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WILDLIFE OF NORTHERN ENGLAND

Children's nature walks -2  (May) Part one Sticklebacks

This is the second in a series of walks designed to educate children about nature. This walk is taken from the book " Country walks of a Naturalist {with his children} not in copyright,and courtesy of the Gutenberg Project. The author Rev.W Houghton states, " In this little book my desire has been , not so much to impart knowledge to young people, as to induce them to acquire it for themselves" The Rev.Houghton was based in Shropshire {England}.

This walk is taken during the month of May and is found in chapter three of the above book. The book was published in the 1800;s and only updates of species names and other relevant information is added by me.

Country walks of a naturalist with his children

Chapter three May

Today we will go and look for stickleback's nests,as it is calm I think we will have little trouble in finding a few. A calm day should always be chosen,because to find the nests of these little fish it is necessary to have sharp eyes, and to look very closely, and you know if there is to much wind the water is ruffled then it is not easy to see the objects in it. Let us start off, then, with bait can, canvas-net, and two or three large- mouthed bottles, to that,clear,shallow pond, in Mr.Jervis's field, and see if we can bring home a few fish and some eggs. " It will be great fun " said Willy, " and when we have caught the little fish,we will bring them home and put them in my aquarium "

There are three species of sticklebacks found in this country , the three spined, the ten spines and the fifteen spined, this last inhabits salt water. All three build nests, and show great care for their little brood. The nests of the three spined species are those that are generally known, though I dare say, if we search closely in the drains on the moors, we shall be successful in finding the nest of the ten spined little fellow, or Tinker as he his some times called.

At the pond

Here we are at the pond, how clear it is, and how beautifully green are the few patches of star-wort in the water !. As the grass is quite dry we can all sit down ,so as the get our eyes as near to the water as possible, never mind a few crawling ants.Ah,do you see that little fellow with the crimson breast and eyes like emeralds?  He sees us, for look how disturbed he seems; now he darts away and hides under a weed; but soon returns to the same spot; it is pretty certain he has a nest close by.

I will put my walking stick into the water near him. Well, actually the brave little fellow is not the least frightened;see, he bunts his nose against the stick;he is very angry , he is afraid of some danger to his nest-this makes him so bold. Now I have made out where the nest is, it is close under him, do you see small holes in the mud at the bottom of the water? No you don't see anything,;well then, give me my stick and I will and I will point them out. There now, do you see what I mean ? yes you do, that is all right. " Let us get the nest out of the water" said Jack. Have patience ,let us see what the fish is doing. See, he is fanning away with tiny fins above the nest. " What is he doing that for" asked Willy. The quick movements of his fins, bring fresh currents of water to the eggs or little fry that may be within. Ah, did you see that ? another fish came near the nest; How furiously our brave fish charged him; how quickly the intruder retired ! I do not think it will approach him again for those spines on his back are very sharp and capable of inflicting serious injury. Let us leave the nest for a time and try to find some more. Now that you have once seen a nest, you will not have to much difficulty finding another others.

Willy soon found a nest," just look" he said, " there are a lot of the tiniest things near the nest" Yes , indeed, so there are, the eggs have hatched,and these are the little fry,there is Father Stickle's quite proud of his numerous family, and quite ready to fight for them , if any intruder is rash enough to intrude, for you must know that Sticklebacks, like many other fish,do not object to eat the young fry of their neighbours, and if the parent is there-it is the male only who is the protector-were to be removed, a hungry pack of other sticklebacks would reek havoc among his happy little family. 

I remember some years ago having once taken a father stickleback from its nest,and, having put him in my collecting bottle,I sat down to watch the result. Soon an invading army of other stickleback's approached and attacked the nest for the purpose of getting at the cluster of eggs it contained. they pulled it about sadly , until I began to feel sorry for what I had done. I returned the captive father to the water. At first he seemed confused, and, hardly knew where he was,the result no doubt, due to his confinement in the bottle, but he was not long before coming to himself, he remembered the nest and the treasures it contained. he saw the devastating army all around it, and summoning all his courage the father fish began to attack,now rushing at one ,then another enemy, till he was left all alone,having gloriously won back his nest single handed.

Well we will take this one home with the nest and the eggs contained in it. You see the nest is a tangle of grass roots and other weeds;now that it is out of the water it is a shapeless mass. However, here is a cluster of pinkish eggs, and if you look closely, you will see two little spots within each egg, so that the fish is being formed,for these are the little thing's eyes, you can see,too,the tiny things flicking their tails about now and again. It is most interesting to watch the care the parent takes of his little ones when hatched. Some few years ago I put a stickleback in a basin of water in charge of his nest. When the young ones were hatched it was most curious to notice his anxiety for their welfare.Of course young sticklebacks,like young children,are of an inquisitive state of mind,and apt to play truant too occasionally ;but should some little fellow stray too far from the nest,father stickleback hurries after him,takes the little truant in his mouth,and spits him out right over the nest.This I repeatedly witnessed my self, and I have no doubt you will be able to witness the same things for yourselves.

" Are not sticklebacks quarrelsome little fish?" asked Willy. Yes, they are very fond of fighting,and they are so bold they do fear any enemy,whatever his size. I was kept a small Pike,about ten inches long in an aquarium,into which I also introduced five or six small sticklebacks. I suppose the pike did not like the look of look of the prickles or the spines for he did not eat the fish. Once I saw make the attempt, nut after taking Master stickle in his mouth he quickly threw  him out again. I suppose he did not relish the spines. The sticklebacks were the masters and they tormented Mr. Pike dreadfully, first one would take a bite of his tail, then another until the tail had a woeful expression indeed. So I turned the pike into a pool of water,where I say the tail will surely have regrown again to its former health.

" Are there any of other kinds of fish ", asked Willy " That build nests and take care of their young ones like these three species of sticklebacks?" Yes there are several kinds of fish that do so, but no other British fresh water kinds, I believe. There is the salt water Lampsucker, a fish of strange form and brilliant colour-you know the pickled specimen in my study- whose young as soon as they are hatched,fix themselves to the side and back of the male parent, who sails thus loaded into deeper safer retreats. There are long pipe fishes the males of which each have a singular pouch on the tail, in this the eggs of the female are deposited and matured. The young ones occasionally leave their strange abode, after swimming about for a time they return to it again, reminding us in this respect of Kangaroos and Opossums of the mammalia. There are also fish that inhabit the rivers of Demerara, which make nests and show great attachment to their young ones, and a dare say there are other fish that do the same.

Pipe fish the male has a pouch in which  he carries his young.

In Children,s nature walks -May part two  we discover more water creatures. Click on the relevant content banner at the top of this page.

Thank you for visiting.

Acknowledgement.

I would like to acknowledge my thanks to Marylinda Fraser -Cunliffe,Diane Monico At the Gutenberg Project. Who made the book available.