Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Something to Carp About

The Lower Arboretum was filled with the usual cast of characters this morning: house wrens, song sparrows, tree swallows, Canada geese, a coot (in the retention pond), a hawk, various warblers, a cowbird, a spotted sandpiper. I also spotted a green-backed heron and the loveliest of ducks, an adult male wood duck. He looked like he had flown out of a medieval illuminated manuscript. I also saw, for the first time this spring, spiny softshell turtles (Apalone spinifera) sunning themselves on the far bank of the river, looking a little like discarded hubcaps. Oh, for a real telephoto lens!

As I approached Turtle Pond, across the river from the city sewage treatment plant, I smelled a disgusting smell. It wasn't an ordinary sewage smell; it was the smell of my brother-in-law's dog when she rolls in something dead. It was the smell of dead carp. Yesterday's rain raised the water level enough to fill a small side channel of the river near Turtle Pond. There was enough water for dozens of carp (Cyprinus carpio) to swim up the channel and become trapped as the water level subsided again. According to student naturalist Lindsey Nietmann at Carleton: "C. carpio, introduced from Europe and Asia in the 1880s as a game fish, has the ability to dramatically alter the dynamics of the floodplain forest by disrupting the shallowly rooted plants on which it feeds. Additionally, in non-seasonal aquatic environments, carp alter the feeding ecology of waterfowl and other fish by muddying the water and releasing phosphorous which causes changes in algal population dynamics." Had I been so inclined, I could have reached in and caught carp with my bare hands.

Unfortunately, the carp were not the only disgusting creatures I encountered on my hour-and-a-half walk through the Lower Arboretum. When I finished my walk, I checked myself for ticks. I was wearing a loose shirt and, sure enough, a tick had had hitched a ride on my chest. I crushed it before any damage was done. I'm sensitive to the danger of ticks because my mother recently had to cancel a trip to Minnesota because of a recurrence of a bad case of Lyme disease.


Jim H. said...


You should apply for a federal grant to develop a carp management plan for the lower Arb.

Can carp be planked and cooked over an open fire like shad or salmon? Or, another way of asking this question: Are carp good for anything?

Clara said...

When my brother was about 16 we had a year of very high water at our summer place in Michigan. Lake Huron was so high that it flooded the road and filled the area on the other side; this area filled with carp. My brother and various boy-cousins used to spear the carp for fun. My mother thought we should eat anything they killed, so she spent the summer desperately trying to make the carp edible: she poached it, broiled it, baked it. I don't remember if we tried planking it. But it was NASTY no matter what she did.

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