During the fall of 1998 I had the opportunity to go collecting native (North American) fishes with about the best crowd you could ask for. Mike Thennet, my regular "collecting buddy", is the Virginia representative for the North American Native Fishes Association (NANFA). Mike and I met up with Bob Bock, the president of NANFA, Chris Scharpf (the editor of NANFA's magazine "American Currents"), and Christen a graduate student at Virginia Polytech Univ. studying fish population genetics.
Our first stop was on the Maryland side of the Chesapeake where we collected various fishes from brackish areas. These were mostly Fundulus spp. (Killifish), but also collected were anchovies and other odds and ends. After Christen had all the fish for her study, and we all had more killies than we could keep, Chris mentioned a location not far away that held madtoms. Needless to say, I nearly ran to the car to get going.
We drove Northeast about thirty miles and were near the Maryland Delaware border. I can ask Mike for more specific habitat location information if anyone needs it. Here is a "down and dirty" description of the habitat in which we caught Noturus gyrinus the tadpole madtom. The location was a creek about five feet wide (1.5m). In places the creek was backed up and formed pools up to 15 feet (3m) across. No madtoms were taken in these pools. The creek averaged about a foot deep and flowed along at a lazy pace. The creek was about 68-70 F and the ambient temperature about 85 F and very humid. The best location to collect madtoms was in submerged terrestrial vegetation. I am not sure what the plant was but it reminded me of clover.
The best way to collect the madtoms was to run a handnet through the vegetation. The net would then have lots of vegetation that would have to be carefully removed. The most common spp. collected with the madtoms were tessellated darters (Etheostoma olmstedi), swamp darters (E. fusiforme), pirate perch (Aphredoderus sayanus) and eastern mud minnows (Umbra pygmaea). Mike caught the first madtom and immediately called for me.
As I made my way up the creek, Mike reached into the net to pick up the tiny catfish (about one inch, 2.5cm) and got a surprise from the fish's pectoral spine. Madtoms pectoral and dorsal spines are poisonous, and from Mike's reaction, I do not doubt that the venom stings! The spine stuck Mike on the tip of his index finger. The wound left a tiny red mark but there was no swelling. Of course, being a true friend I ignored Mike as he sucked at the wound and danced around the creek. I bagged the little guy up happy to have my madtom. Mike sucked at his finger and then pulled it from his mouth every few minutes to issue a series of profanities. I asked Mike to describe the pain (all in the name of science of course!). He said it was at first like a pin prick but then began to burn. The burning sensation then traveled up to his shoulder. The pain stopped all together after 15 minutes.
Other fishes removed, mainly from the pools, included Redbreast sunfish (Lepomis auritus) and Chris' catch of the day- a foot and a half long American eel (Anguilla rostrata). Total take for the 30 foot (10m) section of creek was five madtoms at one inch, two at two inches, and one at three inches. I would guess the littlest guys were from this spring and summers spawnings while the two inchers were from last year and the three incher was an adult. I took five home and Mike took one.
I set mine up in a ten gallon tank full of Java moss and "decorated" with broken flower pots. Filtration is via a sponge filter. The fish have taken to frozen bloodworms and brine shrimp. I'll try dry foods soon. The tank is unheated and varies between about 72F and 74F. There have been no problems with the fish and they have adapted well. One fish, on closer inspection, had a parasite of some type on its side just back from the pectoral fin. This did not make removal of the parasite easy since I really did not feel like being stung. I managed to remove the parasite with forceps and the small wound that was left is nearly healed a week later. They are becoming more active as they adjust to captivity and I have no doubt that they will soon be feeding even with the lights on.
All and all, I would highly recommend these cats for the aquarist that wants to experiment with natives.
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