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NFC: Madtoms

Those Maddening Madtoms !
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 Madtoms 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 sunfishe's , 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, talk about and stick
up for 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,
Smokey 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. It's just 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 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 Aquarist can help in
several ways. One is we can join a non profit conservation organization
like the Nature Conservancy, Audobon Society or the Native Fish
Conservancy. Just by joining you are helping the cause. Anyway let me
fill you in a little more about madtoms. Another is getting involved in
life history research.

Madtoms are an American original that come in a surprising variety of
colors for catfish from the absolutely beautiful Brindeled Madtoms to the
more subtle Tadpole Madtoms. They occur over most of the eastern United
States in small steams 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. Aquarist
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 by 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 non
profit 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 off pick a common species,
check your local 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.

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
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 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. Every
bit helps. Perhaps you'd like to get real serious about this Madtom
thing. Then join the NFC breeders club (http://nativefish.interspeed.net)
, 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. Working together we Aquarist
can solve the riddle that is the Maddening Madtoms. Until next time good
luck and good fishing.

Robert Rice
Help Preserve our Aquatic Heritage join the NFC
email us at NFC at actwin_com or  Sunfishtalk at listbot_com
website  http://nativefish.interspeed.net/