The call of the wild

Even though it’s the middle of the political crazy season, the call I’m referring is not a primal scream from a lectern, but a chorus of insects with only one thing on their mind. The 17-year cicadas have returned!

Here at the Triplehorn collection we’ve been fielding questions and visits for weeks now about the scheduled simultaneous emergence of the three species of Brood V. Finally, we couldn’t resist any longer, and we decided to go to see them. Actually, I guess they’ve been here all along, but it is the mass emergence of adults that attract all the attention. The rest of their lives, the cicadas live as nymphs in the soil, slowly and steadily feeding on the roots of trees. But then, every 17 years, for our local species, the nymphs crawl out of the soil and climb up trees to molt into the adult stage.

Norman Johnson at Clear Creek Metro Park

Norman Johnson at Clear Creek Metro Park

My reference to the brood hints at some of the intriguing complexity that surrounds these humble creatures. First, there are two types of periodical cicadas: those with 17-year life cycles and those with 13-year life cycles. Both are unique to eastern North America. (How cool is that!)  The 13-year variety is more southern, and the 17-year variety is more northern in distribution. Within cicadas with those two life-cycles there are multiple species: four of the 13-years, and three of the 17-years. Even more, there are 15 different “broods” in different areas, and each brood times their emergence for different years. So this year (2016) Brood V is emerging in eastern and southern Ohio (and beyond); Brood VIII will emerge in the easternmost counties of Ohio in 2019; and the big and widespread emergence right here in my own back yard will be Brood X in 2021. In each 17-year brood there are the three different species: with a little training they’re easy to distinguish both by eye and by their song.

Brood V consists of all three species of 17-year cicadas: Magicicada cassinii, Magicicada septendecim, and Magicicada septendecula

Map of Clear Creek Metro Park

Map of Clear Creek Metro Park

Last week we drove from Columbus southeast to Clear Creek Metro Park. We’d heard the cicadas there were out in good numbers. It wasn’t until we got past Lancaster that we began to be able to hear the cicadas singing, even though we were tooling down the highway at the posted speed limit. As we drove along the main road through the park, following the valley carved out by Clear Creek, we could clearly hear them singing. Instead of being surrounded by a steady drone, though, the cicadas seemed to be clustered in smaller patches. They were more up the sides of the hills than in the floor of the valley, so we headed uphill. Part of this park used to be owned by Ohio State where there were teaching and research labs at a place called Barneby, an area is situated on the hills above little Lake Ramona.


One of the few adult specimens we saw that evening

One of the few adult specimens of Magicicada we saw that evening. Photo by NF Johnson

At six in the evening the cicadas were still actively singing, but we actually saw very few adults. At this time of day they seemed to all be up in the tree canopy. The nymphs usually come out at night, crawl up the vegetation, and molt into the adult stage. The plants in the area had lots of evidence of this because the skins that were shed remain attached to the plants. They truly do look like little aliens and maybe just a little bit dangerous, with their enlarged front legs that look like they could grab hold of you. In fact, though, they’re harmless.

Exuviae: remains of cicada exoskeleton after they molted to adult stage

Exuviae: remains of cicada exoskeleton after they molted to adult stage

Many have probably seen these cast skins (exuviae) that are left behind by the common dog-day cicadas, the ones that are present every year, emerging usually in the second half of the summer. The 17-year cicadas are smaller. Also, I’ve usually seen dog-day cicada exuviae on the trunks of trees.  In contrast, the ones we saw this week were much more common on leaves and even on grasses. It looks like the cicadas crawl up as far as they possibly can, and when they get on a leaf their weight makes the leaf droop downwards. At that point the nymph’s head would be pointed toward the ground. They then turn around 180 degrees, and it’s in this position that they molt.

I must say that the flurry of reports in the newspapers and on television have been a real mixed bag of fact and fiction. Amidst the facts there are little nuggets that make me scratch my head and sigh. Some headlines have reported the emergence of a “plague.”(!) Now it is true that cicadas are also called “locusts,” but locust plagues are actually huge swarms of grasshoppers, not cicadas. These real plagues are particularly damaging because the grasshoppers are ravenous feeders and consume almost every plant in sight. Adult periodical cicadas, on the other hand, don’t feed at all. The only thing they do is mate and lay eggs to produce the next generation. If there’s any damage that the cicadas do, it’s with their egg-laying activity.

One newspaper article I saw claimed that the eggs were laid in the soil, but to that I say “Nay, nay.” At the tail end of a female cicada she has a needle-like appendage that she uses to insert her eggs into tree twigs. When there are high densities of cicadas, then, the incisions made in the twigs can be so abundant that they damage that year’s growth of the tips of the trees.

To learn more about periodical cicadas, there are lots of resources.  There are websites devoted to them. A couple of the more prominent are (Magicicada is the scientific name of these animals) and Both of these also have Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. You can contribute data from sightings that will help us understand the finer details of the distribution of the different broods.

There’s a Facebook public group dedicated to the Ohio Brood V. There are lots of videos available online where you can both see and hear these fascinating beasts. I particularity enjoyed Return of the Cicadas, a short film by Samuel Orr, who’s been working an a documentary on cicadas since 2007.  Also, yesterday the Columbus Dispatch has a nice spread with pictures of various species of cicadas deposited here at our very own Triplehorn Insect Collection (see the online version here.)

There are more than 3,300 species of cicadas in the world (over 190 found in the USA), and we still have a lot to learn about them.

Walking the trails

Walking the trails and listening to the cicadas call

As a biologist, I learned that there are many truly fascinating environments in which we find the most amazing plants and animals. Most of these, though, are far away: tropical rain forests, deserts, cloud forests, karoo, etc. But here, literally in our own back yard, we have some of the most fascinating animals in all the world. Don’t miss out on the periodical cicacdas, because if you do, they won’t be back for a long time!


About the Author: Dr. Norman Johnson is an Entomologist, Professor and Director of the C.A. Triplehorn Insect Collection at Ohio State University. Photos by L. Musetti, except when indicated otherwise.

Mimicking Mussels


A little known fact about freshwater mussels is that they live part of their life as a parasite. The glochidia or larval stage of a mussel will attach to a host and grow for a few weeks before releasing and falling to the substrate below. The host that the glochidia parasitize is almost always a fish (there is one species of mussel that can parasitize salamanders). Each species of freshwater mussel has just a few species of fish on which its larva can attach. Because of this special and very specific mussel-host fish relationship, mussels have evolved ways to “trick” their particular fish into becoming infested with glochidia. Some mussel species lure fish in close with a modified section of their mantle tissue that resembles a tasty meal, such as minnows or tadpoles. When the fish strikes it is bombarded with thousands of glochidia, which will encyst onto the gills or other parts of the fish. The fish swims away, un-phased by the whole ordeal. The glochidia grow for 30 days or more on the fish. Another method a mom mussel uses to infest a host fish is by releasing a snot-like string containing their glochidia into the water. A fish swims through the strands and the larvae attach. Below are some examples of different mussel species using unique lures to attract their fish host.

Click the video below to view some examples of mussel lures.

Videos 1&2: Pocketbook (Lampsilis cardium) flapping its mantle tissue resembling a minnow or darter. This lure is used to attract fish such as smallmouth bass or bluegill on which the Pocketbook’s glochidia can attach.

Video 3: Ridged Pocketbook (Lampsilis ovata) displaying a similar lure as the Pocketbook mussel.

Video 4: Black Sand Shell (Ligumia recta) with its unique lure that to a fish looks and moves very much like a crayfish or crawdad. This lure could be used to attract fish such as largemouth bass. Interestingly, she usually displays the lure at night.

Video 5: Lilliput (Toxoplasma parvum) using undulating mantle flaps to lure in unsuspecting fish.


About the Author: Caitlin Byrne is Collection Manager of the Division of Molluscs.



Amazing Diversity in Fish Dentition

Since the ray finned fishes are the most speciose group of vertebrates it is not surprising they exhibit such a wide range of feeding structures and functions.  Here are just a few examples of their dental arrays.

Lampreys – Lack true jaws.  Lampreys start out their life cycle with a toothless mouth suited to filter feeding, and in the parasitic forms develop several circular rows of sharp teeth used for latching onto and a radula (center of oral disk) for rasping a hole in their prey.

OSUM 104832 downsized

Sharks– teeth are triangular and razor sharp, those on the lower jaw have small serrated lateral cusps at the bases for enhanced cutting and tearing that is facilitated with strong jaw musculature and shaking motion of the head or chewing.  Sharks, unlike many of the more advanced fish species shown here, do not have pharyngeal jaws associated with their gill baskets.

Lungfish – have a tooth structure unique among the vertebrates: sturdy tooth plates called “Odontodes” that are used for grasping and crushing prey

Lungfish dentary plate (image from Nature)

Gar – rows of small villiform teeth for capturing and holding fishes in their elongated jaws while they manipulate the fish to a headfirst position for swallowing

OSUM 36915 longnose gar downsized

Bowfin – many sharp caniform, inward pointing teeth on the premaxilla, dentary and maxilla jaw bones for grasping and holding the prey (an extreme example of canine teeth in fish is shown in the African Goliath Tigerfish)

Bowfin teeth downsized

Pike – (image in previous post) the long, sharply curved caniform teeth on the dentary are a prelude to a villainous array of cardiform teeth  on the premaxillary, basibranchials, last two pharygobranchials, vomer, palatines, and glossohyal bones

Grass Carp – the heavy pharyngeal teeth of these herbivores are used for shredding algae

grass carp pharyngeal teeth

Piranha  – teeth are triangular, razor sharp, with small lateral cusps at the bases like sharks

OSUM Study Specimen Piranha Iouitos Peru downsized

River Redhorse – feed on sand-dwelling mollusks with sturdy teeth on lower pharyngeal jaws (characteristic of all ostariophysans whereas higher teleosts have pharyngeal teeth on lower and upper arches like the redear sunfish) used for crushing molluscs found in the bottom substrates


Moxostoma carinatum pharyngeal arch

Flathead Catfish – gulp prey with large, non-protrusible mouth and hold with cardiform teeth, the largest patches of which are shown in this picture of a partial, disarticulated jaw, on the premaxillary (top of image) and anterior dentary (larger, semicircular structure at bottom of image) bones.  Gill arches show pharyngeal teeth, with pharyngeal tooth plates at the anterior, ventral symphysis of gill arches

flathead teeth downsized

Largemouth Bass – have limited cardiform teeth on the medial jaw bones, but these are complimented by a large, protrusible mouth for engulfing prey

largemouth2 downsized

Freshwater Drum – All other drum species are marine, but this one is native to larger waters in the Great Lakes and Mississippi River drainages.  (1st image focused on the anterior aspect of the jaw) Note the incisor-like anterior teeth on the anterior dentary for nipping prey off substrates, the molariform teeth on the heavy glossohyal bones, (2nd image focused on the posterior aspect of the jaw) the sturdy pharyngeal teeth on the gill arches for capturing and shredding prey, and the molar-like teeth on the pharyngeal tooth plate for crushing mollusk shells

drum jaw downsizeddrum pharyngeals downsized

Ocean Pout – like many molluscivores have strong conical dentition on the anterior portion of their jaws for plucking mollusks from surfaces, and flattened, molariform teeth in marginal or pharyngeal jaws


X-ray from Canadian Museum of Nature

Triggerfish (incisor-like dentition), Pufferfishes (teeth fused into parrotlike beak) – have powerful jaws to remove invertebrate prey (sponges, ascidians, coelenterates and chitons) from surfaces

puffer mouth downsized


About the Author: Marc Kibbey is Assistant Curator of the OSUM Fish Division.

Dead Clams Walking – Part II


In our previous blog we talked about the nearly extinct genus of freshwater mussels, Epioblasma. Here we present a sobering/depressing gallery of most of its species. Specimens are female individuals.

White Catspaw Maumee River system Probably extinct

Purple Catspaw
Upper Ohio River system
Federally endangered

Southern Combshell Tombigbee River system Federally endangered

Cumberlandian Combshell
Tennessee River system
Federally endangered

Oyster Shell Tennessee River system Federally endangered

Oyster Shell
Tennessee River system
Federally endangered

Leafshell Ohio River system Extinct

Ohio River system

Northern Riffleshell Ohio River-Great Lakes Federally endangered

Northern Riffleshell
Ohio River-Great Lakes
Federally endangered

Southern Combshell Mobile River system Federally endangered

Southern Combshell
Mobile River system
Federally endangered

Duck River Oystershell Duck River Federally endangered

Duck River Oystershell
Duck River
Federally endangered

Yellow Blossom Tennessee River system Extinct

Yellow Blossom
Tennessee River system

Acornshell Tennessee River system Extinct

Tennessee River system

Round Combshell Ohio River system Extinct

Round Combshell
Ohio River system

White Catspaw Maumee River system Probably extinct

White Catspaw
Maumee River system
Probably extinct

Ahlstedt's Oystershell Tennessee River system Federally endangered

Ahlstedt’s Oystershell
Tennessee River system
Federally endangered

Curtis Pearlymussel Black River system Possibly extinct

Curtis Pearlymussel
Black River system
Possibly extinct

Forkshell Ohio River system Extinct

Ohio River system

Sugarspoon Tennessee River system Extinct

Tennessee River system

Snuffbox Ohio River - Great Lakes Federally endangered

Ohio River – Great Lakes
Federally endangered

Southern Acornshell Coosa River system Possibly extinct

Southern Acornshell
Coosa River system
Possibly extinct

Tubercled Blossom Ohio River system Extinct

Tubercled Blossom
Ohio River system

Cumberland Leafshell Tennessee River system Extinct

Cumberland Leafshell
Tennessee River system

Turgid Blossom Duck River Extinct

Turgid Blossom
Duck River

Upland Combshell Coosa River system Federally endangered

Upland Combshell
Coosa River system
Federally endangered

Tan Riffleshell Duck River Federally endangered

Tan Riffleshell
Duck River
Federally endangered


About the Author: Dr. G. Thomas Watters is Curator of Molluscs at the Museum of Biological Diversity.




















































































































Dead clams walking – Part I


Freshwater mussels are the most imperiled animals in North America according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Habitat destruction, pollution, dams, and a litany of other problems have driven many to the verge of extinction. Alas, many are already there. Perhaps the poster children of extinct or soon-to-be-extinct mussels are members of the genus Epioblasma. Once widespread in eastern North America, perhaps no other group has been so decimated by the activities of mankind. And “decimated” is an understatement. Technically, “decimated” means to kill every tenth member of something. For Epioblasma, every species is either extinct or endangered to the point of becoming extinct. And we, mankind, did this to them.

Because so many species of Epioblasma are extinct, the habits of very few have ever been studied. But those that have been investigated reveal a unique (if perhaps somewhat shocking) lifestyle. Like most freshwater mussels, members of Epioblasma have a parasitic larval stage, the glochidium, that uses fishes as hosts. Most mussels have evolved some means of efficiently putting their babies on the proper host. This usually entails luring the host to the mussel to be parasitized. But Epioblasma goes one step further – they actually catch the fish and hold onto it until it has been covered with thousands of parasitic larvae. Mama mussel then releases the host. If all goes as planned, several weeks later the larvae will transform on the fish, fall to the bottom and start their life as juvenile mussels. For the few species for which the hosts are known, the victims are darters and sculpins. The fishes have no one but themselves to blame – they are caught by the mussel when they get too nosy and stick their heads in the mussel to investigate.

Below are some images of the federally endangered Northern Riffleshell and its unfortunate host. Members of the Division of Molluscs have been moving this rare species from the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania to Big Darby Creek in Ohio. The Allegheny population is the only reproducing one on earth but it is doing very well, with probably 100s of thousands of individuals. In partnership with the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium and Columbus Metro Parks, we have been relocating this species for nearly seven years with the permission and funding of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the ODNR Division of Wildlife, and the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission. To date nearly 10,000 individuals have been moved. In order to monitor these mussels, every one has been affixed with a $4 Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tag. All have been released into several of the Metro Parks on Big Darby where they can be protected and monitored. The goal is to start a reproducing population there with the ultimate hope of delisting the species as endangered. This is the largest introduction/augmentation of an endangered species in the history of Ohio.

Next time we will present a gallery of Epioblasma.

A female Northern Riffleshell, Epioblasma torulosa rangian

A female Northern Riffleshell, Epioblasma torulosa rangiana

A male Northern Riffleshell

A male Northern Riffleshell

A female Riffleshell awaiting a nosy darter

A female Riffleshell awaiting a nosy darter

A darter has been caught by the mussel's shells and held for parasitization

A darter has been caught by the mussel’s shells and held for parasitization

This darter did not survive the ordeal. Note the larval mussels attached to the fish's opercles and eyes.

This darter did not survive the ordeal. Note the larval mussels attached to the fish’s opercles and eyes.

PIT tags, about the size of a large grain of rice

PIT tags, about the size of a large grain of rice

PIT tags are glued to the outside of the shell with an underwater epoxy

PIT tags are glued to the outside of the shell with an underwater epoxy

Release of tagged individuals to a site on Big Darby Creek

Release of tagged individuals to a site on Big Darby Creek

Dr. Ieva Roznere (OSU) monitoring the mussels with a PIT tag reader

Dr. Ieva Roznere (OSU) monitoring the mussels with a PIT tag reader

A pair of recovered individuals

A pair of recovered individuals





About the Author: Dr. G. Thomas Watters is Curator of Molluscs at the Museum of Biological Diversity.

A Somewhat Odd Fish Returns to Ohio

Photo by Patrycja Lawryniuk

Pirate Perch (Photo by Patrycja Lawryniuk)

The Pirate Perch’s common name, applied by naturalist Charles C. Abbot upon observation that Pirate Perch in his aquarium ate only other fish (actually they also prey on aquatic insects, annelids and crustaceans); is perhaps less accurately descriptive than its scientific nomenclature Aphredoderus sayanus.  The genus Aphredoderus translates to “excrement throat”, referring to the position of the urogenital vent.  It had been speculated that one of Charles Abbot’s naturalist contemporaries (Jacob Gilliams) named the species after the entomologist Thomas Say as a jibe resulting from some acrimony between the two friends, but evaluation of the meaning of the name reveals that “-anus” is used as a suffix that translates to “belonging to” (

Young Pirate Perch have their vent just in front of the anal fin, but as the fish matures the vent moves forward to just below the juncture of the gills.  Placement of the vent near the throat enables the females to more accurately place their eggs in root masses such as those extending into the water from streamside trees and other woody growth.  As recently as 20 years ago ichthyologists thought that the unusual reproductive morphology supported brooding the eggs in the gills since occasionally females were found with a few eggs therein.  Positioning of the vent is one of the characters (as well as a highly developed lateral line sensory system) shared with cavefishes that is used by ichthyologists to place them in the order Percopsiformes.

The photo below shows a Pirate Perch young-of-the-year (probably about 6 months) with the vent between the pelvic fins at this point in its development.

Pirate Perch young-of-the-year

Pirate Perch young-of-the-year

OSUM 102207 Aphredoderus sayanus showing vent under throat (photo by Marc Kibbey)

OSUM 102207 Aphredoderus sayanus adult showing vent under throat (photo by Marc Kibbey)

Pirate Perch were recorded in the Maumee River drainage of northwestern Ohio as far back as 1875 but disappeared over 60 years ago, primarily from destruction of their habitat.  Demand for productive farmland in that fertile area resulted in development of methods to drain the widespread wetlands, including the practice of channelization.  Channelization, or straightening and dredging; of streams was implemented to facilitate accelerated removal of water from areas inundated during heavy rains.  However this method cleared away aquatic plants, logs, sticks and detritus that was the preferred habitat of the Pirate Perch.  Bulldozing the bank sides removed the undercut bank structure with underhanging root masses that sheltered Pirate Perch and multitudes of other aquatic animals.  Removal of streamside riparian barriers results in siltation of stream bottoms mainly from field tillage and exposes aquatic fauna to pesticides and other chemicals; these impacts compounded to extirpate the Pirate Perch from the state.

Pirate Perch are actually rather tolerant of waters with low oxygen content, preferring low gradient, slow moving and fairly turbid oxbows in streams as well as lakes.  Their extensive distribution is not typical for a fish species with exclusive requirements.  Flourishing populations of Pirate Perch can be found just across the Indiana State line as close as the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers, where they are frequently found in farm ditches.

Camp Creek Pirate Perch locality

Camp Creek Pirate Perch locality (photo by Marc Kibbey)

The last Pirate Perch captured in Ohio was caught in 1950.  Extensive sampling by ichthyologists and agencies in the Maumee River watershed failed to find a Pirate Perch until 2013, when the OSUM Fish Division’s sampling crew of Brian Zimmerman and Justin Baker caught one in the Auglaize River near Waynesfield, Ohio.  Imagine the excitement of the two fish enthusiasts!  At first it was thought that a refuge population had proliferated and reoccupied the former Pirate Perch locality as a result of water quality improvements and habitat re-emergence.  But it turned out that the Ohio Division of Wildlife had released up to 200 individuals near that locality as part of a reintroduction effort back in the early 2000’s.  Subsequent trips to the area found more sites with all size classes (very small young to large adults), particularly in smaller tributary streams like Camp Creek with populations that dominated the fish fauna.

Brian and Justin at Camp Creek

Brian and Justin at Camp Creek (photo by Marc Kibbey)

It appears that current conditions in northeastern Ohio, and particularly the Maumee River watershed, have improved or continue to improve to the point where populations of Pirate Perch can be supported in suitable areas.  Recent implementation of no-till and conservation tillage farming practices reduce siltation of waterways, while these combined with conservation of riparian zones help prevent runoff of pesticides into the streams.  Assuming continuation of these practices as well as sewage treatment and other water quality enhancements, the Pirate Perch should be able to reoccupy former distributions and perhaps even spread beyond their historically known range, reassuming their position among Ohio’s fish fauna.

Other interesting aspects of Pirate Perch’s biology include their color: They are fairly attractive (and make good aquarium pets) with iridescent blue (occasionally green, copper or silver) dots along their olive-to-black back and sides.  The males develop a vivid violet hue that complements their black head and sides in spawning condition.  Additionally Pirate Perch may be the only predator known to exhibit sensiochemical crypsis where they employ a range of olfactory cues to obviate avoidance by a diverse assemblage of prey animals, similar to olfactory mimicry (Resitarits and Binckley, 2013).

Photo by Michael Wolfe

Photo by Michael Wolfe


About the Author: Marc Kibbey is Associate Curator of the Fish Division in the Museum of Biological Diversity.

Tree holes and their mites

Many mites are very specific for particular habitats, whether it is the inside of the lip of a bat or a flower bud of a single plant species.  We have established this for many plant, insect or vertebrate associates. But knowing where exactly the mites are on a host is fairly easy. What about mites living is less discrete situations, like the litter layer? We are fairly sure that litter mites also have fairly specific microhabitats, but this is much more difficult to demonstrate.

image of tree hole sampled for mites   In the acarology lab we have been looking at one subgroup of litter habitats, tree holes. In this case we define tree hole as any cavity in the trunk of a tree that is not directly connected with the underlying soil. Tree holes in general may provide more stable microclimates, in terms of temperature, moisture, humidity and sun exposure, than standard litter habitats. All types of tree holes contain mites, and those mites tend to be specific to tree holes. Wet tree holes, containing water or just very wet litter, have been studied quite extensively because they are breeding grounds for certain species of mosquito, but we are particularly interested in dry tree holes. Initially we became interested in this microhabitat because we wanted to know more about distribution and habitat restrictions of Uropodella, a rare genus that had been found only in tree holes.  The genus Uropodella is most diverse in Chile, with only 1-2 species in North America. These mites appear to be phoretic on Tenebrionidae, and, fitting with that association, are found in very dry tree holes, containing nothing more than pulverized wood.

Image of grey squirrel

Gray squirrel

Mites in treeholes can also tell you something about other inhabitants of that treehole. Finding Aeroglyphidae in a S. Carolina tree hole indicated that there were probably bats roosting in that hollow tree, while the numerous Glycyphagidae in a tree hole in Columbus were consistent with the squirrel nest found in that same tree hole.

Glycyphagidae, ventral view of male

Glycyphagidae, ventral view of male

But this early research was largely anecdotal.

One of us, George Keeney, followed up in a big way by systematically sampling a large number of tree holes, some several times during different seasons.  The focus for this study was a quite diverse group, the Uropodina. We found that tree holes in Central Ohio not only have a quite diverse uropodid fauna, but that the species in tree holes tend to be tree hole specialists. A few species have been associated with a wide variety of tree species, while a number of other species have only been encountered only once or twice.  The two most commonly encountered tree hole species are Allodinychus nr. cribraria and Vinicoloraobovella cf.  americana. George affectionately calls the former species the “elf hat mite”, due to its fanciful resemblance to such!  That being said, we do not have enough information yet to determine whether these tree hole uropodines are specific for a given tree species, a given tree hole inhabitant (e.g. squirrels, birds, bats), particular exposure, tree hole size, tree hole litter moisture, season, etc., etc. To find out, we are now following up on the early survey, by recording more of these details, and especially by sampling many more tree holes.


Some tree species are more prone to developing dry tree holes in their trunks, usually at the site of branch removal or other injury.  Silver maples, magnolias, American beeches and American sycamore are some notable examples of such trees.  In Ohio, these species can be common in urban plantings and therefore, tree hole mite sampling can be quite productive in parks, campuses, street boulevards and other urban areas as opposed the more rural areas.  Such park trees are often mature and may have had large branches removed by landscaping and maintenance, providing the initial germ of many tree holes.  Sampling tree holes involves gathering the detritus from within the hole, though the hole should be thoroughly inspected before placing ones hands inside, as one may often be intruding upon the abode of a wary raccoon or testy gray squirrel!  So if you see anybody carefully trying to get “goo” out of a tree hole, it is not just fun, it might be research.

Tree hole in boxelder containing Philodana

Tree hole in boxelder containing Philodana

Philodana johnstoni, ventral view of female

Philodana johnstoni, ventral view of female

And there is always the option of finding something that is truly unexpected. One of the most spectacular for us was a hole in a broken branch of a box elder near campus at the Olentangy River Wetland Research park.  It contained a large population of Philodana johnstoni, a very odd species of Trigynaspid mite described from Ontario and New York, with no additional published records. It appears to be associated with the tenebrionid Neatus tenebrioides.

image of Don Johnston

Don Johnston

It is a very appropriate find, given the connection of this species with Ohio State University. Philodana johnstoni was named by John Kethley in honor of the previous director of the Acarology Laboratory, Don Johnston, and is a double honorific, as Philodana combines “philos” (=loving) and Dana, Don’s wife.







About the Authors: Dr. Hans Klompen is professor in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology and Director of the Ohio State University Acarology Collection. George Keeney is Manager of the Acarology Collection and the OSU Insectary.

Madtoms of the OSUM Fish Division


Why are the ‘toms mad?  Might have to do with the fact that madtoms are so small and have a hard time competing with their larger con-familials (like Bullhead Catfish and Channel Catfish) for space and food.  But connate with several other small animal species they make up for their small size with a nastily painful poison sting.  Ask any catfish aficionado, or even a neophyte; and they will tell you that they pay careful attention to the sharp spines the catfishes carry at the front of their dorsal and pectoral fins.  Whereas catfishes of the North American Ictaluridae genera other than Noturus lack the actual venom, those other genera do carry bacteria on their spines that can cause infection in the wound. The madtoms secrete their venom in a sac at the base of their pectoral spine.  When threatened the madtoms lock their pectoral spine in an erect position, causing the sac to rupture and releasing the toxin into the water.

Another character that typifies smaller animals is their habit of remaining in the shadows.  Madtom species are quite furtive, hiding under rocks and logs or in crevices including crayfish burrows.   Like other catfish genera they tend to be most active at night.  A savvy madtom collector sallies forth in the darkness with a lantern that attracts the bewhiskered nocturnals like moths to a flame.  The best time for collecting many madtom species is in the cooler months of Autumn, up through December, when they congregate en-masse out in the open.  Madtoms spawn in late spring through summer, so could it be they carry out this excursion in the colder season for the simple reason that many larger predators have moved downstream to deeper waters?

This highly cryptic group of catfishes contains several species with populations that are imperiled to varying degrees.  Some, like Ohio’s Scioto Madtom, are Extinct while many are Endangered, Threatened or Of Special Concern at the State to Federal level.  Noturus species occupy a wide array of habitats but all rely on aquatic insects for their food.  Images of a few of the madtom species vouchered in the OSUM Fish Division are posted below.

OSUM 35531 Noturus flavipinnis 1 of 1 left lateral no label

OSUM 35531 Noturus flavipinnis Yellowfin Madtom.  Several populations of this species are imperiled or extirpated.  Listed as Federally Threatened.  They were successfully reintroduced by Conservation Fisheries International in Tennessee.

OSUM 61379 Noturus munitus 1 of 90 right lateral 3

OSUM 61379 Noturus munitus Frecklebelly Madtom.  Uncommon, declining in some areas of five small, disjunct populations in Gulf Coast drainages.

Noturus flavus 103721

OSUM 103721 Noturus flavus  The Stonecat Madtom is one of the most abundant, as well as the largest madtom species in Ohio with populations across the Mississippi River and Great Lakes drainages in the U.S. and lower Canada, frequently found in faster flowing riffles but also in lakes where there is at least a moderate current.

Stonecat by UT

Noturus flavus Stonecat Madtom, photo by Uland Thomas.

Noturus insignis 50143

OSUM 50143 Noturus insignis Margined Madtom.  Another widespread species with strong populations throughout the Atlantic Slope drainages in northeastern U.S.

Margined Madtom from the Blackwater River Roanoke Drainage VA 15JUL09 by BZ

Noturus insignis Margined Madtom from Blackwater River Virginia, photo by Brian Zimmerman.

Mountain Matom from the Little Miami by UT

Noturus eleutherus Mountain Madtom, photo by Uland Thomas.  Common in some areas but one of Ohio’s State Endangered madtom species.

Noturus miurus 86131

OSUM 86131 Noturus miurus Brindled Madtom.  Relatively common as madtoms go, prefers better oxygenated waters in streams with gravel or sand, likes to hide in leaves and sticks, also inhabits rocky lakeshores.


Noturus miurus Brindled Madtom about to be released/reintroduced from my hand after a trip to Leading Creek in a cooler.

Tadpole Madtom2 from the Maumee River April 2007 by BZ

Noturus gyrinus Tadpole Madtom, photo by Brian Zimmerman.  The Tadpole Madtom occupies quieter waters with sticks and other woody debris, and tolerates muddy, silty areas better than most other madtoms.

Elegant Madtom Noturus elegans from Kentucky photo by Ben Arthur

Noturus elegans Elegant Madtom, from Russel Creek Kentucky.  Photo by Ben Arthur.  Locally common albeit only found in the Green River drainage of Kentucky.  Note the sharp barbs on the rear of the pectoral fin spine that make it particularly hard to remove catfishes from a net!


About the Author: Marc Kibbey is Assistant Curator of the OSU Fish Division at the Museum of Biological Diversity.

A State Treasure: Gone But Not Forgotten

Although Ohio has some 180 freshwater fish species living in the State’s lakes and streams, it is home to only one endemic species:  the Scioto Madtom, Noturus trautmani.

In November of 1943, when OSU Museum of Zoology Curator Milton Trautman captured the little catfish from his favorite locality, he recognized that it was not a form that he’d encountered during his multitudinous collecting trips.

OSUM 5914 Noturus trautmani right lateral 3 no label


OSUM 5914 – Noturus trautmani


These fish, which were later described and named in his honor, are similar to the Elegant Madtom, Noturus elegans.  A study carried out by W. Ralph Taylor (1969) recognized those similarities in describing the Scioto Madtom and placing it close to the Elegant Madtom phylogenetically (substantiated in a 2009 publication by Egge and Simons), although osteologically the two are quite different.  Icthyologists postulate that the Scioto Madtom may have speciated from an elegans population following a glaciation event.

OSUM 9575 Noturus trautmani C&S 1 with arrows pointing to anterior pectoral spine and humeral process



OSUM 9575 – Noturus trautmani – Cleared and Stained preparation.




Note arrows showing anterior pectoral fin spines and humeral process significantly shorter than those characters on the Noturus elegans specimen below (vertebral counts also separate the two species)

OSUM 18913 Noturus elegans head and trucnk C&S microscope shot with arrows pointing to anterior pectoral spines and humeral process



OSUM 18913 – Noturus elegans – Cleared and Stained preparation.



Although anatomical features and a unique color pattern were used to justify recognizing the Scioto madtom as a distinct species, several local fish enthusiasts have wondered whether the Scioto Madtom population were simply hybrids between the Stonecat Madtom Noturus flavus, which resembles the Scioto Madtom in coloration and in possessing a low adipose fin, and Noturus stigmosus, which has long pectoral barbs and humeral processes but strong saddle markings on its body. However, no instance of hybridization between these species has been reported, although other hybridizations are reported among madtoms.

The length of Big Darby Creek from which Milton captured almost all of what was later called the Scioto Madtom are recorded in our catalog book as 100-200’ above the State Route 104 bridge.  The first Scioto Madtom specimens collected were found in Riffle No. 3 of a series of four riffles and runs called “Trautman’s Riffle”.

Scan of drawing of Trautmans Riffle from Ohio Conservation Bulletin 1963


Drawing of Trautman’s Riffle from Gilfillan, Merrill C.  1963.  The Fishes of Trautman’s Riffle.  Ohio Conservation Bulletin, Vol. 27, No. 5.  pp. 22-24.


20140711BigDarbyCkRM3_4Trautmansriffle photo by Anthony Sasson


Trautman’s Riffle on Big Darby Creek upstream of State Route 104. Photo by Anthony Sasson of The Nature Conservancy.



Trautman and his successor in the OSUM Fish division, Ted Cavender, both searched extensively for populations of Scioto Madtoms outside of the type locality. These collections led to the discovery of other species of madtoms, but failed to unearth another population of Scioto Madtoms (the last one collected was in Autumn of 1957).

My introduction to Trautman’s Riffle didn’t happen until the mid-1990’s.  Although I’d spent many a day on lakes, reservoirs and rivers fishing with my grandfathers, my fishing experiences had not included seining until I took Ichthyology at OSU with Ted Cavender.



Ted Cavender (center), OSUM Curator 1970-2005, with his OSU Biology of Fishes class at the Scioto River fishing access just east of the Big Darby Creek confluence, ca. 2002.


In the 20 years since this introduction, I have personally observed some of the riffles in the vicinity of Trautman’s Riffle moving, due to the “flashy” flooding character of the stream.  One such riffle downstream from Trautman’s Riffle headed up under the State Route 104 bridge to about 50 yards downstream, and some of the structure appears to have moved down to an area at the next major bend in the stream’s course.  Despite the dynamism of the Big Darby in this stretch, Trautman’s Riffle remains mostly intact, although it seems to have been better defined when Milton collected the Scioto Madtom back in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

The increased propensity for flooding and the increased impact of these floods in Big Darby Creek is due at least in part to anthropogenic changes to the topography of the watershed as well as to its hydrology.  Clearing of the riparian area right up to the edge of the creek removes the trees, brush and grasses that serve as a natural filter for pollutants like smothering silt loads from farm field tillage and removes tree roots that hold the upper layer of dirt and enable the stream to create undercut areas where fish hide.  A natural riparian buffer also furnishes woody debris that falls into the stream, creating more habitat and egg laying areas for fish.

Could a flooding event, other weather conditions, or impacts such as siltation of substrates from agricultural tillage, have affected the Scioto Madtom population severely enough that they were unable to propagate?  A catastrophic release of silage on Little Darby Creek in the 1980’s wiped out an otherwise healthy population of Least brook lampreys at Mechanicsburg Ohio, demonstrating the potential impact of a rare event.

Since the Scioto Madtom was only ever found in a very small population, and subsequently not found for many years, the species was listed for decades as an endangered species. Several governmental and private monitoring agencies have sampled the site and conducted exhaustive sampling of other localities in the Scioto River and other major Ohio River tributaries, especially those that focused exclusively on habitats where Madtoms could be expected.  One such effort was funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The 3-year project to sample the major Ohio River tributaries within the state for Madtoms turned up nets full of Northern Madtoms, Mountain Madtoms and Stonecat Madtoms, but unfortunately no Scioto Madtoms.  Because of the lack of results despite intensive expert searches, many suspected it was extinct. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Ohio Division of Wildlife concur, and have recently declared the Scioto Madtom extinct. This new listing notwithstanding, we can’t help but keep an eye out every time we are in suitable habitat for the elusive, endemic, endangered Scioto Madtom.


About the Author: Marc Kibbey is Assistant Curator of the OSU Fish Division at the Museum of Biological Diversity.

Little Beaver Creek Annual Snorkeling Trip – Guest post by Brian Zimmerman


Since 2010 I have been visiting the last series of rapids in Little Beaver Creek in eastern Ohio just before that stream flattens out to the pool level of the Ohio River and joins it. This particular site is interesting because it lies near the junction of Ohio, PA, and WV and is a high quality stream in terms of habitat and water quality.  In the past 2-3 decades we have witnessed the re-expansion of several rare or water quality sensitive fish species in the upper Ohio River basin.  Much of this expansion appears to have started in the Allegheny River basin in PA and Little Beaver Creek represents the first system in Ohio that may be a place expansion of such species from PA can be witnessed in Ohio.

I first visited that location on a hunch that the (at the time) state threatened Bluebreast Darter (Etheostoma camurum) might be present in the area.   That fish was de-listed in 2012 because its expansion here and other places in Ohio was so great.

I had attempted to use the more conventional sampling method of kick seining for this species in that area, but because of the abundance of very large rocks, it did not work.  I decided to try to snorkel there in the Autumn, when the water is often at its lowest and clearest.  Given the temperature of the water (upper 50’s), I had to wear a a full body wet suit in order to use that observation method.

On that first trip on October 1st 2010, I observed Bluebreast Darters within 5 minutes of starting the snorkeling observations.  That was the first record of the species in that location and the first for the whole river basin of more than a single individual caught in 1998 by Ohio EPA.  Our team, two colleagues and I, snorkeled for 5 hours that first trip and also saw the state threatened Tippecanoe Darter (Etheostoma tippecanoe) for the first time ever in that river system.

Since then I have made this an annual trip near the end of September or early October. I have also made observations by seining and other methods further up this stream system.  In 2010 we only saw the Bluebreast Darter at the lower end of the ~100 yard series of rapids.  To date I have found them as far as 12 miles upstream in Little Beaver Creek and they are now very common in that last series of rapids.  They are also fairly common in the lower 6-7 miles of the stream in most riffles.  I have also seen the Tippecanoe Darter increase in numbers some but not as dramatically.  In 2015 I found a single Tippecanoe Darter each 2 miles and 4 miles upstream from that location.

I have also observed other new species for the basin. In 2014 I found Streamline Chub (Erimystax dissimilis) for the first time ever and Bigeye Chub (Hybopsis amblops) for the first time in nearly 50 years in that river system.  This year was no exception as far as finding new species. I once again observed both darters mentioned above and both chubs were more abundant than last year.  In addition to these, I observed the first state endangered Gilt Darter (Percina evides) ever found in a tributary to the Ohio River in Ohio.  This species was thought to be entirely extirpated from Ohio, having only been found prior to 1900 in the Ohio River and Maumee River.  None were seen in Ohio at all for over 100 years until it was rediscovered in 2010 in the Ohio River near Gallipolis, OH by an environmental consulting company.  After this first individual, I found 13 more in the Ohio River over the past several years, but this 14th (15th overall since rediscovery) specimen was the first not in the Ohio River itself.  Also this year I observed two Channel Darters (Percina copelandi), also a state threatened species, that is a little more common in the Ohio River main channel.

All of these new observations make me want to return each year to see what I may come across next.  It is exciting to witness first hand the re-expansion of these once very rare fish into new places.  This is the overall trend with moderate to large river fish species in Ohio.  And now the smaller, less mobile species of fish are also moving and colonizing new areas.  The general consensus is that this is the result of the Clean Water Act from 1972, plus other regulations and efforts to clean and protect our waterways.  It took more than 40 years for us to observe the impact of these conservation efforts in the fish population of Ohio rivers.


About the Author:  Brian Zimmerman is Research Associate at the ‘Stream and River Ecology (STRIVE) Lab’ in the School of Environment and Natural Resources & Field Collections Coordinator in the ‘Fishes of Ohio Inventory and Distribution Project’ of the Fish Division.