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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

June 2007

Readers Write

Bullish on Catfish
Off By A Whisker
Pond Ecology 101
Past Issues Available
Puff Adder Bluff
Use Caution Cleaning Feeders

Bullish on Catfish

I was happy to see your article on the catfish and bullhead family in the February 2007 issue (Felines with fins). This fish group deserves far more respect and your well-written article went a long way to gain some for them.

© John Lyons

Bullheads were not only one of the "depression buster" foods in southern Wisconsin in the 1930s, but almost certainly the main ingredient of the Friday night fish fry that originated there! My oldest brother sold gunny sacks full of bullheads to local tavern owners until the Conservation Department, as it was known then, changed the rules about selling wild fish and game.

Depression, prohibition and a large Catholic population in southern Wisconsin led the taverns and small restaurants to blur the lines between themselves by serving food. Friday night featured the fish fry – typically, bullheads, cole slaw and rye bread – for twenty-five cents! Catholics were looking for another choice on meatless Fridays. Tavern owners were looking for a good cover to sell a little of whatever alcohol they could. A depression weary population needed a cheap night out! All three benefited!

An article on how to handle and clean bullheads would encourage people when they find them to catch a "good mess" of bullheads. The prime cleaning tool is a proper pliers. There were several machine shops in southern Wisconsin small towns that turned out an excellent pliers. An experienced bullhead cleaner could clean 25 bullheads in 25 minutes, rarely getting "spiked."

Not only are bullheads delicious table fare, but due to their primeval structure even small children can eat them without worrying about bones – just like corn on the cob!

George F. Ellis, Sr.
Eagle River

Off by a Whisker

After reading your article Felines with fins, it brought back memories of an incident that happened to me. When I was a preteen, my parents and I were catfishing one evening at the family cottage. They decided to go to town to the local tavern for a short time. I said I would watch Dad's pole along with mine. Suddenly he had a good-sized flathead catfish on the line. I managed to net it and get it to shore, but Dad had always been there to take it off the hook. I knew it had spines, so with a pliers and fillet knife I carefully removed them. A short time later my parents came home and I proudly showed him his catfish. As he approached, he exclaimed, "What happened to my catfish?" Not knowing for sure which were the spines, I had cut off every whisker along with the spines. It didn't look much like a catfish anymore!

Diane Eisermann

Pond Ecology 101

I have a pond in my woods that is about eight feet deep. It's not a big pond but wood ducks use it because I have a box for them in the pond. It's also a deer watering hole. I read your article on bullheads and wondered if they would live in the pond as it freezes over from November to April? I would like to see something alive in the pond and thought that bullheads would survive. If not, would turtles?

Glen Bawek

Author and fisheries biologist Joe Hennessy says, "Eight feet of depth is probably too shallow for fish to survive, even bullheads. However, there are a number of animals that would be glad to live in your pond and especially thankful to not have to share it with fish. Some are probably already there. Wisconsin has 12 frog species, for example, five of them endangered, threatened, of special concern or declining. Bullheads would prey on frogs or tadpoles in the pond. You're right about turtles – the pond could be habitat for a number of Wisconsin's 11 turtle species. Aquatic insects like dragonflies, damselflies and a host of others provide food for songbirds and bats. My guess is that your pond is already teeming with life, and that bullheads would probably not be a welcome addition!"

Past Issues Available

The Eau Claire Area Master Gardeners recently held its winter seminar and your contribution of past issues was extremely well received. On behalf of our organization, I sincerely thank you for your generous contribution. I hope that distributing these magazines along with the subscription envelopes you provided will increase your subscriptions. The content of your magazine covers many issues that good gardeners throughout the state can benefit from, besides being just good reading. Thanks again!

Susan R. Kaul
Eau Claire Area Master Gardeners

When supplies warrant, we are happy to make small quantities of past issues – two or more years old – available for handouts at meetings or conferences. Most topics we feature remain timely for several years and we appreciate the opportunity to acquaint potential readers with our magazine whenever we can.

Puff Adder Bluff

I read your article on the hognose snake (Hog-nosed ham, August 1996), or as I know them, the puff adder. I have a problem with this article, because unless there are two types of puff adder, they DO have fangs and venom. Just a few summers ago I saw many snakes caught in netting along a bridge, some dead and some alive. One was a puff adder about one and a half feet long. It had the same raised flattened head and was hissing, just as described in your article. Since it was caught, I took a stick and opened its mouth to investigate further. On the roof of its mouth two fangs were laid back and in the back of its throat was a very visible full venom sack. Since the only known venomous snake in Michigan is the massasauga rattler, it has eaten at my curiosity for a few years. Your article says the hognose, or puff adder, snake does not have fangs or venom, but there was no mistaking what I saw.

Nichole Sauve
Roscommon County, Mich.

Josh Kapfer, a conservation biologist with DNR's Bureau of Endangered Resources, thinks using the common name "puff adder" to describe the hognose snake is unfortunate. "True puff adders are very venomous snakes found in Africa," he explains. "The hognose (Heterodon platyrhinos) got this nickname because of its tendency to hiss loudly when threatened. I've also heard it referred to as a 'puffer snake' and a 'blower snake.' Regarding its toxicity, most snakes in the upper Midwest have jaws lined with teeth of uniform size and shape. Rattlesnakes – one of the exceptions – have elongated teeth in the front of their mouths that act as hypodermic needles for injecting venom into prey animals. Hognose snakes are also an exception. They have a set of elongated teeth in the back of their jaws that can secrete a toxin believed to affect amphibians, their primary food source. In rare cases I've heard of eastern hognose snake bites causing a severe allergic reaction in people, but not severe tissue trauma or death. This, coupled with the fact that they rarely bite, means they aren't usually considered a venomous species dangerous to humans."

Use Caution Cleaning Feeders

I enjoyed the article Keep neater feeders (February 2007), but noted in step three about disinfecting feeders that you recommend using a bleach solution. I would caution your readers to check the bleach they are using because all bleach is not the same. Make sure to read the label. Some bleach is labeled "sodium hypochlorite 5.25%," which is fine to use. The other bleach is labeled "sodium hydroxide" which is also known as lye. Lye can leave a residue and possibly harm the animals. I found this out while doing wild animal transporting for the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the local wildlife rehabilitators for the Wild Forever Foundation.

Ken Maxey
Colorado Springs, Col.


Effect of Fish Culling Depend on Water Temperature

Sorting fish from tournament catches causes minimal mortality when the weather is cold but can harm fish when the weather warms up, especially if live wells or receiving waters are warmer than 80 degrees. Tournaments that allow culling do not draw more spectators or more money to an area than tournaments that forbid the practice. Further, a majority of anglers oppose culling regardless of special live well requirements designed to keep fish alive longer.

Studies conducted in 2005 and 2006 by UW-Stevens Point and UW-Madison, and funded by the Department of Natural Resources, evaluated the impact of fish tournaments on fish and the state's economy. DNR research staff surveyed attitudes of anglers, boaters, property owners and tournament anglers about tournament fishing. Results were reported to the Natural Resources Board at its April meeting. Lawmakers required the studies in response to criticism by some anglers and tournament sponsors that the state's culling rules made big-time bass tournaments look elsewhere for sites.

FCC Seeks Comment on Safe Passage for Manure Rules Effective this Spring

Manure rules affecting the state's 160 largest farms went into effect this spring. Though these farms comprise less than half a percent of our farms, they contribute 11 percent of the state's manure loading. Each operation spreads manure equivalent to the daily organic loading of a city of 18,000 residents.

The rules incorporate most of the proposed requirements the legislature put on hold in May 2006. Where concessions could be built into the rules without compromising water quality, those measures were revised.

These large farms must have the capacity to store liquid manure for six months if necessary, and 90 percent of them already do. Liquid manure from these large operations cannot be spread on snow-covered or frozen ground unless it is immediately incorporated into the soil.

It's important to note that these rules apply to only the largest farms and more than 99 percent of the state's smaller farms – that can also contribute to winter manure and runoff problems if waste from their operations isn't properly managed – won't be affected.