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Myths From the Deep

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2005

Last revision: Nov. 17, 2010

spawning activities. Their abnormally large otoliths, along with their highly developed lateral line, assist them in hearing one another.

The freshwater drum's unusually large bones are used to a lesser degree for hearing. They help the fish keep its balance.

On the Bill

Otherwise fish-savvy folks have come up with plenty of stories to explain the paddlefish's big bill.

Paddlefish, or spoonbill, are only found in the Mississippi River system of North America. They are among the largest freshwater fish in the country. The Missouri state-record paddlefish, caught in 2002, weighed 139 pounds, 4 ounces. Paddlefish in other areas have reached 160 pounds.

Don't worry. This critter won't eat you, either. Paddlefish are close relatives of sharks, but they have no teeth. Paddlefish feed by sieving microscopic animals called zooplankton from the water with specialized combs located on the inner margin of their gills. These combs are called gill rakers.

Many people have told me that paddlefish use their bill, or rostrum, to dig through and stir up mud on the bottom of rivers and lakes. No evidence of this behavior is in scientific literature.

Scientists are not completely certain how the rostrum functions, but they believe it acts much like a compass and an antenna to help paddlefish navigate and feed in the muddy waters of the big rivers.

In addition, the dense meshwork of highly developed nerves on the rostrum works like an antenna to help young paddlefish locate colonies of plankton for food. In controlled conditions, when there was not enough light to see, paddlefish could detect and capture plankton approaching from below, above and to the sides of their rostrum.

Mature paddlefish rely on the rostrum less for feeding, but it may also be used to help them avoid obstacles and hazards in the water.

Pond Builders

In the course of conversations, many people have told me how wonderful it is that the Conservation Department builds ponds for people.

That's certainly not accurate, either, but you can obtain help in building a pond. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides federally funded programs that share 75 percent of the cost of building a pond in landscapes that erode easily. You may contact your local NRCS office or Conservation Department private land conservationist to help you apply.

Once the pond is built, the Conservation Department can provide fish for stocking if your pond meets certain criteria.

Many people think that if we provide fish for your pond, you have to open your pond to the general public to fish. That's inaccurate, too. It remains your pond and your private property, so you control who is allowed to fish. We only ask that you ensure that the pond is fished regularly.

Fish and fishing lend themselves to stories, and human nature being what it is, it's inevitable that those stories become more wonderful and mythic with each retelling.

Ever since I was young, I snorkeled a lot, but I never once saw a catfish big enough to eat me. On the other hand, this guy who lived down the road knew this guy whose neighbor used to be a diver who did structural repairs on dams and bridges, and he said....

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