Sunday, 11 March 2012

Fish that Walk and Fly

Fish that Walk and Fly
Everyland Nature Club
By A. Hyatt Verrill
From Everyland, March 1916. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, Mar. 2012.

FUNNY as it seems to think of fish flying, yet it is stranger yet to think of fish walking on dry land! But there are plenty of fish that walk and still more that fly.
Nowadays, when so many people go South during the winter, many readers of Everyland have probably seen flying-fish and know how they look from a distance.
Sometimes but one or two are seen at once, while at other times they rise from the water in flocks of hundreds. They seem to sail rather than to fly, and skip along,—touching a wave-crest here and there,—like a flat stone skipped across the water, their wings whirring so rapidly as to be almost invisible.
In the West Indian markets large numbers of the flying-fish may be seen, for the natives consider them a great delicacy and catch them in nets at night in immense numbers. If you examine these captured flying-fish, you will find them to be round-bodied, cigar-shaped creatures from three or four inches to a foot or more in length; dark, steel-blue above, and golden, silvery, or purple below, with immense side-fins covered with a transparent membrane. These are the "wings," and their size and shape vary greatly with the species. Although their power of flight was evidently given them that they might escape enemies in the sea, yet it often proves fatal, for various sea-birds swoop down and seize them, while flying, and the fishermen take advantage of their habits to net them.
The fishing-boats go out after dark and stretch a long net from one boat to another in the form of a great semicircle. The other boats then move toward the net, beating and splashing the water, and the poor fish, alarmed at the noise and disturbance, take refuse in flight only to blunder helplessly into the nets. Oftentimes flying-fish fall upon the decks of vessels, particularly at night, and it is surprising to find how much force they possess when moving through the air. On one occasion, while traveling in a rowboat along the coast after nightfall, one of these fishes flew up and struck one of my colored boatmen on the elbow. So great was the blow that the man was frightened almost to death.
Besides these tropical flying-fish there are a number of other species which have wing-like fins large and powerful enough to enable them to fly for some distance, and many of these are found in northern waters.
The commonest of these are the gurnards and sea-robins. In tropical seas these fish abound and many of them are brilliantly and wonderfully colored with red, blue, green, and purple.
Very different are the walking-fish, for, while the flying-fish have their fins developed into wings, the walking-fish have gone as far in the opposite direction and have their fins transformed into feet. Some walking-fish have never learned to come out of the water, but crawl about on the bottom of the sea or among sea-weeds and other growths. Among these are the odd blennies,—sculpin-like fish with huge eyes and wide mouths which cause the queer creatures to look like some sort of a submarine toad. Still more frog-like in appearance is the toad-fish, while the bat-fish hops about on its queer fin-feet and looks much like a brown bat that has lost the use of its wings.
Oddest of all the American walking-fish is the Gulf Stream fish or mouse-fish,—a curious, stumpy little chap so misshapen as to look like a monstrosity. The eyes gaze skyward, the mouth is turned up, the back is humped, and the fins all turn backward and terminate in regular toes or fingers. The color is dull brown and yellow, while queer ribbon-like streamers are attached to the body and fins. These streamers and the color are of great value to the mouse-fish as they live among the sargasso or gulfweed, which has exactly the same colors and form. Among the floating weeds the fish walks and crawls about, builds his nest, and floats along in the lazy, warm Gulf Stream current, often finding himself and family far from home in the waters of our northern coast.
Another class of walking-fish are more remarkable than any of these, for they not only swim and walk about under water, but actually forsake their native element and travel about on land and even climb trees!
Some species of South American catfish can also travel on land without trouble, and run so rapidly through the grass and underbrush that Prof. Agassiz was deceived into mistaking them for some small mammal. When the rivers where these catfish live flow over their banks and flood the near-by forests, the fish climb up in the tree-tops to feed on the white ants which build their nests among the branches. Think of catfish robbing ants' nests fifty feet above the ground! In performing this remarkable feat the fish show marvelous intelligence. A number of them gather beneath a tree where the ants live and a few of their number commence to climb the trunk. They ascend quite rapidly, and as soon as the ants' nest is reached they at once commence to devour the ants. Of course a great many of the insects are knocked off and fall to the water and ground beneath, and here the waiting fish gobble up the unfortunate ants as fast as they drop down.
These fish are called gobies and are very similar to the blennies in appearance, and live mainly in warm countries where they often crawl out of water in large numbers and skip and play on the shore like lively kittens. In the countries where these wonderful fish are found the shores in many places are covered with low mangrove trees, and up these the gobies climb in search of food. You can imagine what an odd sight it must be to see a lot of goggle-eyed fish walking and hopping about on land and climbing up trees in search of insects.
An Indian fish which is found in fresh water not only climbs trees but marches overland for long distances, traveling across high hills and wide, dry plains from one river or lake to another. This fish, known as the Anabas, travels by means of stiff spines on the gill-covers and can live for a long time out of water, as within the head is a series of chambers where water is stored for the fish to use in breathing when on land.
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Many requests have come to as for Mrs. Catty's Nature Parable, "What the Grub Found Out" which was retold in March, 1915. We are reprinting this story with Illustrations In an eight-page leaflet. It will sell at two cents each or one dollar a hundred.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.