Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

April 30, 2012

Dance of the Blacknose Dace

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 11:44 am

There is crisp flowing stream that runs through a moist wood near the south end of Dollar Lake. I don’t know what it  is called, but that doesn’t really matter. It is not a babbling brook because it courses over a sandy, rather than a stony, bed. It is swift and silent, cold, and delightfully clear.  In the springtime the deeper pools are about 3 ft. deep and the riffles maintain about 1 foot in depth.  It slips through a culvert under a concrete bridge at Indian Lake Road and the forced straightening seems to increase the already vigilant flow at that point. This is where the Daces Dance.

Although the birds and the bees get most of the attention, the fishes also “do it” in the Springtime.  Blacknose Dace, small minnow-sized fish that only reside in small streams, do their “thing” beginning in April.  This spawning urge does not start according to the calendar but is triggered by water temperatures between 16 – 22 degrees Celsius (a point reached sometime between April and July depending on where you are).  You could say these are the romantic “Dace of Wine and Roses” but that would only be an opportunity for a cheap flimsy pun (opportunity taken, as you can see).

Before we get into the “thing” and spiral into more punnery, perhaps it would be good to get a little more familiar with the fish itself. It is a safe bet that most of you haven’t seen one.  I had not seen a live one until I spotted the creatures in this nameless creek.  Admittedly, It took some homework to pin down the species in this case. There are many types of Dace and they all look very much alike. Blacknose Dace range from 2-4 inches in length and are distinguished by a dark lateral stripe which runs from tail to snout tip (thus the name). A lighter line lays over this dark one and the back is speckled.  The snout actually overhangs the mouth and the mouth faces downward – fit for picking up bottom invertebrates.

From my perch above these fish, my view – and the one I am providing you – was basically an aerial perspective. In the spawning season, the dark side line often becomes reddish brown. Unfortunately, this feature doesn’t show up well from on high.

Blacknose Daces spend most of their year in the deeper pools(see here another school upstream) and the gentler portions of the stream but gravitate to the shallow riffles for spawning.  The actual act of “doing it” is very brief. You can see these little guys in action in this short video clip (here) The female fish, bulging with eggs, is the darker individual. The male appears paler and has a scar on his back (and possibly a mole on his right buttock).  He sidles up to the female, arches his back slightly over hers, and the two fish wiggle rapidly. A cloud of sediment is stirred up by the action and washes away in the swift current. It is over very quickly.

During this brief time of togetherness the female releases some eggs and the male attempts to fertilize them as they are laid. The eggs settle into the gravelly sand and develop on their own. Females can lay up to 9,000 eggs. Over the course of 20 minutes I witnessed this activity take place about a dozen times between these two fish. In some sub-species of Blacknose Dace the males defend territories and will mate with any female that enters it. This spot below the bridge apparently belonged to “scar back” because he was the only male I saw (doing the male thing).

Blacknose Dace are a symbol of clean water and their spawning is an example of good clean fun!


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