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Below The Surface

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Have you seen this scary Halloween face at ECHO? Where? Is it the face of the scariest fish, or our creepiest snake, or something more ghoulish?

It may not be what you may think...

Take another look:
It's a set of markings on the plastron (lower shell) of our baby spiney softshell turtles! Today's holiday must have been on the mind of Nikko, my Animal Care volunteer, who pointed out the faces looking at us this Sunday morning as he cleaned their holding tank.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Time to Go Against the Flow?

Recently, economic woes around much of the world have blossomed into the Occupy Wall Street movement, making the evening news each night. People are taking actions, challenging others to join them and go against of flow of life as usual. At ECHO, one of our Atlantic Salmon is doing its own version of getting attention. Has economic unrest trickled down to our unpaid animal ambassadors?
video

One of our Atlantic salmon looks like it's doing a headstand while its tank-mates are swimming along in the usual way. What is going on & why?

As I had written in a previous post, animals will do seemingly odd things in captivity, and it is often helpful to be aware of the environmental cues available to the animal where it lives. Although no one can truly know what is going through an animal's mind at any given time, we can tap into our knowledge of the biology and ecology of an animal to develop a hypothesis (educated guess) about what is going on.

I know from both the video and seeing these animals live that the salmon doing the headstand is the largest salmon in the tank. I also have observed that there is a steady current that flows from the bottom to the top of the tank; this is where he or she does its thing. Look closely at the algae growing on the log:

video

I've never seen our friend exhibit this behavior in other parts of the tank where there is no current. Does this behavior make any sense in the context of what wild fish do?

The life of an Atlantic salmon in the wild starts in spring when a fertilized egg hatches from a nest created in autumn by an adult female in a gravel bed in a fast-flowing part of a river. After hatching it spends time in the safety of the gravel bed, living off of a yolk sac attached to its belly. Once this energy supply is gone, it moves up into the water column and spend 2-3 years as a river dweller, eating aquatic insects. By its third birthday, the young salmon move downstream into the ocean or large lake and switch their diet to small fish. As it grows and reaches maturity, the salmon will make spawning runs, traveling up the river of its birth in late October or November. Unlike the salmon species of the Pacific Northwest which die after spawning just once, Atlantic salmon spawn multiple times throughout their adult life, so long as they have the energy to do it.

What strikes me most about the Atlantic salmon's life-cycle is the undercurrent (pun intended) of flowing water throughout. They are powerful swimmers that seek the current of flowing rivers when their body size, energy reserves, and environmental cues indicate that all systems are go for spawning. At ECHO, the temperature cues for our fish do not exist; the Atlantic salmon and lake trout tank is a fairly constant 55 to 59° F. The length of the day from our lighting is constant for these fish as well. So, the environmental cues that they might use to know that it is autumn are absent. However the flow of water in our tank from bottom to top is there and our fish are well fed. These conditions may have allowed our largest Atlantic salmon to become reproductively mature and the flow may be the only available cue to which she can respond. She swims vertically on a quest for spawning grounds. That is my hypothesis. Over time, more observations may change my mind and the hypothesis might change. If my hypothesis is correct, I will expect to see more of our fish exhibit this behavior as they get larger.

Want to see wild Atlantic salmon from Lake Champlain? As I write this, our local population of land-locked Atlantic salmon are making their way up rivers for spawning. If you visit the salmon lift (run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife), you may have a chance to see these creatures during their spawning run. The lift is located above Salmon Hole on the Winooski River, beside the Burlington-Winooski bridge. You can also watch a story about this from WPTZ's Conservation Correspondent, and ECHO's Conservation Education Specialist, Bridget Butler by clicking here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Food Less Traveled 2, Fabulous Foodie Event

Most of us don't think about where our food comes as we're taking a nice bite into it... but that is changing and local restaurants, and the food producers they partner with, are making that change happen.

Last Thursday, October 13, 2011, eight Burlington area restaurants created delicious food using locally sourced food ingredients provided by over 35 Vermont food producers. The restaurants were vying for the title of Grand Food Miles Champion and/or any one of three other titles which included: Lowest Food Miles, People's Choice, and Judges’ Choice. More than 180 guests enjoyed servings from each restaurant and helped to decide the People's Choice award. They also tasted four varieties of wine from Boyden Valley Winery. (Photo: Skinny Pancake steak & potatoes.)

What is a food mile? A food mile is a phrase to describe the distance a food travels to get to one’s plate. No ingredients in our competition traveled more than 60 miles to the kitchen!

Awards winners:

Lowest Food Miles: In third place, with 9.7 miles was Skinny Pancake. In second place with 6.52 miles was Sugarsnap. First place went to Barkeaters with 6.45 miles – Creating a delicious dish using local ingredients that traveled the least distance. Their dish was Bloomin’ Beet and Carrot Latkes with Apple Relish. The food producers included Bloomfield Farm, Charlotte; Nitty Gritty Grains, Charlotte; Philo Farm, Charlotte and Shelburne Orchards, Shelburne.

People’s Choice: In second place there was a tie between Leunigs Bistro and Sweetwaters. In first place was American Flatbread – Creating a delicious dish deemed the best overall by ECHO guests. Their dish was Cider Braised Lamb with Butternut Squash Puree and Spiced Apple Chutney. The food producers included Shelburne farms, Shelburne; Shelburne Orchard, Shelburne, Stony Loam Farm, Charlotte. (Photo: American Flatbread with line of hungry folk.)

Judges’ Choice: Third place was August First, second place was Sugarsnap and the winner was Skinny Pancake – Creating a delicious dish deemed the best overall by the celebrity judges. Their dish was Steak and Potatoes. The food producers included Arethusa Farm, Burlington Intervale; Charlotte Berry Farm, Charlotte, Jericho Settlers’ Farm, Jericho; Personal Garden, Burlington.

The Judges’ Choice was determined by the votes of four celebrity judges: Alice Leavitt, food writer, Seven Days newspaper; Sally Pollack, Burlington Free Press Food writer; Sarah Langan, core faculty member, New England Culinary Institute; and Cheryl Herrick, food blogger from crankycakes.com.

Grand Food Miles Champion: Sugarsnap – Creating the best overall dish with the least food miles, determined by a combination of overall points in the three categories. Their dish was Roasted Garlic Soup with Cheddar Tuile. The food producers included Bread and Butter Farm, S. Burlington; City Chicks, Burlington Interval; Full Moon Farms, Hinesburg; Samara farm, Burlington Intervale, Shelburne farms, Shelburne; Sugarsnap Farm, Burlington Intervale; Windstone Farm, Williston.

The other restaurants involved were: August First, Farmhouse Tap & Grill, Leunig’s Bistro and Sweetwaters.

When asked about the quality of the food prepared by area chefs, food judge Cheryl Herrick commented, “The variety of what was prepared was amazing and the level of excellence was motivational.” Another food judge, Alice Levitt was pleasantly surprised by some of the ingredients used stating “I saw chefs using products that I didn’t even know we had in Vermont. And the use of the common Sumac to create a caramel in a dessert was amazing.” (Photo: Winning Chefs from Sugarsnap, American Flatbread, Skinny Pancake.)

“We couldn’t be happier with the turnout and the quality of offerings at this year’s event”, said Molly Loomis, ECHO’s Director of Education. “This event created the opportunity to learn, build relationships and show creativity with fresh Vermont food ingredients. All of our ECHO After Dark programming (second Thursday of each month) is geared toward our 21+ audience with one foot anchored in learning and the other in fun!”