Yellow jackets we know, some fish we do not

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 10, 2002

The Natchez caller wondered whether El Ni&110;o has caused oddities of nature noticed lately. The strange sighting this week, in fact, compelled him to share the scene.

A nest of yellow jackets the size of two sheets of newspaper spreads across a low bank along Carmel Road in the Kingston community. Several dozen holes indicate where the insects have burrowed, the Grove Acres Road resident said, excitement and awe evident in his voice.

&uot;I’ve taken my kids, grandkids, my friends, my brother,&uot; he said, explaining that he never had seen yellow jackets as sociable as these many thousands in their underground apartment complex.

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He went on to describe a couple of other strange quirks of nature recently observed and wondered aloud about reported changes in nature in recent years.

Is the planet warming? Or are dissenting scientists correct that indeed we are approaching another mini Ice Age?

Do deformed frogs indicate too much pollution or too little habitat? Are golf courses and cotton fields contributing to ever-shrinking species of songbirds?

The environment makes interesting study and hot news, and in Maryland a scary item has been released to the world and finally has made the 24-hour television networks.

As if the killer bees were not frightful enough, now a creature called a northern snakehead has emerged from a pond in Maryland, caught on a fisherman’s line.

Thinking the odd fish might be an endangered species, the first sportsman threw it back into the pond. When a second angler caught a similar fish a few weeks later, biologists assumed it was the same creature. Problem is, the second snakehead was six inches longer than the one caught previously &045;&045; from 20 to 26 inches.

As with so many other alien critters who find their way into this country, the big deal with the snakehead is the potential for damage to other species.

The Maryland Department of the Environment has reported this week that 28 species of snakeheads exist, three indigenous to equatorial Africa and 25 to Asia. The one captured in Maryland is thought to be native to China.

Here is the kicker. The snakehead moves out of the water, pushing, flopping, wallowing by using its pectoral fins. Further, it can live outside the water for days using a primitive lung; therefore it can move from one body of water to another.

Potential for reproducing and extending its habitat in its newfound American home has scientists scrambling.

This exotic creature can live under waters that have been iced over and can bear water temperatures well into the 80s. The snakehead may grow to three feet in length. The female snakeheads lay as many as 100,000 eggs a year.

The snakehead incident is reminder that introducing exotic plants and animals to the environment endangers delicate ecosystems.

In the case of the snakehead, no one knows for sure what the impact might be, biologists in Maryland have said.

A wanted poster hangs in the area of the pond where the fish remains hidden in murky water. &uot;Have you seen this fish?&uot; the poster reads, going on to describe it as having a long dorsal fin, small head, large mouth and big teeth.

One odd freshwater fish found in a Maryland pond is no quirk of nature. Still, the story tingles the spine and provokes eerie images. As for the yellow jackets, though lethal as they can be, we know them well.

Joan Gandy is community editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 445-3549 or by e-mail to