Are you a fisherman or fisherwoman? Do you spend time down at the creek tossing stones or maybe watching your kids frolic in the cool water on these too hot days? Maybe you enjoy the “Lazy River” approach and load nine of your closest friends into a rubber raft along with coolers, speakers, and a big screen T.V. for a day long float. Whichever way you enjoy the streams and rivers of Southwest Missouri, I am here to tell you that you might be missing out on something, and I need your help to keep it going.
During these sweltering days of late June and July while the kids are home from school and people are headed out of state on vacation, there is one group of fish that are working, and working hard. The chubs, hornyhead, Nocomis biguttatus, and redspot, Nocomis asper, both excavate large mounds of pebbles in the middle of small streams to use as places to spawn; that is fish talk for making babies. Maybe you have been wading along looking for that perfect spot to fish for smallmouth on Little Sugar and have seen a pile of clean pebbles stacked in the middle of the creek. If so, you have seen their handiwork. They are usually bigger than a Frisbee. Kids ask parents what those are, and if you look close, you will see several different “Chub Mounds.” They aren’t always circular, sometimes they are slightly oblong, and sometimes they are more like a ridge.
The chubs build these mounds so that future generations will dig them up and wonder about the scientific advancement and motivation of their ancestors….. No, wait, they build them to act as a safe place to incubate their eggs after spawning. You see, chub eggs don’t have any defense against being eaten, and lots of things, even other chubs, like to eat them. Their only defense is to fall between the cracks down into these mounds. There they will sit for a week to ten days until they hatch.
The biggest threat to a chub is probably a great blue heron, but the biggest threat to a successful chub breeding is probably you and me. Those chub nests have to have holes and cracks in them for the eggs to go down. There are a couple of reasons why those holes and cracks must stay open until the little ones hatch and swim out. One, if the holes get sealed the little ones will be sealed inside like little Egyptian mummies. Two, if the holes get sealed then the oxygen rich water can’t make it to the eggs and they need their oxygen like a naturalist needs a journal and a vest with pockets.
When we don’t take care of our riparian zone, that green area you have to walk through with all the trees and brambles, we allow soil and silt to wash into the creek. So, save a fish life, take care of your riparian zone and watch out for chub mounds when you walk the creek. It might be your yard or the campground where you spend Fourth of July. Wherever it is, take a moment, look at it and take care of it.
Kevin Mouser is a member of the Chert Glades Master Naturalist Chapter. He is the Special Education Science teacher, Ecology teacher and Science Club sponsor at East Newton High School. When he is not teaching, driving a school bus or sleeping, he really enjoys spending time with his wonderful wife Cristal and getting into the great waters of the Missouri Ozarks.
Photography by Kevin Mouser