Text and photographs by Amanda Pinion
The Ichthyology class (WFSC 311) led by Dr. Kevin Conway embarked on three field trips this Fall semester. These optional trips are a great supplement to the course, during which students can learn first-hand how to sample and collect fishes via electroshocking, seining or dip netting. Each trip is focused on a different habitat, from the sandy creeks and streams of east Texas, to the clear waters of the Texas hill country, and finally to the salty (mosquito rich) gulf coast.
The first trip of this semester (22nd September) was conducted in East Texas, including sites along the San Jacinto River near Conroe and Mill Creek close to Plantersville. Bright eyed students seemed to enjoy seeing the living counterparts of the specimens they had seen previously in the lab, finding them a bit more colorful and active. The day was cloudy and despite the threat of rain, the trip was a success.
The second trip of this semester (27th of October) began with a tour of the USFW San Marcos Aquatic Resources Center (SMARC) led by biologist Randy Gibson. This center focuses primarily on the propagation and study of species that are considered to be endangered, threatened or at-risk by the USFWS. This includes species of plants, invertebrates and vertebrates. Several species of fishes are maintained
at the SMARC facility, including the threatened Devil’s River minnow (Dionda diaboli) and the endangered Fountain darter (Etheostoma fonticola). Even though this is an ichthyology course, many students were charmed by the captive population of endangered Texas blind salamanders (Eurycea rathbuni) that are also maintained by the USFWS at SMARC.
After our tour of SMARC and a decadent fast food lunch in San Marcos, students sampled the beautiful Blanco river near Wimberley. The clear water of the Blanco River was a welcome change from the creeks of East Texas (at least for the TAs).
The second sampling site of the second field trip was slightly downstream from the springs of the San Marcos River. Students caught fishes by dip nets and bag seine. Several students even took the opportunity to swim and snorkel the clear San Marcos river and see what was going on down below, while taking care to avoid disturbing the endangered Texas wild rice (Zizania texana).
The last trip of the semester also began with a tour, this time at the Texas Sea Center in Lake Jackson led by biologist Jeff Bayer of TPWD on the 17th of November. Red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus), Spotted sea trout (Cynoscion nebulosus) and Southern flounder (Paralichthys lethostigma) are propagated at the Sea Center for stock enhancement along the Texas Gulf Coast. Students got to go behind-the-scenes and see what goes into raising these recreationally important species of fishes.
After our tour of the Sea Center, the class headed to the Gulf Coast for sampling. The first site was at Christmas bay where students got a glimpse of some saltwater diversity for a change in pace,
including everything from butterfly ray (Gymnura sp.) to tiny gobies. Students also witnessed blades of seagrass turn into Gulf pipefish (Syngnathus scovelli) before their eyes and eventually became experts at pinpointing pipefishes (two species S. scovelli and S. louisianae) against a green
background of seagrass, weeds and the green mesh of an old bag seine.
The second Gulf coast site of the day was even saltier. Students pulled a bag seine along a beach south of San Luis Pass and learned that anchovies (Anchoa mitchilli) really are fun. A juvenile Lookdown (Selene vomer) still adorned with elongate dorsal-fin rays mimicking vegetation that confuse predators was the catch of the day.
More pictures from the field trip adventures below.
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