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NFC: Madtoms coming to a FAMA near you

 Those Maddening Madtoms!
Robert Rice
2213 Prytania Circle
Navarre Florida
Robert Rice 2213 Prytania Circle Navarre Florida 32566
robertrice at juno_com 
Of all the North American Fishes perhaps none has so frustrated efforts
to be fully understood like the madtom family. Madtoms are very colorful
catfishes of the Noturus genus with a little twist. They are absolutely
tiny, a 5 inch madtom is a giant. As diminutive creatures they are very
well suited for the home aquarium. If you could imagine the temperament
of a bullhead in a tiny body you'd understand the madtoms. They are
durable, colorful, fascinating, piggish little nocturnal beasts. I am
unashamedly in love with them. To see those full-bellied madtoms greedily
eating shrimp, crayfish or worms is a joy. These stout little guys push
aside the sunfishes, killies and everyone else to get their ample
portion. They belong among the fish most people commonly talk about.
Instead they are anonymous to the world. A few of the stone cold serious
catfish hobbyist like Lee Finley keep, discuss and defend the Madtoms but
for the most part the are a phantom of the North American fauna.

With their anonymity has come apathy. With apathy has come neglect. With
this neglect extinction looms over many members of this genus. So various
federal and state agencies have been called together in a last ditch
effort to domestically rear and perhaps save madtoms like the Neosho,
Smoky and others who are on ecological life support of sorts. These
professionals are scrambling to get life histories and to discover
verifiable, repeatable spawning data of any madtom species, not just the
endangered ones. All in hopes that they can apply that knowledge to
endangered species propagation. Unfourtunately complete life histories
and breeding data just are not there.

I know I have gotten a bit ahead of myself explaining the dire straights
of the madtoms before telling you a bit more about them. It is just the
survival of many of these unique and beautiful fish is truly in question
and I am passionate about their conservation. How many species of madtoms
will survive into the next century? Five, ten, twenty? Who knows? But our
efforts today may very well tip the scales. We as aquarists can help in
several ways. One is we can join a nonprofit conservation organization
like the Nature Conservancy, Audobon Society, the Native Fish Conservancy
or any other similar organization. Just by joining you are helping the
cause. Your membership dues help in research, public education and land
purchases. So join a conservation organization today.

Now let me fill you in a little more about madtoms. Madtoms are an
American original. They come in a surprising variety of colors for
catfish from the absolutely beautiful brindled madtoms to the more subtle
tadpole madtoms. They occur over most of the eastern United States in
small streams and mid-sized rivers every where. As I have already stated
there are many unique local species that are in peril due to habitat
degradation and their mysterious reproduction habits. However there are
also many common species that the local aquarist should look into.
Wonderful species like the tadpole and brindled madtoms as mentioned
above. They are excellent for the home aquarium. Aquarists should right
NOW be working with these common madtoms to discover the triggers to
spawning. These triggers could then make spawning of the more difficult
species a reality.

I have a simple plan that will allow you the serious aquarist to get
involved in Madtom Mania. First off take a quick course in Madtom 101.
Purchase, checkout or borrow a copy of Peterson's Field Guide to
Freshwater Fishes by Larry Page & Brooks M. Burr. It is available on the
web at the NFC Website (http://nativefish.interspeed.net ). The NFC gets
a small percentage of the purchase price of every book, movie or CD
purchased via their website, so I strongly recommend you support this
nonprofit organization via your purchases. With this book you can
identify common and uncommon local species to get you started. Then on
the NFC website (see above) check into the Endangered threatened species
list in the article section of the website. Second pick a common local
species, check your state regulations then go collecting. In most eastern
states a simple fishing license will allow you to collect common Madtom
Species. I've found that a dip net and kicknettting , a process where you
kick over rocks, small logs etc. in shallow creeks and streams while
keeping a dipnet an arms length or so downstream is the best technique.
The exposed fish naturally race downstream into the waiting net. It is a
low impact way to collect darters, madtoms and the like. A word of
caution madtoms like many catfish can deliver a painful sting with their
fins so handel them accordingly or you will be screaming like a mad

After dropping them into a bucket a quick field ID is in order. With the
Peterson's Field Guide and a small aquarium net you can quickly identify
the common species and throw the rest back. Now once collected Madtoms
take very quickly to tank life. They will eat a variety of frozen and
fresh foods. They love little nooks and crannies so I put small clay pots
and rocks in all my Madtom tanks. The challenge for me and everyone else
out there is can they be consistently spawned ? There are two schools of
thought on the breeding of Madtoms and for that matter most temperate
fish. One is that temperature is the predominate trigger to spawning.
That means that a species must have a cool down period of 30 days or so
where the tank temp drops below 50 degrees F then when the temperature
rises to say 72 F. spawning occurs. The other theory is environmental
triggers control spawning. For instance many Sunfish will readily spawn
when they are fed heavily and are exposed to an 18 hour a day photo
period. What triggers Madtom's , no one can say for sure. They seem an
oxymoron , impossible to breed by the most qualified of the
professional's. Yet here's the kicker . There are several legitimate
reports out there of amateur individuals successfully spawning and
raising a batch of tadpole madtoms once and never again. There results
are poorly documented and thus they just cant seem be repeated. So the
life histories remain unfulfilled.

Finally at any time during your Madtom Adventure share your results. I
have no preference as to how you share your results I just care that you
share. Write up your info , put it in a publication or put it on the web
any way you can. For example the Native Fish Conservancy has a huge
article data base. Write up what you find out good and bad and they will
put it on their website. Contact Tim Ayers (tayers at bridge_com ) with your
articles about the temperate fishes. Every bit helps. Perhaps you'd like
to get real serious about this Madtom thing. Then join the NFC breeders
club (http://www.nativefish.org), if you join the Breeders club you can
acquire fish , share data and work in a team approach to solve the Madtom
mystery. The Breeders Club contact is Bill Duzen email theduuz at aol_com.
The key to unlocking this mystery is gonna be a cordinated team effort.
Organizations, individuals and Universities are going to have to share
information , partner when possible and not keep secrets. It seems that
the more difficult a fish is to breed the more unwilling people are to
share their hard earned information with the outside world. It in effect
becomes a race for credit instead of a race for conservation. That
nonsence will have to stop. The Job is to important, the need is to dire
by working together we can solve the riddle that is the Maddening
Madtoms. Until next time good luck and good fishing.
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