This big fish did not get away

BLACK CRAPPIE (Pomoxis migromaculatus) are just one of the Sunfish family of fishes. In general, the sunfish family is a group of spiny-rayed fishes native only to the North American continent. There are twenty-five species of sunfish and eleven are native to Iowa waters. Biologists further group sunfish into three broad categories: the black basses, true sunfishes, and the crappies. There are two in the black bass group, eight in the true sunfish group and three crappie-like species.

All of the sunfish family species reproduce in the spring and early summer. They are nest builders. Collectively they make up a substantial proportion of game fish and pan fishes sought after from Iowa’s lakes, ponds and streams. Another term for their behavior is pugnacious, sometime hiding behind rocks or submerged logs, or suspended off the bottom in open water. They are always on the alert for a passing fish or helpless insect on the surface of the water. If it decides to eat the morsel of aquatic food fare, it will be game on.

There are white crappie and black crappie. The former tend to have seven to nine vertical dark bars on their sides and the belly is bright silver to white. A white crappie has six spines on its forward dorsal fin. In contrast, a black crappie has numerous green or blackish spots irregularly spaced over it sides. There are no distinct vertical bars. The dorsal fin has seven to eight spines in the front portion of this feature. Black crappie are strictly carnivorous feeding on insects, crustaceans and other small fishes.

Black crappies nest in colonies of their kind, constructed by the males in water 3 to 8 feet deep. Average female crappie weight is one-half pound and can produce 20,000 to 60,000 eggs. A large female was documented to produce 158,000 eggs. During the first year, black crappies will grow to two to three inches long. At the third year when about seven to eight inches they are mature and ready to add to the reproductive pool. Occasionally very large specimens are taken as is the case of today’s photo catch. Any black crappie over two pounds is worthy of record book entry. Four pound fish make the records every so often as did Ted Trowbridge’s twenty-one inch fish of four pounds nine ounces from several decades ago.

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The IOWA STATE FAIR is next month, a teaser that our summer is moving fast, some will say too fast. Time is a relative thing that Mother Nature has perfected quite well. If we humans think time goes quickly, it is an illusion. This steady paced passage of the past, present and future is very predictable. So, get ready to attend the state fair between Aug. 10-20. As always it will be lots of fun, particularly for the 4-H and FFA youth who have worked so hard on projects and livestock to show. A big tip of the hat to all the young men and women who excel, learn and grow because of their hard work.

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The day after the state fair, is Aug. 21. A TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE SUN will take place across the United States, visible at 100 percent from northern Oregon to Charlotte, South Carolina. No one in America will miss it because the sky will darken as sunlight gets blocked by the orbit of our moon, blocking out the sun. You will hear a lot more about the eclipse in the coming weeks. So stay tuned for that. In the meantime, here are few facts to put into your memory about the eclipse of the sun.

Our sun is about 93 million miles away from earth. It has a diameter of 864,938 miles. Our moon is approximately 240,000 miles away and has a diameter of 2,159 miles. This happens to be 27.3 percent of earth’s diameter. Due to the distances involved and the luck of mathematics, the circular shape of the moon is almost identical to the circular dimensions of the Sun from our point of view. So when the moon’s orbit happens to be just right from a timing standpoint, it appears to us humans looking up that the Sun is being obliterated.

A big word of caution is in order: NEVER look at the sun with your own eyes or through binoculars, telescopes or other devices. Instead look at filtered images of pin holes in aluminum foil casting rays onto a white cardboard backdrop. Viewing the sun with your eyes has a severe penalty due to damaging infra-red and ultraviolet rays. One can watch the eclipse by looking at tree leaf shadows on the ground, Bite size pieces of leaf shapes will grow and grow until almost all is covered in shadow. Wait about two minutes and the process will undo itself as the sun begins to reappear.

If you not under the 100 percent eclipse pathway shadow, that is okay. You will just see something less than 100, and Marshalltownians will be seeing about 90 percent. If you have friends or family in Lincoln, Neb., this is just one of the cities to be at 100 percent. The zone of totality will begin near Salem, Ore., at 10:17 a.m. and move east-southeast a distance of 2,500 miles in 90 minutes to conclude at 2:46 p.m. Under this pathway are Casper, Wyo.; Columbia, Mo.; and Nashville, Tenn. Cities at the edges of eclipse totality are Kansas City and St. Louis, Mo., Portland, Ore.; Boise, Idaho; Omaha, Neb.; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Atlanta, Ga. For Central Iowa folks the time of the eclipse will be near the 1 p.m. time frame.

Weather and clouds can and will get in the way somewhere along this 2,500-mile course line. There is no way to predict if that is the case on Aug. 21. Even if a blanket of clouds hides the sun, we will experience twilight-like conditions. It is easy to understand how ancient peoples coped with eclipses of past ages. Perhaps they thought the world was coming to an end. Or is it was some other act of revenge by enemies. Some cultures understood the moon got in the way of the sun, however they just did not know the astronomy and science behind it. An eclipse of the Sun is a natural history event that does not happen that often in places where the entire nation can witness it. Enjoy twilight at mid day on Aug. 21.

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“There is only one corner of the Universe you can be certain of improving, and that is your own self.”

— Aldous Huxley, writer

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Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at P.O. Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.