Saturday, October 31, 2015

New Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy), walleye and flathead catfish

One of our two new muskie on exhibit

A muskie (the one pictured above) eats a 11" trout

We recently accompanied a Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) survey crew led by Biologist George Palmer, in the hopes of obtaining a muskellunge or "muskie" for our Mountain Lake exhibit. Adult muskie are truly impressive animals and can grow to nearly 5 feet long, but are notoriously elusive creatures so many people have never even seen one. Many fisherman and fish enthusiasts - like myself - can spend a lifetime having never caught one because of their finicky eating habits and unpredictability. They are ambush predators and lie motionless until unsuspecting prey meanders by. Using a heavily muscled, elongated body and armed with a duck-bill mouth full of spiky teeth, muskie can take down some serious prey. Aside from other fishes, they have been known to eat muskrats, frogs, snakes and even ducklings.

The duck-like bill of muskie hide some serious teeth

Biologist George Palmer (far left) and his crew

We met on the Upper James River where Mr. Palmer and his crew were scheduled to survey the river to get an idea of the fish species and their relative numbers that inhabit the river. There were plenty of catfish, good numbers of smallmouth bass and walleye, and of course muskie.

Several species of fishes (walleye in hand) were all weighed and recorded, then released unharmed.

Along with the muskie, we took advantage of our opportunity to also take a pair of walleye and a flathead catfish. The walleye is a large member of the perch family and is a very popular food and game fish in the Midwest, but not too common in VA. The flathead catfish may be best known for the species that some people go "noodling" for; a practice best described as finding a log, hole or tube that a flathead catfish has taken up residence - usually by feeling around in muddy water in rivers - then when you locate a flathead, you jam your hands in its mouth and pull it out of its hiding place.

The flathead catfish being measured above, now resides in our Cypress Swamp exhibit (below).

We'd like to thank VDGIF for allowing us the opportunity to join them on the river and specifically for helping us acquire these unique fishes for the public - and us - to enjoy.

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