Rainbow shiners 2023-10-14

This story is amusing enough to publish (with permission), even though it is about goings-on outside the Suwannee River Basin.

Various Notropis species form unusual spawning aggregations. For example, here is a spawning aggregation of the noble Notropis chrosomus AKA the Rainbow shiner, arguably the most colorful fish in North America. This aggregation was photographed in Marshall creek near Monroeville Alabama north of Mobile.

[Rainbow shiners spawning in the air]
Rainbow shiners spawning in the air

What? Fish that spawn upside down in the air above waterfalls in a part of the country that can’t possible have waterfalls? OK, I owe you an explanation.

Once upon a time, and a long ago time it was, I was building a waterfall and stream as environmental art for the University of North Florida that was funded (sort of) by their art in architecture program. 99% of the people in Pensacola are super straight and affiliated with the military, so I had trouble finding like minded people to cavort with. So it was that I befriended Mr. Moon, the owner of a punk rock club. Though he had spent his whole life in the basement he was eager to see what the outside world looked like. Toward that end I took him with me on a trip to the nearby Red hills of Alabama.

I suspected that Marshall creek, a tributary to the Alabama river, might have exposures of limestone, and thus caves. The terrain of the Red hills is much more complex than one might expect in a place just north of Mobile Alabama. I suspect that a salt dome pushed up the Red hills, so now the terrain is almost mountainous.

We were wandering down Marshall creek when I began to see brilliant red and blue sparks in the water. The effect was hallucinatory, how could I be seeing electric sparks in the creek? So I toked up and looked more closely. That was when I realized the colors were coming from little fish that resembled Neon tetras but were twice as big. I reached a gravel bar where there were hundreds of these marvelous creatures in a breeding aggregation, stuck my waterproof Minolta Weathermatic in the water, and took the photo above. It was my first underwater photo.

Shortly thereafter we were walking along the creek when Mr. Moon said, “Weazel, the Bubbas tell me that there are deadly water moccasins that jump out of trees into fishermen’s boats, thus necessitating blowing a hole in the bottom of the boat with a shotgun. Is that true?”

I hastened to assure him that those were harmless watersnakes, for moccasins never climb trees. A few moments later I heard a branch break overhead and momentarily hesitated. That was when a gigantic water moccasin fell from the tree above and landed with a thud at my feet. If I had not hesitated it would have landed on my head. It was monstrous in size, and atypically blond in color, almost yellow. Needless to say I just had to pick it up! Meanwhile Mr. Moon screamed, “No! Don’t touch it!” He took the following photo with my Weathermatic. Note that there are two of me, and that I had big hair!

[Big hair]
Big hair

Later that day we circled around to the Conecuh river where I discovered the waterfall seen in the first photo with the fish.

Back in Pensacola I had the film developed. Two Weazels and upside down flying fish??? Apparently, I had somehow managed to reload the already exposed film. Why weren’t the original images destroyed when I changed film? How did the fish wind up upside down when the double Weazels were right side up?

All of this remains a mystery, but what would you expect from the heartland of Southern Gothic storytelling, home of Harper Lee?


So, don’t worry, moccasins don’t ever fall into boats. Well, hardly ever.

And yes, Sleazeweazel is real; I have paddled with him. For more of his stories, here is his blob, as he calls it:

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

You can help with clean, swimmable, fishable, drinkable, water in the 10,000-square-mile Suwannee River Basin in Florida and Georgia by becoming a WWALS member today!