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This story is from yesterday and the exiguous details, alas, mean that it will be brief–yet it is too remarkable not to mention (especially considering our longstanding love of catfish here at Ferrebeekeeper). Yesterday (June 17th, 2014) an Italian fisherman, Dino Ferrari, caught a huge Wels catfish (Silurus glanis) in the River Po. The great fish weighed 118 kilograms (260 pounds) and measured 2.6 meters (8.6 feet) in length.

 

Dino Ferrari proudly displays the 260 pound fish he caught

Dino Ferrari proudly displays the 260 pound fish he caught

Although Wels catfish are no match in size and substance to the extraordinary giant Mekong catfish, they are clearly large fish. They also live in a huge swath of Eurasia from England to Kazakhstan where they prey on everything from tiny gastropods to big waterfowl like ducks (although they also eat carrion). The Wells catfish was originally native to central Europe, but thanks to introduction programs by misguided human anglers it has spread both east and west. I wonder what Mr. Ferrari baited his hook with to catch this monster—a piglet?

Nerodia rhombifer overpowers a catfish (photo by David Sledge)

Nerodia rhombifer overpowers a catfish (photo by David Sledge)

Here is a dramatic photo of a snake killing a catfish. The snake is a nonvenomous species, the diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer) which is commonly mistaken for the venomous cottonmouth–even though the later is less common. The reptile captured the fish by force and brute tenacity (and it succeeded in swallowing the fish even though the catfish’s head was bigger than its own). The amazing photo was captured by a gifted photographer, David Sledge, who had the further gift of being in the right place at the right time in order to catch a match between two formidable animals. The Daily News reported that, “Mr. Sledge was walking along a bayou just outside Sugar Land a suburb southwest of Houston, Texas, when he witnessed the remarkable struggle between predator and prey.”

Honey Bundt Cake (Wayne Ferrebee, 2013, oil on panel)

Honey Bundt Cake (Wayne Ferrebee, 2013, oil on panel)

I’m sorry we have been stuck on the lugubrious story of Oisín and Niamh for so long.  To make up for it, here is one of my own paintings…and it isn’t just any painting: in fact it is a special painting which symbolically represents this blog.  If you let your eye wonder through the composition, you will recognize many of the familiar themes and topics of ferrebeekeeper.  Space is represented by a golden planet with Saturn-like rings, and by a rocket.  Additionally, the entire composition takes place in outer space (as does everything–if you think about it).  Against a backdrop of nebulae and swirling galaxies a domestic turkey takes wing and a school of belemnites (long vanished mollusks which are related to squid, octopuses, and cuttlefish) use their own jet propulsion to swim among the stars. A blue Chinese ewer made of porcelain floats in the bottom left corner beneath a swarm of eusocial bees which are issuing from a gothic beehive on the back of a great green river catfish.  The goddess Hecate, the strangest and most evocative chthonic deity of ancient Rome brandished torches and a venomous serpent.  Growing in the nothingness beside the witch goddess, a poisonous monkshood represents gardens (and poisons). In the center of the composition is a fearsome Andrewsarchus—the largest mammalian land predator.  The mighty (albeit extinct) beast bears an ornate cobalt cake plate with a great glistening honey bundt cake.  The wheat in the cake represents agriculture (as do the turkey and the bees), but beyond that, the cake’s toroid shape hints at larger cosmological mysteries. Taking a step back, the painting is composed of colors and it is itself visual art, the symbolic representation of humankind’s enduring search for meaning.

I have left politics out of the composition as a matter of good taste.  Also trees did not make it into the painting because who’s ever heard of a tree in space?

Noodler's Forest Green Fountain Pen Ink

Noodler’s Forest Green Fountain Pen Ink

Today we feature a short post about ink…among other things.  The other night I rediscovered my old dip pens and I was doing some doodling (more about that later).  It reminded me of how wonderful dip pens, quills, and fountain pens really are.  I did some online research and I found a contemporary ink company called “Noodler’s Ink” which is an American company which specializes in fancy inks and pigments for specialty pens.  The reason this belongs on this blog is that they are obsessed with catfish—which feature heavily on their marketing and promotional material.  Here are some of the endearing and whimsical catfish drawings which Noodler’s puts on their bottles and boxes of ink.

Various boxes of Noodler's Black Ink

Various boxes of Noodler’s Black Ink

Noodling is a sort of loose word which can be used to describe doodling, but it is also a traditional southern method of fishing for catfish where the angler uses his or her fingers as a lure.  The intrepid fisherperson reaches into promising holes and pits in the bottom of the waterway and wiggles his fingers provocatively in hopes that a catfish will mistake them for some sort of prey.  If the catfish bites the angler’s hand he then uses brute strength to wrestle the fish bodily from the water.  Below is a picture of a Lucy Millsap, a professional (?) noodler landing a monstrous flathead catfish.  It sounds like an interesting sport I guess, but I think I’ll stick to noodlin’ with paper and ink.

Lucy Millsap with a Flathead Catfish she captured by "noodling"

Lucy Millsap with a Flathead Catfish she captured by “noodling”

[As a special weekend treat–and in keeping with this week’s theme, kindly find a repeat of a post about brown bullhead catfish from 3 years ago]

The most common catfish in New York State is the brown bullhead catfish (Ameiurus nebulosus) a fish sometimes also gracelessly known as the “mud pout” or the “horned pout”.  The brown bullhead lacks the beauty and charisma of many other catfish.  It is not electrical, has no armor, does not walk, and does not grow to immense size (average fish are usually 14 inches long or smaller).   It has two-tone coloration: unremarkable brown above and off-white below (although, like most fish, it can adapt somewhat to local conditions).

 

The Brown Bullhead Catfish

The fish does however illustrate one of the reasons I like catfish and write about them so much.  It is the most common catfish of New York State, a state marked by extreme differences of population density, landscape, temperature, and water quality. The brown bullhead is a hard-to-kill generalist which does well everywhere in the state (and throughout the east coast, the Great Lakes, the midwest, and the south).  It can be found in Prospect Park, a short walk from my apartment just as easily as in a cold Adirondack lake. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website describes the fish as follows:

Brown bullheads are probably the most adaptable member of the catfish family and live in a wide variety of habitats. They exemplify the hardiness of catfishes in general, tolerating both high water temperatures and low oxygen levels. They are present in many cool Adirondack lakes and often abundant in warm water ponds, lakes, and larger, slow moving streams. They occur in areas with or without aquatic vegetation and can be found over both muddy and gravelly bottoms.

The brown bullhead has the same exquisitely refined senses as other catfish.  Its whole body is covered with taste buds, which are particularly numerous on its eight barbels.  Though not especially large, the creature is strong, agile, and flexible.  An omnivore, the brown bullhead is protected from predators by the extremely sharp spines on its dorsal fin and its pectoral fins.  Both parents builds nests together and together they protect the eggs and even the young fry for a while after hatching.  Most astonishingly, the fish is heartily indifference to water pollution which makes it the foremost city catfish.  Below it is pictured with the other common New York City fish.  It is apparently a reasonably fun sportfish, although some fishing experts think that it is only suitable for child anglers (due to how extensively it can be found).   When not caught in polluted water it makes a tasty meal.

Whereas I usually write about invasive species coming from some exotic locale to the United States, the brown bullhead is the opposite.  When introduced abroad it has been the classic ugly American, stealing food and habitat from native species or eating them outright (which seems even more gauche than my habit of anxiously overtipping). Large populations have now established themselves in Europe, Russia, China, Australia, and New Zealand and the fish keep expanding their range.

“Free me petty human! Soon your world will belong to us!”
A Cake Shaped like a Catfish!

A Cake Shaped like a Catfish!

America is living in a golden era of cake decoration: shows about amazing cakes like Cake Boss flood the airwaves and the internet is in love with websites featuring “cakewrecks” hilariously ill –conceived &/or botched pastries.  Even so, I am still surprised at the lengths some people will go to in order to celebrate their favorite activities in cake form.  Today’s post features a list of photos of astonishing catfish cakes.   Check out these amazing sugar fins and icing whiskers!

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I am guessing that these cakes are for anglers and are not designed for ichthyologists studying the amazing diversity and complexity of siluriforms around the world, but who knows?  At the very least these amazing desserts demonstrate how obsessed people still are with catfishes.

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Ray Troll painting large amoonites for "Night of the Ammonites" exhibit at Seattle's Burke Museum

Ray Troll painting large amoonites for “Night of the Ammonites” exhibit at Seattle’s Burke Museum

One of my favorite living artists is not interested in the fatuous self-absorption and navel gazing which characterizes most contemporary artwork.  Instead of falling in love with himself, Ray Troll fell in love with aquatic animals—and his art is a pun-filled paean to the astonishing diversity and complexity of life in Earth’s rivers, lakes, and oceans both in this epoch and in past geological ages.   Although Troll’s vibrant biology themed art is humorous and fantastic, it also resonates at a deeper level.  Themes of ecological devastation and the broad exploitation of the oceans are unflinchingly explored, as is the true nature of humankind.  Troll (correctly) regards people as a sort of terrestrial fish descendant who still have the same aggressive territoriality, unending hunger, and crude drives that propelled our distant piscine forbears.  This sounds deterministic and grim until one comprehends the high esteem which Troll holds for fish of all sorts.  After looking at the beauty, grace, and power of his fish art, one feels honored to be included in the larger family (along with all the mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians which trace their roots back to fish-like tetrapod ancestors).

'Crusin' the Fossil Freeway' by Ray Troll (the artist is visible on the driver's side)

‘Crusin’ the Fossil Freeway’ by Ray Troll (the artist is visible on the driver’s side)

Troll is a favorite artist because he endeavors to understand paleontology, ecology, and biology and synthesize these extraordinary disciplines with broader human experience.  The result is a whimsical and surreal mixture of creatures and concepts from different times and places rubbing elbows as though Hieronymous Bosch were having a happy daydream.   Troll is a “popular” artist in that he makes a living by selling books, tee-shirts, and posters rather than swindling billionaire bankers into multi-million dollar single purchases, so you should check out his website.  In keeping with the themes of Ferrebeekeeper,  I have added a small gallery of his mollusk and catfish themed artwork (although such creatures are only featured in some of his paintings and drawings).  Unfortunately the online sample images are rather small.  If you want to see full resolution images you will have to buy his books and artwork (which is a worthwhile thing to do).

“The Encante”, (Ray Troll, 2004, colored pencil on paper, 11” x 30”)

“The Encante”, (Ray Troll, 2004, colored pencil on paper, 11” x 30”)

The Encante is a paradisiacal underwater realm where shapeshifting river dolphins lure humans.  The aquatic creatures are able to be themselves in this realm of magic and dance.  Not only does Troll’s work feature the beauty of the Amazon and the otherworldly magical river dolphins, there are also a host of amazing catfish, including several armored catfish, and a giant bottomfeeder which has apparently developed an unfortunate taste for human flesh.

Got Ink? (Ray Troll)

Got Ink? (Ray Troll)

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Octopi Wall Street (Ray Troll)

Octopi Wall Street (Ray Troll)

Here are a handful of Troll’s pun-themed tee-shirt drawings involving amazing cephalopods.  I like to imagine the populist octopus in battle with the fearsome vampire squid which is so emblematic of Goldman Sachs.

Night of the Ammonites (Ray Troll)

Night of the Ammonites (Ray Troll)

Finally, here is a naturalistic portrayal of how the ancient ammonites most likely came together to spawn on moonlit nights of the Paleozoic (such behavior is characteristic of the squids and cuttlefish alive today).  The long-extinct cephalopods are portrayed with life and personality as though their quest to exist has immediate relevance to us today.  Indeed–that might is Troll’s overarching artistic and philosophical point: life is a vividly complex web of relationships which knit together in the past, present, and the future.

The Frogmouth Catfish (Chaca chaca)

I have always liked looking at underwater ambush predators like wobbegongs, wolf fish, stargazers, and frogfish. There is something appealing about the way that a pile of pebbles will suddenly resolve into a wide toothy mouth with little pebble eyes.  In freshwater environments from Nepal down through India, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and into Indonesia, the niche for highly camouflaged bottom predators is filled by Chaco Chaco, the frogmouth catfish.

 

The Frogmouth Catfish (Chaca chaca) photographed by K.Dreymann

The frogmouth catfish grows to a size of 8 inches (20 centimeters) and feeds on tiny shrimp and minnows.  The animal is mostly head and can swallow creatures nearly as large as itself.  Although the frogmouth catfish is already camouflaged, it prefers to bury itself in the mud or sand so that only its tiny black eyes protrude from the substrate.

 

The closely related Chaca bangkanensis

The catfish are extremely committed to their camouflage and even when captured they will not move (although they growl menacingly when removed from the water).  When kept in aquariums they rapidly raise the acidity of the tank which suggests that they either have potent gastric juices (for digesting large prey) or they might emit an unpleasant taste.      Aquarium keepers sometimes keep the little predatory catfish in tanks which appear to be empty except for a blank spot of mud.  The frogmouth catfish will only accept live food.  Here is a video of one eating some shrimp!

The Chicago Cityscape Stretching along the shore of Lake Michigan

Kindly accept my apologies for not writing a post yesterday.  I am traveling the Great Lakes and Canada and will try to update when I am able.  Today I am in Chicago. As I was looking out at Lake Michigan, I wondered whether there were any catfish native to the vast body of water– which is so large it might as well be considered a freshwater sea.

Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)

As it turns out the lake is home to channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatu), the quintessential North American siluriform.  The channel catfish is a hardy omnivore which dwells in rivers, lakes, and ponds from southern Canada to northern Mexico.  They eat smaller fish, arthropods, worms, seeds, and just about any other edible thing which will fit into their mouths.  Channel catfish are nest breeders.  If the female catfish is unable to find a promising crevasse in which to lay her eggs, the male will arrange logs and rocks into a nesting bed for her.  He then guards the eggs until they hatch and even stays with the fry while they are very small (although if he is unduly disturbed he might eat the eggs and start all over again!).

Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)

While the channel catfish are hardly as flashy as some of the exotic catfish we have covered here, they are vastly successful organisms.  They can also grow to be fairly large and specimens measuring up to 23 kg (50 pounds) have been caught (although such giants are quite old and rare).  Although the catfish live naturally in Lake Michigan, they are also raised on farms throughout the American south (indeed they are the “Delecata” mentioned in this post about international catfish trade wars).  Channel catfish have been introduced in parts of Europe, Malaysia, and Indonesia, where they are now causing havoc among native species.

But Channel catfish here in the Great lakes are facing their own invasive threats.  Lake Michigan has been colonized by wave after wave of invasive animals.  Some, like the omnipresent zebra mussels, are harmless to catfish (albeit infuriating to humans).  Others like the sea lampreys (Petromyzon marinus) are not so benign for catfish.  The jawless lampreys are vampires which attach to the bodies of catfish (and a wide variety of other native Great Lakes fish) and then rasp a hole in the hosts’ sides by means of sharpened tongue.  Even more alarmingly, the leaping thriving all-devouring Asian carp has been making its way up Illinois’ rivers towards Lake Michigan.  The state has been trying to prevent these dangerous fish from getting to the Lake by means of increasingly horrifying devices and stratagems such as underwater electric fences and mass poisonings.  So far it has been working but there is still an underwater war raging for Lake Michigan.

Invasive Silver Carp leap from the electrified water.

One of the Aspredinidae (banjo catfish) species, Bunocephalus amaurus, from Guyana

Banjo catfish are a family (Aspredinidae) of tiny South American catfish which live in the major tropical river systems of the continent.  Most species of banjo catfish have round flat heads and long skinny tails—hence their distinctive name.  Although various sorts of banjo catfish live in many different river habitats (from quick flowing channels, to murky stagnant backwaters, to brackish tidal basins) they generally utilize the same strategy of keeping still and allowing their camouflage to protect them.  Although like all catfish, they lack scales, the Aspredinidae make up for this absence with rows of horny keratin tubercles which break up their profile and leave them well disguised.  Additionally they can shed their skins! As omnivores they hunt tiny invertebrates as well as feeding on whatever they can scavenge.  Members of the Amaralia genera of Banjo catfish are especially fond of the eggs of other species of catfish, which they actively seek out and vacuum up.

Another species of Banjo catfish (Bunocephalus coracoideus)

Perhaps because they are so partial to eating the eggs of other catfish, some banjo catfish have evolved special strategies to protect their own eggs.  Female catfish in the subfamily Aspredininae wait until their eggs are fertilized and then attach the developing eggs to their belly.  Three species of Aspredininae develop specialized fleshy stalks called cotylephores specifically for the purpose of exchanging nutrients and oxygen between the mother and the eggs.

More banjo catfish (Amaralia hypsiura)

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