Catching Crayfish, a Lesson in Over-Reacting

Originally posted Nov 13, 2015 on Bibleworld Adventures:

by James J. S. Johnson

Large Tropical Blue Crayfish - Captive ©Dave Wilson

Tropical Blue Crayfish – Captive ©Dave Wilson

During my junior high years, living in a rural part of Maryland, I learned and enjoyed the art of catching crayfish.   (Nowadays I just eat them at restaurants!)   As a teenager, I was neither an astacologist (crayfish scientist) nor a serious catcher of crayfish (which is the same crustacean known to some as “mudbug” and in Louisiana as “crawfish”), so I did not use a “crayfish trap”.  Rather, as described below, I used a homemade dipping net, to catch those greenish critters that looked like lobsters.

Crayfish like drainage ditches and slow-moving streams, especially those with banks that are shaped in ways that provide hiding places for crayfish (and habitat for what crayfish eat), including underwater rocks or logs or roots.

After a heavy rainfall the velocity of stream currents may increase, as it drains, but crayfish can act to maintain their position at the edge of such drainage:  “Crayfish … help maintain position [in face of faster current flow] by altering body posture to counteract the effect of drag when exposed to an increase in current velocity.”  [Quoting from Paul S. Giller & Björn Malmqvist, THE BIOLOGY OF STREAMS AND RIVERS (Oxford University Press, 2008), page 122.]  Crayfish care about staying and defending their “home turf”  –  i.e., they are territorial, and some will fight to defend a favorite streambank crevice.  [Giller & Malmqvist, pages 131-132.]

Crayfish

Crayfish

Crayfish are omnivores – they emerge from their hiding places, especially when it is dark (from “dusk to dawn”, to borrow an old TNT expression from Chaplain Bob Webel – or on days when it is cloudy), to find and feed on freshwater snails, fish eggs, tadpoles, worms, algae, grains, and other plant material. The dominating influence of crayfish, as “keystone predators” in the food webs of drainage ditches and sluggish stream-waters (where they live), is produced directly, as predators, and indirectly, by eating riparian plant cover used by aquatic invertebrates.  [Giller & Malmqvist, page 204.]

Drainage ditches are a favorite habitat of crayfish, not just in Maryland.  “Ditches are of course just man-made sloughs [pooled streamwater that only moves slowly], but they are important to the survival of many species of life in the state.  Ditches are necessary for allowing rain runoff much of the year, and wherever water is present for half the year or more there are likely to be populations of crawfishes  and other invertebrates, as well as their predators such as frogs, snakes, and turtles.  Even shallow ditches may be home to several species of crawfish, some quite uncommon and localized in distribution.”  [Quoting Jerry G. Walls, CRAWFISH OF LOUISIANA (Louisiana State University Press, 2009), pages 35-36.]

Where I (then) lived, in rural Baltimore County,  there was a bridge with a huge drainage pipe that allowed streamwater to flow in irregular patterns, around large and small rocks, so that the stream bank had indentations and crevices where the waterflow was somewhat shielded, providing places for small creatures (like baby fish and insect larvae) to avoid being swept downstream, though crayfish lurked nearby, always hungry for something small to eat, whether it be plant material or aquatic invertebrates.

When moving on land crayfish crawl, using their legs.  But, when underwater, they  “swim” or “paddle”, using their legs and when needed, the tail fan.  Rapid flipping of the crayfish tail enables the crayfish to suddenly propel itself backward  — it appears to “jump backwards” in the water.  This can provide a quick exit from anything facially threatening the crayfish.

Of course, the crayfish themselves were shy about large disturbances in the water, so wading into the stream (which might be ankle-deep to knee-deep) would scare crayfish into hiding places, some of which were located under the bridge or in underwater burrows nearby.

If you splash a stone into the water directly in front of a crayfish it would jet backwards to escape.  The escape maneuver was so reflexive and quick that the crayfish never looked before it “jumped” backward in the water, to escape whatever the perceived danger was in front of it.  After learning this crayfish habit it became apparent that crayfish could be easily caught, by taking advantage of this “knee-jerk” reaction, with a home-made “net”.  So how did we catch crayfish, down by the drainage pipe that conveyed streamwater under the bridge?

Shasta Crayfish

Shasta Crayfish

First, make a “net” to catch the crayfish with.  Reshape (by bending) a coat hanger into the shape of a lollipop profile, i.e., a straight line (for a handle) that is curved into a circle.  The resulting shape of the coat hanger resembles a somewhat small version of the frame of a tennis racquet (or badminton racquet), with the “loop” (circle or oval) part being about the size (circumference) of a soccer ball, easily enough room for catching a large or small crayfish.  The largest crayfishes that I caught were about the size of lobsters that you can eat at a Red Lobster restaurant.   But the metal frame needs a net  –  so you tear apart an expendable T-shirt, then you thread it onto the circular “loop” part of the reshaped coat hanger.  Ideally the result is somewhat like a dipping net for an aquarium.

The coat-hanger “dipping net” is the tool to be used for catching (netting) the crayfish, but keep in mind that a crayfish will try to exit if caught, so you need a bucket of water to “land” your catch if and when you catch one.  So you need to bring a bucket (or a pail will do!) that is half-filled with water, and it must be positioned near the spot where you expect to net your crayfish.

The next trick is to get a crayfish to “jump” into your net, in the streamwater, just before you jerk the net up and out of the water (so the crayfish can’t exit your net, upon realizing that he or she is caught!).

But how do you entice a shy crayfish to “jump” into your net?  Actually, it’s not very difficult, although it requires sequenced (and quick) timing as you perform two rapid movements.  With your net ready to “stab” the water just behind the crayfish (i.e., where his or her tail is located), drop a clod of dirt (or a small rock) about 6 inches in front of the crayfish’s head and front claws.  Instantly plunge your net behind the crayfish – which is now “jumping” backward to avoid whatever you dropped into the water.  Then quickly jerk the net up out of the water – you should have the crayfish secured inside your net, for a moment at least, so now you quickly dump the net into your bucket of water, and shake the crayfish loose from the net.

Catching in a Net

Catching in a Net

[ Fair Use image credit: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/fHaQJN4LmGM/hqdefault.jpg ]

If your bucket is deep enough the crayfish is now covered in water, yet the water level needs to be low enough that the crayfish cannot swim to the top and then crawl out over the brim, to escape involuntary confinement.  Ironically, it was the crayfish’s reflex habit  —  the automatic “jump-back” reaction  —  that got the crayfish captured!

Captured!

Captured!

[ Fair Use image credit: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/About/General/2011/12/29/1325169553221/A-virile-right-and-a-sign-007.jpg ]

Now that you have a captive crayfish you need to feed it, to keep it alive, or else eat it (!) as you might a lobster, or just release it.  “Catch and release” is what I recommend.

But what does catching a crayfish have to do with the adventure of living the Christian life? 

The crayfish illustrates the danger of carelessly over-reacting to a perceived danger.  Because the crayfish is startled by the rock dropped (into water facing the crayfish), it automatically reacts by “jumping” backward  –  without checking to see if a net is waiting there, to capture it! Since the Christian life involves a lot of balancing, we need to be careful about over-reacting to this or that.  Regarding the need to avoid over-reacting, as a Christian who strives to honor God in this life, see Charles C. Ryrie’s indispensable guidebook, BALANCING THE CHRISTIAN LIFE (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 252 pages.  [Thankfully, this book was provided to me, when I was a teenager, by my youth/college pastor, Chaplain Bob Webel.]

Over-reacting involves moving recklessly from one extreme to its opposite.  For an example of such over-reacting  —  “jumping” from one imbalanced extreme to another — consider how to teach children to inculcate a responsible “work ethic”.

In one Christian family, that I know, the parents were very concerned about raising children who might be lazy, unfocused, and/ or unresourceful.  (So far, so good.)   In other words, the parents wanted their children to have a “good work ethic”  –  self-initiative, goal-oriented diligence, and an entrepreneurial spirit,   —  to learn and practice practical life skills, so that they could be self-starters, as adults, who economically support themselves.

Of course, who would oppose teaching children a “good work ethic”?  Shouldn’t children learn to take the initiative, to recognize (and acquire) useful opportunities, to have productive ambitions, to focus on practical successes?

Yet promoting an entrepreneurial spirit, with an inner drive to ambitiously succeed in profitable work, can swing to an extreme that neglects altruistic service.  Without the balance of some commitment to altruistic service, however, the profit-motive-based ethic selfishly degrades to:  “If I don’t get paid money to do it, I won’t do it.”  That refusal to blend altruistic service (which the apostle Paul role-modeled in Acts 20:33-35) with a for-profit “work ethic” quickly uglifies into ordinary greed.  Is selfish greed better than selfish laziness?  Neither habit honors the Lord.  Both are wickedly sinful.  Both sins are ugly to look at  –  and, sad to say, we have many examples of both of those vices, lived out in front of us.

The Holy Bible provides a proper balance:  yes, we should work for profit and self-sustenance (2nd Thessalonians 3:10-12); however, some of the profit acquired should be used non-selfishly, to further the Lord’s work on earth (Matthew 6:19-21) and to compassionately “support the weak” (Acts 20:35).

Cooked Crayfish

Crayfish served at IKEA

So next time you catch a crayfish, or eat a plateful at a Swedish crayfish party, or eat one at a Cajun restaurant, remember this lesson: don’t carelessly over-react!   —   review the big picture, and maintain a Biblical balance in whatever you are doing (1st Corinthians 10:31).

><> JJSJ

Of Cormorants and Anhingas

Of Cormorants and Anhingas

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Cormorant-Doublecrested.WikipediaAnhinga-perching.Wikipedia

Double-crested Cormorant (L) & Anhinga (R)  / both Wikipedia images­

­But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it . . . . (Isaiah 34:11a)

Cormorants and bitterns (the latter being a type of heron) are famous to frequently waterways, preying on fish and other aquatic critters. Yet there is another large waterbird that resembles a cormorant, the anhinga.

CORMORANT VERSUS ANHINGA

Cormorants and Anhingas are frequently confused. They are both [fairly big, i.e., bigger than a crow, almost as large as a goose] black birds that dive under the water to fish.  Both must dry their feathers in the sun [because their feathers are not 100% waterproofed].

The differences are easy to see. The Anhinga’s beak is pointed for spearing [i.e., stabbing] fish, while the Cormorant’s beak is hooked for grasping its prey.  The Cormorants’ body remains above the surface when swimming [unlike the “snake-bird” appearance of a swimming Anhinga, which swims mostly underwater, with only its head and neck emergent].  It [i.e., the Cormorant] lacks the Anhinga’s slender [snake-like] neck, long tail, and white wing feathers.

[Quoting Winston Williams, FLORIDA’S FABULOUS WATERBIRDS: THEIR STORIES (Hawaiian Gardens, Calif.: World Publications, 2015), page 4.]

By the way, this photography-filled waterbird book [i.e., Winston Williams’ FLORIDA’S FABULOUS WATERBIRDS: THEIR STORIES] was recently given to me by Chaplain Bob & Marcia Webel, of Florida, precious Christian friends (of 45+ years) who are also serious birdwatchers.

Cormorant-Doublecrested-fishing.Bruce-J-Robinson-photo

Double-crested Cormorant fishing (Bruce J. Robinson photograph)

Of course, there are different varieties of cormorants [e.g., Neotropic Cormorant, Brandt’s Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant, Great Cormorant, etc.], as Winston Williams observes [ibid., page 4], but the cormorant that you can expect to see in Florida is the Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), so called due to white tufted feather “crests” during breeding season.  Mostly piscivorous [i.e., fish-eating], cormorants will also eat small crustaceans [e.g., shellfish like crayfish] and amphibians [e.g., frogs], often about one pound of prey daily. These cormorants range over America’s Lower 48 states, especially in the Great Lakes region.

It is the American Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga), however, that is properly nicknamed “Snake-bird” (and a/k/a “American Darter” or “Water Turkey”), due to its mostly-submerged-underwater hunting habit.  It eats fish almost exclusively, though it can and sometimes does eat crustaceans (e.g., crabs, shrimp, crayfish) or small aquatic vertebrates (e.g., frogs, newts, salamanders, turtles, snakes, and even baby crocodiles).

Anhinga-piscivore.PhilLanoue-photo

ANHINGA with fish (Phil Lanoue photo)

America’s Anhinga is a cousin to other darters (a/k/a “snake-birds”) of other continents, such as the Indian Darter, African Darter, and Australian Darter. The term “darter” refers to the piercing dart-like impalement technique that these birds use, for acquiring and securing their prey, just before ingestion.   Worldwide, darters like in tropical climes or in regions with almost-tropical weather.

In the Orient, for many generations, cormorants have been harnessed to catch fish for human masters. [See “’C’ Is for Cardinal and Cormorant:  ‘C’ Birds, Part 1”, posted at https://leesbird.com/2016/05/18/c-is-for-cardinal-and-cormorant-c-birds-part-1/ .]

Also, cormorant feathers have been used, historically, for stuffing Viking pillows. [See “Viking Pillows were Stuffed for Comfort:  Thanks to Ducks, Geese, Eagle-Owls, Cormorants, Seagulls, and Crows!”, posted at https://leesbird.com/2018/04/30/viking-pillows-were-stuffed-for-comfort-thanks-to-ducks-geese-eagle-owls-cormorants-seagulls-and-crows/ .]

Now it is time for a limerick, about an Anhinga:

TABLE  MANNERS  &  TECHNIQUE  (ANHINGA  STYLE)

Wings spread out, the bird had one wish:

To dive, stab, flip up, and eat fish;

Without cream of tartar,

Fish entered the darter!

‘Twas stab, gulp!  —  no need for a dish!

><> JJSJ


 

 

Appreciating White Ibises (and Other Birds in Florida)

APPRECIATING  WHITE  IBISES   (AND  OTHER  BIRDS  IN  FLORIDA)

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

 whiteibises-at-fence-ad2016

All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. (1st Corinthians 15:39)

Christian birdwatchers can enjoy the variety that God has given to our planet, including many different animal kinds, and a multifarious diversity within that larger diversity, such as the enormous variety that we can see in the realm of birds. [See “Valuing God’s Variety”, posted at http://www.icr.org/article/valuing-gods-variety .]  One such example follows, viewed (and appreciated) in coastal Florida, on a day when I saw more than 2 dozen different birds.  The American White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) — a/k/a White Ibis — is a wading shorebird that frequents the shorelands of America’s Southeast coastlines, clockwise from Virginia’s shores to those of the Gulf of Mexico, from Florida to Texas (and south of that, e.g., Mexico and the Caribbean islands).

And St. Petersburg (Florida) is not deficient when it comes to the White Ibis.

white-ibises-webel-backyard-fence

WHITE IBISES at Webel backyard (photo by Marcia Webel)

These waders are easy to recognize – their plumage is all white, except for black wingtips (usually visible only when their wings are outstretched, as in flight); also, they have long, thin red legs (with knees that bend backwards), a long, decurved (i.e., curved downward) reddish-orange bill, and a red face. The White Ibis probes in shallow water with its bill, feeling around for potential prey.

[The White Ibis] uses freshwater or saltwater wetlands and the nearby open shallow water [as hunting grounds, when seeking food].

Feeding is primarily by rapid, tactile probing in exposed or submerged mud while slowly walking. Ibises may also sweep the partially open bill form side to side in water over 10 cm (4 in) deep, snapping down when they feel a prey item. The sweep feeding may be accompanied by foot stirring to scare fish and crustaceans [like crayfish] up into the water column, and/or fully extending a wing to shade the water and provided a perceived refuge for fish. They take advantage of almost any ephemeral source of food and may be seen probing in shallow marshes, willow or sawgrass-lined ponds, the soggy spots of an interstate highway median, or wet agricultural land. This ibis [i.e., the White Ibis] usually feeds in flocks [e.g., a dozen or more]. When feeding on the exposed soil surface, they select their prey items by vision rather than by feel.

Prey includes small crabs (particularly hermit crabs), aquatic insects and [their] larvae, crayfish, snails, clams, worms, frogs, and small fish. They become particularly adept at catching coquina clams exposed at the surface by strong surf. Small prey is swallowed with a forward thrust of the head, while larger items are dismembered by stabbing and biting. Indigestible parts are cast as pellets. Ibises steal large prey from each other [shame on them!] and are sometimes the thief and sometimes the victim with other wading birds [such as the Wood Stork].

Other wading birds as well as kingfishers use feeding ibises as beaters to flush [out] prey, and ibises [like cattle egrets] use livestock [such as cattle] as beaters. Nestling become salt stressed when fed prey from salt water or brackish water; thus, accessible shallow freshwater feeding sites are required for successful reproduction [of thriving offspring].

Recent studies have shown that the White Ibis and [the] Glossy Ibis partition food resources by [non-competitively – so much for Darwinist “survival-of-the-fittest” theory!] selecting different foods when feeding outside the breeding season. White Ibises feeding in flooded ricefields avoid competition by feeding selectively in muddy fields on 48% crabs, 37% aquatic insects, and 15% fish. The Glossy Ibis feeds in shallow flooded fields on a diet composed of 58% grains, 26% insects, and 15% crabs.

[Quoting David W. Nellis, Common Coastal Birds of Florida and the Caribbean (Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2001), page 151.]

The White Ibis belongs to the same created “kind” (see Genesis 1:21) as the brilliant-vermillion-colored Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus ruber), which it is known to hybridize with, e.g., in central Venezuela and coastal Colombia.

scarletibis-rookery-stevebird-wildlife

SCARLET  IBIS  Rookery     (photo  by  Steve  Bird’s  Wildlife)

White Ibises are usually wild (i.e., non-domesticated), probing beaches and pondshores for prey, such as small fish, aquatic insects, and their favorite marsh-water crustacean: crayfish!   However, ibises are teachable!  —  they can easily learn to trust kind-hearted humans, such as those who feed them bread crumbs in Florida.  [For an example, see Lee Dusing’s “Birdwatching at Lake Morton, Finally”.]

white-ibises-lakemorton-lakeland-fl

White Ibises at Lake Morton   (photo by Lee Dusing)

Some may actually eat from your hand; others may keep a “safe” distance as they rush forward to grab up bread morsels tossed to them, at parks or in backyards. These shorebirds also search the lawns of residential properties, seeking (and often finding) large insects – such as beetles – to acquire needed protein-rich food.

white-ibises-birdbook-webel-backyard-ad2016

White Ibises  (Webel backyard; Marcia Webel photo)

During 3 days following Thanksgiving (in AD2016) – Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday – I was privileged to see and feed White Ibis visitors who came to the backyard of Chaplain Bob and Marcia Webel, in St. Petersburg (Florida).

Most of the birding occurred as Chaplain Bob and I sat at the Webels’ patio table, while we both used binoculars (and drank coffee), drank coffee, and ate breakfast prepared by Marcia Webel (whose political humor is second to none!)  —  as we leisurely enjoyed the avian acrobatics that the birds performed at (and near) the pond that borders the Webels’ backyard, in conjunction with discussing how wonderful God is.  [For previous birding reports, of birdwatching at the same location, see  Pond-side Birdwatching in Florida I and Pond-side Birdwatching in Florida II , Pond-side Birdwatching In Florida III.]

What a variety-filled birdwatching bonanza it was!

On the Monday following Thanksgiving (i.e., 11-28-AD2016), I observed – in addition to more than a dozen White Ibises (unto many of which I fed bread crumb and/or popcorn) – the following birds, on the pond (they say “lake”) behind the Webels’ house, either in the pondwater or on the pondshores:  Muscovy Duck; Mallard; Double-crested Cormorant; Osprey (a/k/a Fish Hawk); Roseate Spoonbill; Wood Stork; Snowy Egret; Great White Egret; Belted Kingfisher; some green parrots (these were dark-headed, but otherwise green); Anhinga, Great Blue Heron; Green Heron; Tri-colored Heron [a/k/a Louisiana Heron]; Pied-billed Grebe; Black Vulture; Common Moorhen [a/k/a Swamp Chicken — what Lee Dusing calls the “Candy Corn Bird”, due to its red bill that is tipped with yellow]; and Boat-tailed Grackle.  Breadcrumbs are preferred over popcorn, as far as avian appetites were concerned, at least by White Ibises and Wood Storks – although turtles were happy to snap up popcorn that landed in the pond’s shallow shorewaters.

Also, I saw a dark-colored River Otter in the wild – occasionally surfacing and re-surfacing near the center of the pond.  (Never before had I seen one in the wild, so Marcia Webel prayed that I would get to see one during this visit.)  And, at least once, I had a good view of the otter’s face, as he surfaced to eat something he (or she) had caught.

In the front yard we also heard (and later saw) a Blue Jay. Later that day, at Madeira Beach/John’s Pass, I also saw Brown Pelicans, various seagulls, and a few dolphins.

laughinggull-caught-fish-richardseaman

LAUGHING  GULL  with  caught  fish    (photo  by  Richard Seaman)

On Tuesday morning we saw many of the same birds (as seen on Monday), on or near the same pond – plus Ring-billed Gulls, a very noisy Limpkin, and a Red-shouldered Hawk. Later on Tuesday, at Passa-Grille Beach, I saw Rock Doves (i.e., pigeons), Laughing Gulls, Caspian Terns, and some kind of sandpipers. 

As Chaplain Bob noted, every birdwatching day (in the Webel backyard) is similar to other such days, in many ways, yet every birdwatching day is also uniquely different.  (That reminds me of snowflakes — they are all similar, yet also unique.  In fact, that is much moreso true of us humans — we have much in common, yet God made each of us unique.)

That’s a lot of variety squashed into a couple of fast-flying days in St. Petersburg.

Now that was a birdwatching adventure, reminding me how God loves variety — even among birds!