Blue Suckers for NANFA 2017 Convention in Missouri

I was asked to design the t-shirt for this year’s annual meeting of the North American Native Fishes Association in Missouri (June 8-13, 2017, Meramec State Park).

To register for the convention: http://www.nanfa.org/convention/2017.shtml

NANFA 2017 shirt NANFA 2017 shirt (closeup)

There’s even something on the back, in case you’re being followed:

NANFA 2017 shirt (back)

The first batch of orders has shipped!

To order a shirt (or a bunch of them): http://www.nanfa.org/cart.shtml#MOshirt (all proceeds go to NANFA, not me). They come in M, L, XL, XXL and XXXL. $25 each ($30 for XXL and XXXL) and shipping is $5 for any quantity. Assuming there are any left, they will also be for sale at the convention. Shirts are 100% cotton. Image is silkscreened, so these will last a long time.

Blue Sucker print

Blue Sucker print (close-up)

Blue Sucker print (close-up)

Blue Sucker print (close-up)

Posters too

I am selling a small number of posters of the design to help fund my trip to the convention. I put an insane number of hours into the design, for free, and I was happy to do it. That said, gas and hotel rooms aren’t going to volunteer themselves. My recommendation is to buy the t-shirt so the money goes to NANFA. Then, if you like it and want to look at it when the shirt’s in the wash, pick up a poster. They are 16 x 24 inch giclee prints, archival ink on heavy, archival paper. Go to https://www.etsy.com/listing/512974386/nanfa-2017-blue-sucker-poster. They are ready to ship now. 25% of proceeds from posters will be donated to NANFA. After printing costs and the donation, if I sell the whole run it might cover about half the cost of my gas and lodging. (If you want it framed, that will be available for an additional $50-$60, which, after the cost of the frame, glass and backing, plus extra shipping costs, won’t add much—if anything—to what I make but will get a few extra bucks to NANFA.)

Why Blue Suckers?

I chose the species for several reasons, including the obvious and incontrovertible fact that it is among the very coolest of North America’s native fishes. Aside from that, it’s a fitting choice because it was almost always known in the literature as the Missouri Sucker (until the 1920s: see my article on the history of its names on this very site or in the winter 2015 issue of American Currents). It is a big river fish that’s perfect for a big river state like MO, home to the two longest rivers on the continent. Finally, I thought it could use more attention, as it’s a little-known but historically and biologically important native species that’s not been treated well by the modern world.

I based the two main fish on photos I took while electrofishing the Wisconsin River with NANFA member John Lyons of the Wisconsin DNR and members of his staff (see the story and lots of photos).

The two silhouettes are based on early Blue Sucker drawings (below). On the left is an 1884 illustration (by HL Todd) of a specimen in the Smithsonian. This drawing was copied and re-used in most publications after that, basically becoming the standard image until replaced by photos in the mid-20th century. The skinny, funny-looking one is based on the earliest image of a Blue Sucker that exists, as far as I can tell. It was drawn by LeSueur and published with his original description of the species (as Catostomus elongatus) in 1817. As he was looking at a dried specimen, his drawing does not look much like a Blue Sucker. I included it for its historical importance.

H. L. Todd's 1884 Cycleptus illustration.

H. L. Todd’s 1884 Cycleptus illustration.

LeSueur's 1817 illustration of a Blue Sucker, which he called Catostomus elongatus.

LeSueur’s 1817 illustration of a Blue Sucker, which he called Catostomus elongatus.

Speaking of LeSueur…

Famous biologists agree: you need a shirt.

Famous biologists agree: you need a shirt.

Mapping the Paddlefish (because someone had to do it) [updated Sep. 2016]

I needed a map showing the range of the Paddlefish (Polyodon spathula, also known as spoonbill catfish, among other things), one of North America’s most striking animals. Despite a lot of searching (online and in books), however, I couldn’t find any map that was both up-to-date and of sufficient quality. I also couldn’t find any single listing of the species’ current status in all states where it is found, nor the regulations governing if/how it can be caught (for sport or commercially). What else could I do but create the map I needed?*

Map showing range of Paddlefish in North AmericaUPDATE: Thanks to information provided by Jason Schooley (Paddlefish Biologist at the Oklahoma Dept. of Wildlife Conservation Paddlefish Research Center) and Ben Neely (Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism, and see the two articles I’ve added to the sources list at the end of this post), I have updated the map to include more of Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri in the Paddlefish’s range.

The map was created to accompany a paddlefish article in the fall 2014 issue of American Currents. (Click on the map to see it larger.)

Note: As noted in the key below the map, PA and NY have paddlefish populations. They are shown in the extirpated color because the species is still officially considered extirpated by both states. When that changes, so will the map.

Corrections welcome, but only if they come with reference to sources so I can verify and keep track.

Copyright information:

Creative Commons License
Status and distribution of the Paddlefish (Polyodon spathula) in North America by Olaf Nelson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
(This means you may use the map for non-commercial purposes only, provided it is not altered in any way and you credit me. A link to http://moxostoma.com/paddlefishmap would also be nice. If, for some reason, you want to use the map in something commercial, contact me. If you need it altered somehow, contact me.

Additional notes on the paddlefish:

The last time a wild paddlefish was seen in Ontario was 1917.

Paddlefish roe (eggs) make fine caviar, and as is the case with many species of sturgeon, this fact has had a negative impact on the species’ population. Tight rules now govern the harvest and sale of paddlefish roe, but poachers still take fish illegally as there is money to be made.

Read the journal of just about any early European explorer traveling up the Mississippi and you’ll find references to the paddlefish. They must have been extremely common before we fished, dammed and poisoned them to their current reduced state.

  • In about 1805, Zebulon Pike, traveling the Mississippi somewhere around what is now southern Illinois/Missouri recorded this:
    (click on the image to go to the book)
  • Father Louis Hennepin, in (I think) 1680, compared a Mississippi River (he called it “the River Colbert”) paddlefish to a devil:

    “The eagles, which are to be seen in abundance in these vast countries, will sometimes drop a breme, a large carp [there were no carp on this continent at the time, so he meant either various suckers or perhaps mooneye, goldeye, or drum], or some other fish, as they are carrying them to their nests in their talons, to feed their young. One day we spied an otter, which was feeding on a great fish upon the bank of the river [some versions say “River Colbert” here]; which fish had upon its head a sort of beak about five inches broad, and a foot and half long. As soon as the Picard spied it, he cried out he saw the devil between the claws of the otter. This surprise was not so great, but that we made bold to feed heartily upon it. The flesh of it was good; and we named it the sturgeon with the long beak.”
    (Click on the page image to go to the book.)
  • One of the earliest illustrations appeared in the account of Antoine Simon LePage DuPratz (1695-1775), who traveled to North America in 1718 and spent 16 years living in “Louisiana,” a larger area then than now. His memoirs provide a wealth of information about the native people and animals of the region. Here are a few pages on fish and fishing, featuring suckers (what he calls carp are probably suckers of various species, since carp would not arrive here for another century or more; a later author, mentioning DuPratz, identifies the carp as buffalo, which makes perfect sense), gar (“armed fish”), catfish (at least that’s how I would identify his two kinds of “barbel”) and bowfin (“choupic”). If he did nothing beyond this, I’d still consider him a great man: he calls the bowfin beautiful and says many people confuse it with trout for its willingness to take a fly!

    A few pages from the chapter on fish:

    (Click on any of the images to go to the book.)
    I don’t know whether the illustrations are based on sketches by DuPratz or wholly created by someone who had never seen any of these animals (which happened a lot, leading to some wildly inaccurate images), but they combine a simplistic style uncommon for animal woodcuts in books of this time with a surprising lack of the fantastic over-imagination also common at the time.

Sources consulted in the creation of the map:

*Making things like this is part of my real job (loving unloved fish is, for me anyway, not a paying gig) as a book designer (mostly the pages, but also covers). I specialize in scholarly and scientific books and journals. If you are a scholar or scientist who needs someone to design your next book or the journals you edit, please get in touch.