Last week, during our field trip to Little Stony Point, it was decided that the RiverU class of 2014 needed a mascot. As we were seining at the time, we all felt it was appropriate for our mascot to be something that we had actually seen or caught during our time on the river. But what to pick? There were several nominations: the Hogchoker, the umbrella category of freshwater Sunfish, the Blue Crab, the American Eel, and the penguin, though the latter was quickly shot down as there was no evidence of penguins in the Hudson. (Photos of these species can be seen above.)
Each professor then picked their favorite and presented the awesome-ness of the creature to the class. John, formerly a commercial fisherman, is a long time fan of the Blue Crab and finds their migration patterns and resourcefulness fascinating. Tom, an avid ecologist, explained that the American Eel was by far the superior species as they have been able to colonize all around the world and are truly escape artists, using their unique body structure to wiggle themselves all over, even across land when necessary.
Shane used negative, attack politics against the other species.
Finally, Shane, our waste management extraordinaire, used a bit of negative, attack politics against the other species to make the case for Sunfish, by demonstrating how weird, mean, or creepy the others were in comparison to Sunfish, who have evolved to put their physical well-being at risk by being bold and beautiful to attract the ladies. (While no one decided to represent the Hogchoker, I would like to ensure everyone that this little species is also quite remarkable. When they are young, they have one eye on each side of their head, like a “normal” fish. But, as they grow, one eye actually migrates across their skull, so that they can effectively feed off the bottom and see upwards with both eyes on the same side. When x-rayed, a thin scar is visible across their skull, from where their ocular stem cut through the bone!!)
After the nominated species had been defended, it was time to vote. And the winner of the prestigious title of RiverU 2014 mascot is…THE SUNFISH!
The term “Sunfish” represents a family of relatively small, freshwater fish including Bluegill, Redbreast Sunfish, Rock Bass, Small and Largemouth Bass, and Dollar Sunfish, just to name a few. The fish have a generally round body and are brightly colored, shiny, and vibrant, much like the sun. They are found all over New York State as they can inhabit rocky, cool lakes and streams as well as warm, vegetated ponds, lakes, and slow-moving rivers. This bony species of fish is known for their nest-building, as males carve out depressions in the sandy sediment near shore where the females lay their eggs. Females often deposit eggs in multiple nests, while the males stay with only one nest, sometimes for more than three weeks at a time. These fish are especially loved by anglers of all ages and skill levels, as they fight hard when hooked, are plentiful, and taste delicious.
While Sunfish won the mascot competition, the importance of understanding and respecting all species in the Hudson cannot be understated. We would all do well to pick our own Hudson River mascot and work to enhance understanding and respect for a species that is likely often overlooked.
For more information on sunfish, visit http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7022.html.