here's the fish in habitat and the video:

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Greenfin Darter Video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpgah_5fUvQ

I had always wondered about the ridiculous green color of this fish and think I finally have my head around it... Where do you think he lives?

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Greenbreast Darter habitat in the East Fork of the Pigeon River

Up next is life-lister for me, the candy darter. I've done a lot of work with the sister species, the variegate darter, here in Ohio, which is as ridiculously bright, but for some reason appears to people to be a gaudy and grossly over-done (maybe the NJ Shore equivalent to 5th Avenue style?).

Anyway, the candy darter lives in Ridge and Valley portions of the New River in West Virginia and Virginia. It's also become increasingly rare due to humanities' bad coal habit. As well, the variegate darter has been introduced about Kanawah Falls, which was a geographic barrier between the two species, and had been hybridizing the candy darter out of existence, particularly in the Greenbrier River. I'm interested in the mechanisms for this... The stream I was in (trout stream) was nothing like where I would associate variegate darters (warm and productive). Hopefully there are some streams left where the variegate is unable to dilute the beautiful genes of this species!

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Candy Darter Video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tenUB8zWIVI

How do you like them "Spidey moves"?!?

Part 3 - Snot Otters and other Pretties

Fish aren't the only things to watch in these waters so clear... There are also 2 foot long salamanders lurking about! Below is what is known as a hellbender salamander (aka snot otter), named probably because they bend like hell. It's really amazing to have one in hand, the juveniles I find are nearly impossible to hold. They live in cool boulder strewn streams in the Ohio River drainage (with a subspecies that lives in the Ozarks) and are in serious trouble when it comes to maintaining their populations due to human impacts - they breathe through their skin, and you can only imagine what trouble that causes them when they need larger rivers to survive. For example, after much looking, there is only one known population left in Ohio that's showing any young (no young, no population in the future). But alas, they're pretty simple to find on the Blue Ridge. This particular guy was under the first slab of rock I turned.

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Hellbender Video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12gQ9VtCRcY

I thought I also might throw in this huge brook trout:

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If you want to know how to "match the hatch" he was eating tulip tree flower petals (the white thing). They're really not that bright, their "adaptation" is to eat everything that floats by before the next guy. I don't know why people make such a big deal out them - I'd rather be looking at hellbenders!

And that was about it for under the water for now. Like I said, I have about 8 hours of film to edit... I'll try and get the footage of the big tangerine darters nosing the camera and a big male gilt darter maintaining his harem, etc etc etc. Oh, plus the dragon hunter larvae doing his leaf-like thing, what an amazing odonate. Well, here:

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We did do some terrestrial walkin' too - not a lot, but what we saw was pretty neat. Lots of terrestrial snails, huge millipedes, cherry-coke scented centipedes (it's cyanide that they're emitting). Maybe I'll add that after this weekend or just create a big web gallery. For now... A couple favorites:

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Purple Fringed Orchid - It's amazing that by just being somewhere, and by walking from the car to the water, you end up seeing 3 species of orchids in bloom. You know how hard it is to find one when you're looking for them up here? Sheesh.

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Long-Tailed Salamander - When you see moist cracks in the rock in TN, always look in, you never know who you'll find!

You might also watch where you step in the leaves:

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Timber Rattlesnake - I'd like to say I was in some remote part of the Cumberland Plateau, but alas, this was right in front of the bathroom at a state park which a group of kids doing their best imitation of the "2001: A Space Odyssey" opening scene. The ranger shortly moved him from harm's way.

Hope you enjoyed, I enjoyed sharing. Hopefully I can get to some more next week, although now there's stuff blooming here, so don't hold your breath!


Edited by farmertodd, 30 June 2011 - 01:06 PM.

#2 Guest_RichardSFL_*

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Posted 30 June 2011 - 01:32 PM

OK, "snot otter" is wonderful. I love local common names for animals, plants, etc. There's a great book called Names on the Land which is about American place names that has lots of examples of similar naming.

Nice post. Thanks.

#3 Guest_pylodictis_*

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Posted 30 June 2011 - 01:34 PM

Very very nice, I've spent many a day in that area and never had to pleasure to come across a hell bender. In regard to the Tennessee dace, what are some of the differences between it and the Phoxinus oreas?

#4 Guest_FishheadDave_*

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Posted 30 June 2011 - 04:15 PM

Thanks for posting...these are incredible!

#5 Guest_travishaas_*

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Posted 30 June 2011 - 04:19 PM

Fantastic stuff, Todd. As usual.

#6 Guest_jblaylock_*

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Posted 30 June 2011 - 04:45 PM

Awesome as always Todd. That Tangerine Darter is insane.

#7 Guest_tricolor_*

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Posted 30 June 2011 - 05:40 PM

The greenfin is amazing!

#8 Guest_EricaWieser_*

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Posted 30 June 2011 - 05:58 PM

The picture of the forest around the stream and the picture of the aquatic plants growing in the water make me really jealous! XD I went canoeing on the Mohican River here in Ohio a couple weeks ago, and it didn't look anything near as good as that. We didn't see any darters in the riffles, either. *sighs wistfully* Oh, unpolluted streams. Thank you for sharing the pictures and video with us :D

#9 Guest_MrCatfish_*

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Posted 30 June 2011 - 06:43 PM

Awesome,just awesome.The redline and greenfin are just beautiful.

#10 Guest_NVCichlids_*

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Posted 30 June 2011 - 07:18 PM

very nice and informing! Love what your doing!

#11 Guest_Casper_*

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Posted 30 June 2011 - 09:20 PM

Well Done Todd.
Great trip, great report, great pictures and videos.
You write so well and entertain while informing little nuggets of enlightenment.

You have the eye, wit and skill.


#12 Guest_Markart_*

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Posted 01 July 2011 - 08:35 AM

As a UK NA fishkeeper, the brilliant info, pics and vids are very much appreciated. Thankyou Todd, look forward to more! =D>

#13 Guest_jblaylock_*

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Posted 01 July 2011 - 09:40 AM

Posted Image

I can see now that you must be some sort of aquatic ninja......underwater bare handed grasp of a Tangerine Darter is a skill to only a true master can complete.

#14 Guest_gerald_*

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Posted 01 July 2011 - 10:57 AM

Todd just whispers to them and they come sit on his hand and spread their fins.

I can see now that you must be some sort of aquatic ninja......underwater bare handed grasp of a Tangerine Darter is a skill to only a true master can complete.

#15 Guest_AussiePeter_*

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Posted 01 July 2011 - 03:07 PM

Todd just whispers to them and they come sit on his hand and spread their fins.

If only he could manage that with all the ladies!

Sorry, couldn't resist. :tongue:


#16 Guest_ashtonmj_*

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Posted 01 July 2011 - 07:38 PM

No mussels?!

#17 Guest_sschluet_*

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Posted 01 July 2011 - 07:40 PM

Thanks for sharing Todd. Great stuff and much needed, as I haven't got out much yet this year (small fry consuming the free time).

#18 Guest_natureman187_*

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Posted 02 July 2011 - 04:05 PM

Awesome stuff Todd!

#19 Guest_farmertodd_*

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Posted 04 July 2011 - 08:07 PM

Thanks all for your kind compliments, I'm glad people enjoy these posts :)

Plyo - the most obvious is the "leopard" pattern on the oreas dorsum. This can be found at any time.

Erica - you should have been able to find rainbow and fantail darters, but not much else. The issue in the Mohican isn't pollution per se, it's a lack of productivity due to cold water temps, actually. As you move further downstream, you'll find far more fish. The Waldhonding, which looks much more "polluted" (which is actually turbidity) is absolutely crawling with darters.

Josh - don't be fooled, that fish had been inadvertently "air boarded" beyond his wits and we wanted to make sure we made good on his life while I tried to revive him ;) He wasn't all that interested in hanging out in the turbid, warm water where I was measuring fish, apparently. It all worked out in the end, after about 15 minutes, I was able to revive him and he swam off. Hopefully the ordeal didn't open him up to infection and the sort... He was a magnificent specimen, for sure!

Matt - it was really muddy in the productive reaches where we would encounter mussels. Even Clear Creek (Emory) was a muddy mess! I did happen upon a couple nice patches of these fine lil' guys, but lacked the permits to really bother them beyond what I did around them in my fish work :)

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Appalachian Elktoe siphons

Other than that... It was a single beat to hell pocketbook in the Obed. And that was the summary of our Unionid experiences this trip.

Lance - I left some of the blanks in topics you might cover much more elegantly than I (whitefin and tangerines). I'm not sure if you wanted to put them in "Adventures" or here, I'd be honored to be accompanied by your great work :)

Going to ASIH this week and when I get back, I'll try and piece together some more of this. It starts getting a lot more specifically geeky from here out, such as this guy:

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Olive Darter

I think the video will be more interesting than the stills and you'll see why it's so danged hard to get any footage of one of these guys (besides their general rarity).


#20 Guest_NateTessler13_*

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Posted 25 July 2011 - 06:57 PM

Thanks for sharing, Todd. In addition to the education value of this thread, it also serves as a great recruitment tool for NANFA. I have been working with a variety of people at my new job and I've been promoting NANFA all the way. When I describe some of the activities and interests of NANFA, this thread (and many others on this site) continue to be shining examples of the passion and interest our membership has in promoting education and conservation of our native fishes.

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