Tuesday, January 31, 2023

"Range Maps" and human intervention

Nearly any thinking person is likely to conclude that official "Range Maps" for various species of plants and animals must be taken with a grain of salt.

Animals go "walk-about". Plants can exist in disjunct communities far from the main body of their species.

Does anybody care to guess how far north the most northern harvested Whitetail deer was collected? If you guessed "Little Chicago" you would be correct.

The Kentucky Coffeetree makes an interesting case-study.

For one thing, a trained person can identify a KCT from a quarter of a mile away while driving 55mph. Small clumps of trees that are readily identified are more likely to get "charted" than more anonymous looking species.

When growing close together their trunks are laser straight. They hang onto their massive seed-pods all winter long. The ends of the stems are very blunt.

KCT in Collingsworth County, Texas

This has become "a thing" because KCT is very resistant to urban conditions and is widely sought after for street-trees. Breeders want to throw the widest net possible to collect the entire universe of KCT genetics while they are still out there.

One possible explanation for all the tiny population islands is that Native Americans may have used the seeds as two-sided dice in games-of-chance. They might scar one side to mark it and then throw a handful of them down on a flat surface.

Pre-Columbian Native Americans did not have video games or Youtube to entertain themselves during the winter. Twenty KCT seeds take up about as much room as a pack of modern playing cards. It is a good bet that they were traded between tribes. And like modern jigsaw puzzles, some of the pieces to the game were misplaced. In this case, the misplaced seeds took root and grew.

It seems likely that the widely scattered populations of the pecan were also assisted by humans. The conventional thinking is that pecans originally evolved in east-Texas and central Oklahoma and that Native Americans carried them for provisions as they traveled by river from one place to another.

Fish species

As a young lad, my father was fishing on the Thornapple River. He caught a very unusual fish that he took home to his widowed mother. Food was expensive and they did not have a lot of it.

After careful examination, and perhaps conferring with the neighbors, they decided the prudent thing to do was to bury it in the garden.

My grandmother ran a print-shop and was the only worker. She could not afford to get sick.

Many, many years later when my dad was in college he saw an illustration of that same fish.

It was a Rainbow Trout

It is hard to know how a Rainbow Trout found its way to the muddy, agricultural Thornapple River. Rainbows are not native to Michigan and there was not much stocking going on in the late 1930s.

But there it was!

More trouts

There is a drain that exits a field nearbye. It is a large-bore drain so the water is in contact with air for a goodly distance before it disgorges to a ditch. Fifteen feet from where it comes to light, it crosses beneath the gravel road through a culvert that is normally slightly above the surface of the water. The water falling from the culvert gouged out a small, rocky-bottomed pool. It is a man-created micro-habitat quite unlike anything else nearby.

A reliable source tells me that the tiny little pool on the downstream side of the road holds trout. He also told me that there are rattlesnakes there, which may be an attempt to keep fishermen away. I did take a peek and saw a dead raccoon at the pool, so there actually might be rattlesnakes. 


Muskrats and beaver are considered pests by most people who live along the river.

Catfish depend on beaver and muskrat dens for nesting sites. The female lays the eggs. The male fertilizes them and guards them from panfish, turtles and crayfish until the fry swim off.

Just as the mammals that were a key provider of nesting habitat were killed off, humans started dumping in the rivers and lakes. We dumped old tires, barrels, buckets, rusted out milk cans and all manner of artificial nesting habitat. The catfish were happy.

Then the EPA put a halt to dumping but the beaver had not come back. Silt buried the old, artificial nesting habitat or it simply rusted away. On lakes, power-boats created wakes that beat down the vegetation favored by muskrats.

As a matter of academic interest, I wonder how much effort per forty surface acres it would take to re-establish Channel and Flathead catfish in our native waters. I am not talking about a big, expensive stocking program. I am talking about intelligently providing existing populations with prime nesting habitats.

Half-hour runtime.

This video suggests that when the catfish are horny that they are not very particular about what they use for nesting habitat. I have to imagine that the yellow, rectangular kitty-litter buckets with a shovel-full of concrete in the bottom and the small part of the lid cut off would be about prime.


  1. Speaking of outliers, there's a large old american chestnut growing on the outskirts of Puyallup, Washington. If you wish to look it up on Google maps or Google Earth go to where hwy 167 and Meridian meet on the NE corner of the city. There's a small elongated island on the SE corner with the tree dead center. Similar looking to a cat's eye. I saw a few others in isolated spots around western Washington.

  2. If you get a chance, you can find little cutie Hannah Baron and her dad Jeff putting out nesting boxes for catfish. They go back and noodle for them later as well as hand fishing for them in more natural places.

  3. It was said that the cattle drives in early 19th century helped propagate mesquite up country.


  4. would be great if outlier chestnut nuts could be planted around the country

  5. Mesquite... spit... The cattle carried seeds all the way up into Oklahoma and Colorado... Killed a LOT of streams, rivers, and lakes.

    1. It's a doubtful theory that cattle drives were cause of mesquite spread north.
      Bison had regular migrations to & fro. Why didn't mesquite spread when the Southern Plains herd moved north?
      Bad grazing practices by settlers led to ecological disruptions (also fire suppression)

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  7. Couple of local boys run a noodling/hand grabbing outfit where they take folks out to ' noodle' big catfish out of holes, etc. One guy's family runs a scrap metal recycling business... he's gotten old steel & cast iron bathtubs, cut out appropriate holes and sunk them, upside down to serve as hiding/spawning spots for catfish.


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