Utah Lobster Étouffée

Click to view larger image Northern Crayfish Orconectes virilis. Photo Copyright 2009 Ellen Wakely
Northern Crayfish Orconectes virilis
© 2009 Ellen Wakely

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

Remember this song?:

You get a line and I’ll get a pole honey
You get a line and I’ll get a pole, babe
You get a line and I’ll get a pole
And we’ll go down to the crawdad hole
Honey, baby mine

Did you know you that the “Crawdad Song” is relevant for Utahns? Not long ago, I encountered a rocky stream just teeming with crayfish.

Crawfish, crawdaddies, freshwater lobsters and mudbugs are all different names for the same little creature. Like a lobster, the crayfish has a joined head and midsection, and a segmented body. Crayfish come in assorted colors: sandy yellow, green, white, pink or dark brown. And they are usually about (3 inches) long.

Crayfish conceal themselves under rocks or logs. They are most active at night, when they feed on snails, algae, insect larvae, worms, and other delicacies.

There are about 330 different species that occur in North America. They are especially concentrated in the southern Mississippi Basin. Utah has only one native—the pilose crayfish. Its range is in northern Utah’s Bear River, Weber River and Ogden River drainages and in the Raft River Mountains drainages.

Utah also has two known invasive crayfish, The northern crayfish is a very successful and aggressive species. It was introduced and stocked in the 60’s and 70’s and is increasingly widespread. These crayfish are particularly abundant in Flaming Gorge and Glen Canyon reservoirs and in the Virgin and Duchesne drainages. The Louisiana crayfish has also found its way to Utah. This is the culinary crayfish that you ‘ve probably encountered in jambalaya and crawfish étouffée.

Nonnative crayfish infestations degrade freshwater habitats if the new crayfish outcompetes natives. Invasives also carry disease. Too many crayfish can destabilize stream banks by digging and burrowing.

In controlled quantities and locations crayfish provide wonderful food for fish, birds and people too. You can catch crayfish with
chunks of meat or fish. They are attracted to the odor.

Anyone with a valid Utah fishing or combination license may take crayfish for personal use during the open fishing season set for the given body of water. Just make sure you don’t transport any live crayfish away from the body of water where taken.

Thanks to The ToneWay Project at Toneway.com for their rendition of the crawdad song.
And to Dr. Scott Miller of the College of Natural Resources Bug Lab at Utah State University.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Images: © 2009 Ellen Wakely Northern Crayfish Orconectes virilis
Text:     Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Sources & Additional Reading:

Johnson, J. E. 1986. Inventory of Utah Crayfish with Notes on Current Distribution. Great Basin Naturalist, 46(4):625 – 631.: https://ojs.lib.byu.edu/ojs/index.php/wnan/article/viewArticle/1907

Utah Division of Wildlife Resouces. October 01, 2009 Crayfishing for fun and for food. http://wildlife.utah.gov/fishing/crayfish.php [Accessed Nov 13,, 2009]

Last Blank Spots on the Map

Audio:  mp3 Listen to WildAboutUtah

Today the river corridor still retains
its wild and pristine qualities.
Copyright 2009 Dan Miller from the book
The River Knows Everything

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

The Green River is one of Utah’s signature waterways. It begins high in Wyoming’s Wind River Range and winds southward 730 miles to join the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park. 60% of river’s extent lies in Utah– attracting river runners, archaeologists, fishermen, hunters and hikers. And of course, geologists.

Desolation boasts steep dramatic walls.
From the top of the Tavaputs Plateau to the river
is deeper than the Grand Canyon.
Click to view larger image,
Photo Copyright 2009 Dan Miller

It’s hard to believe that less than 150 years ago, most of the Green and the Colorado canyonlands were unlined areas marked “UNEXPLORED” on maps. One such place was the area between Uinta Valley and Gunnison’s Crossing — now called Green River, UT. Another blank spot lay south of the crossing all the way to Paria which is now called Lee’s Ferry in Arizona.

To some folks, a blank spot on a map is an irresistible call to come and see what’s there. So it was with John Wesley Powell, a one-armed Civil War veteran working as a curator in a small natural history museum in Illinois. He became intrigued with exploring the canyons of the Colorado and the Green after spending some time out west collecting rock samples.

Lighthouse Rock 1871
Courtesy Arizona Historical Society

Impatient for adventure and discovery, Powell quickly assembled a crew of nine men –mostly rough and tumble mountain men used to living off the land. They set off from Green River WY and were making good time until disaster struck in the Canyon of Lodore. One of the boats hit a boulder, and a third of the food and half of the cooking gear sunk to the bottom of the river. A week later, a fire destroyed more food and gear. But eventually, five of the original nine made it all the way to the mouth of the Virgin River in Arizona.

A second expedition benefited from more funding, planning and hindsight. This time round, Powell chose a more scientifically-minded crew including a geologist, cartographer and photographer to research and document the trip. Once again they launched from Green River, WY. Powell perched in an armchair strapped to the middle bulkhead of a boat named after his wife, the Emma Dean . He read poetry to the crew as they floated along calm stretches of the river. The crew ran the Green and then started down the Colorado without any major incidents. After overwintering on the north rim, they ran the rapids of the Grand Canyon in late summer of the following year.

John Wesley Powell with Tau-gu
a Paiute, 1871-1872
Courtesy Arizona Historical Society

Upon return, surveyor Alven Thompson completed a topographic map of the region, and Powell’s monumental account was published in 1875 by the Smithsonian Institution.

The last “UNEXPLORED”s on the United States map were now replaced by specific landscape features with measured altitudes. Nowadays we still use the many evocative names that Powell and his men bestowed during their travels. Names like Flaming Gorge, Glen Canyon, Dirty Devil River, Escalante River, Cataract Canyon, and Desolation Canyon tell us something of the experiences of these brave men as they were exploring Utah’s last mysterious places.

Thanks to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting research and development of this Wild About Utah topic.

Additional thanks to Rey Lloyd Hatt and the friendly staff of the John Wesley Powell River History Museum in Green River UT.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.
Credits:

Images: Copyright Dan Miller from the book
The River Knows Everything: Desolation Canyon and the Green

Powell images: Courtesy Arizona Historical Society

Text:     Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Sources & Additional Reading

Aton, James M. and Dan Miller (photographer) 2009. The River Knows Everything: Desolation Canyon and the Green. Logan: Utah State University Press.

http://www.usu.edu/usupress/books/index.cfm?isbn=6523

Stegner, Wallace. “ Green River: The Gateway” in Blackstock, Alan. 2005. A Green River reader. Salt Lake City: University Utah Press.
http://www.amazon.com/Green-River-Reader-Alan-Blackstock/dp/0874808375

John Wesley Powell River History Museum in Green River UT http://johnwesleypowell.com/

USGS. 1976. Geological Survey Information 74-24. John Wesley Powell: Soldier, Explorer, Scientist.
http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/geology/publications/inf/74-24/index.htm [Accessed October 30 2009]

One of the World’s Largest Shrimp Buffets

One of the world's largest shrimp buffets: Brine Shrimp Naupli (Artemia) from the Great Salt Lake, Courtesy USGS
Brine Shrimp Naupli
from the Great Salt Lake
Courtesy USGS

One of the most unique and important habitats in Utah is the Great Salt Lake. It’s the largest U.S. lake west of the Mississippi River and it’s the 4th largest terminal lake (meaning it has no outlet) in the world. The waters of the Great Salt Lake are typically 3 to 5 times saltier than the ocean . For that reason, you won’t find any fish; in fact, the largest aquatic animals are brine shrimp which are little crustaceans that are found worldwide in saline lakes and seas. You may know the brine shrimp as “sea monkeys” as they are called when packaged and sold as novelty gifts.

Brine shrimp like their water to be between 2 and 25 percent salt. The Great Salt Lake species is especially well adapted to cold . If the temperature is moderate and there is plenty of algae to eat, the females will produce more live young. As temperatures lower, food supply decreases, or other stress factors appear, females will switch to producing cysts which are tiny hard-shelled egg-like spheres. Cysts are metabolically inactive, and can survive without food, without oxygen, even at below freezing temperatures. During winter, the adult brine shrimp typically die from lack of food or low temperature, but the cysts are able to survive the winter and form a large population base for the next generation of brine shrimp.

Brine shrimp practically fill the Great Salt Lake. At times, they become so numerous that you can see them as large reddish-brown streaks on the surface of the lake. Because birds like to eat them, the Great Salt Lake supports one of the largest migratory bird concentrations in Western North America. Birds like the Eared Grebe and Wilson’s Phalarope reach their largest concentrations anywhere as they load up at one of the world’s largest shrimp buffets. In all, during peak migration you’ll find 2 to 5 million birds using the Great Salt Lake to obtain the nourishment required for their long and strenuous trip. It’s fascinating that these tiny prehistoric crustaceans play such an important role in sustaining the large number and wide variety of birds that travel through or live in our State.

Credits:

Audio: Sound for this recording was generously provided by the Western Soundscape Archive at the University of Utah J. Willard Marriott Library. http://westernsoundscape.org/

Photo: Courtesy USGS, http://ut.water.usgs.gov/greatsaltlake/shrimp/

Text: Stokes Nature Center: Anna Paul, Holly Strand logannature.org

Sources & Additional Reading

USGS, Utah Water Science Center, Brine Shrimp and Ecology of Great Salt Lake. (Courtesy Internet Archive Wayback Machine, Apr 15, 2008) https://wildaboututah.org/wp-content/uploads/080415-Wayback-USGS-Brine-Shrimp-and-Ecology-of-Great-Salt-Lake.pdf Formerly: http://ut.water.usgs.gov/greatsaltlake/shrimp/

US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bear River Migratory Refuge. http://www.fws.gov/bearriver/

Westminster College GSL Project –
http://people.westminstercollege.edu/faculty/tharrison/gslfood/studentpages/brine.html

Great Salt Lake, Utah, USGS, https://pubs.usgs.gov/wri/wri994189/PDF/WRI99-4189.pdf

Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Program, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, State of Utah, https://wildlife.utah.gov/gsl/

Larese-Casanova, Mark, The Brine Shrimp of Great Salt Lake, Wild About Utah, Jan 6, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/the-brine-shrimp-of-great-salt-lake/

Brine Shrimp, Genetic Science Learning Center, University of Utah, http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/gsl/foodweb/brine_shrimp/