This blog originates on the banks of the Atchafalaya River, in Louisiana. It proposes to share the things that happen on and by the river as the seasons progress. As the river changes from quiet, warm, slow flow to rises of eighteen feet or more, there are changes in the lives of the birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles that use the river. And the mood of the river changes with the seasons. I propose to note and comment on these things.

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Location: Butte La Rose, Louisiana, United States

I transitioned a few years ago from a career as a water-pollution control biologist. I want to do this blog to stay in touch with a world outside my everyday surroundings, whatever they may be. I like open-minded company and the discussion of ideas. Photo by Brad Moon.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Crabs/Gator Remains

Sunset yesterday evening was nice all around. This picture is facing east, not west. Sometimes that just happens.

Yesterday afternoon my friend and son-in-law Danny and I walked down to the river to look around. It was hot, but there was an easterly breeze blowing up the river all day. It almost took the heart out of the heat. Danny likes to fish a lot, and we soon had rods and reels fishing with river shrimp out in the water. I wasn’t very enthusiastic, particularly since most of the fish that had been biting lately were short-nosed gars. They nibble and nibble and then you set the hook and they go crazy for a few seconds and then they get off, usually breaking the line. Setting the hook in a garfish’s mouth is like trying to hook a piece of ceramic tile, it’s almost impossible. So, the gars started to do their thing again and I got tired of it and started to just ease the line up instead of jerking to set the hook, not caring if I caught them or not. The first time I tried this nothing happened, but the second time there was a continuing weight and some active resistance on the end of the line. I slowly brought up the line and began to think there may be something worth catching on the other end. Sure enough, a big crab came to the surface and Danny “grabbed the net” and brought it in. Well, a few days ago I posted the first blue crab to appear in a shrimp trap in four years, and now here was a big one. Might there be more? Now we had to catch something to bait crablines with, so back to fishing for real. Danny soon caught a catfish and we cut it up for bait for two lines. We tied weights to the bait and set the lines on the bottom and got the net ready – a sure way to hex yourself. While waiting we began catching more crabs on the rods. We ended with nine nice crabs, all caught on the rods, none on the crablines, though the turtles liked the crablines a lot. Never get the net ready before there is something to catch with it. We caught a gar and cut it up (with a hacksaw) and baited a regular crabtrap like they use in the bays. I checked it this morning – nothing. Go figure. But we ate the crabs for supper last night, and were they good! I believe these freshwater-caught crabs are the sweetest tasting ones there are. As I said, this is the first time in four years the crabs have come up this far in the river. It is good to see, and eat.

The gator story isn’t over quite yet. I managed to get the skull and jaw up out of the mud last week. That animal really was bigger than I thought. His head (and it was a he) is airing on the raft. Every time Napoleon goes down there he is very alert, and very careful and he sneaks up on those bone so full of teeth. He sniffs the air and moves his head from side to side. It is obvious that something about the bones still signals danger to the cat, even though they are so obviously dead. A couple days ago, the water dropped an additional six inches due to a low tide (yes, even up here), and I could reach the place on the bottom in the mud where the gator sank and decomposed. There is nothing left now but the bones, which are clean and really have very little odor. I could lean down from the boat and feel for solid objects in the mud. Right away I began to bring up handfuls of the plates that form the base for the squares of skin on the back. This is one of the most diagnostic bones to be found as gator remains. Nothing else has them and nothing else looks like that. (so where is the picture? I’ll add one later). Soon, other gator parts came up – vertebrae, ribs and shoulder blades, and other stuff. Other stuff? Yes, bones that didn’t belong to the alligator. I was looking at turtle shell, broken turtle shell. Could that be the gator’s last meal? If so, how would he have swallowed it? It would have to have been broken up, and there might be tooth marks in the shell. And there were. There, plainly, the story told itself. The turtle had been about ten inches long and was now in about twenty pieces, some clearly showing the tooth damage. How neat! More feeling around in the mud. Another type of bone, not turtle, a vertebra of some kind. Another vertebra. And then a piece of bone from something’s leg, and another piece from something else’s leg. There were the remains from at least three species of animals in the alligator’s stomach when it died. This is particularly fun for me because I really like the puzzle of identifying animals by the bones you find sometimes, especially in Native American trash dumps (kitchen middens). Here was a good puzzle. So I brought the bones inside and began to look for identifications. My wife Carolyn is a saint, that’s all I can say.

The items in the plate are the bones we are talking about. The first thing I could identify was the tibia (lower leg bone) from an adult armadillo. And then the two vertebrae turned out to also be from an armadillo, lumbar vertebrae to be specific. Probably the same armadillo. The picture compares the dark brown vertebra with the same bone from a reference collection that I use, they are identical. The last bone was the most difficult because it had been rounded over by the digestive juices. But the best I can come up with is the femur of a canid of some kind, probably dog – domestic or not I don’t know. So, that makes three species we know the gator ate, and these not too long ago: redear slider turtle, armadillo and dog. No wonder Napoleon is taking no chances with that skull, whether it’s still connected to the rest of the alligator or not.

The yellow big-eyed thing is a male io moth. Kind of looks funny: just “io”. These moths come to a mercury vapor lamp we have for security. They seem sort of torpid during the day and are pretty easy to photograph. The other picture is a silver-spotted skipper. What I like about this picture is the ant in the lower left corner. I didn’t see it until I saw the picture on the computer – serendipity for sure. These are just two more items in the picture album I call “Life at Butte La Rose”. Dave Patton and I saw a blue racer today that I couldn’t keep up with, so no picture.

The river is at 2.3 on the Butte La Rose gauge, and will stay about there for the next several days. The Ohio and Mississippi aren’t doing anything dramatic either.

Rise and Shine, Jim


Blogger Ross said...


Again, Nice pictures of the Lepidopterans. I finally have a new post on my blog.

August 22, 2006 10:36 PM  
Blogger jim said...

Thanks. good for you, i'll check it out! Jim

August 23, 2006 3:25 PM  

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