Ask the Aquarium: Fishes in Ditches
Q. How do little fish get into ditches alongside the roads? What kind of fish are they, and what happens to them if the ditch dries up?
A. This is a most interesting question. For the real scoop, Ask the Aquarium contacted "fishes-in-ditches" expert Andy Wood, education director of Audubon North Carolina in Wilmington.
A lifelong student of natural history, Wood has made ditches a focal point of study, and, given the opportunity, will enthusiastically extol the many virtues of ditches as wildlife habitat. Wood explained the fishes-in-ditches phenomenon this way:
"Fish get into ditches most readily if the ditch is connected to a permanent body of water, such as a pond, lake, stream or marsh. If a ditch isn't directly connected to a water body, it may still harbor fish if a storm floods a pond or lake and allows water to flow into the ditch.
"Also, fish eggs, larvae and very small offspring (fry) may become tangled and carried short distances in tiny rivulets of water, and in feathers of water and wading birds, such as ducks and herons. The same may be possible for fish caught in the thick fur of a bear or raccoon. But, the most likely way fish access a ditch is via flooding, even short-term flooding. I have found some very small ditches that harbored redfin pickerel, bullhead catfish and various sunfishes.
"Most ditches that hold water year-round have fish in them, especially mosquitofish. The most common roadside fishes we find in North Carolina's coastal plain are small species, including eastern mosquitofish Gambusia holbrooki. If a fish-inhabited ditch or pond dries out, adult fishes usually die. Some fishes can persist in wet mud for surprisingly long periods, and some fish eggs may survive partial drying.
"The ubiquitous mosquitofish also gets around with the help of mosquito control workers, who transport the fish to surface waters as an alternative to chemical mosquito control. This practice may be detrimental to certain wildlife, especially sensitive amphibians and crustaceans that are adapted for living in fish-free waters, particularly ephemeral (short-lived or seasonal) ponds and streams."
The state operates three public aquariums; one in Pine Knoll Shores, another at Fort Fisher and a third on Roanoke Island. The aquariums are administered by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and are designed to inspire appreciation and conservation of North Carolina's aquatic environment.
For more information about the Aquariums, log onto www.ncaquariums.com, or call 800-832-FISH.
Sherry White works for the public affairs office of the N.C. Aquariums.
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