Introduction: Amateur Naturalist
Amateur naturalists have contributed much to the field of Zoology; from bird watchers to people that keep fish or reptiles in an aquarium, they observe animals and their behaviour. And many made discoveries with their observations and published them to share with the world.
Here is an article from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History on Amateur Naturalists:
Try to make an environment close to a wild environment as you can; you will need as many species from that environment you can gather. Many wild animals have a symbiotic relationship like Mussels and the American Shad.
The American Shad lays its eggs inside the mussel's mouth; this can be a communalistic relationship because the Shad benefits from the mussel protecting the eggs, but the mussel gets nothing from the shad.
Mussels and Catfish; the mussel larvae attach to the fins and gills of a catfish to grow, and the catfish uses mussels as food and their shells as a habitat. This is a mutualistic relationship because the mussel larvae get a ride as they grow up and spread in the river system and the catfish gets food and shelter.
I am a fisherman and I am a good fisherman; I like to think one of the reasons I am a good fisherman is because, I keep wild fish in an aquarium and watch how fish and their pray interact. I have also watched how the aggressive behaviour of invasive fish species affects indigenous species.
Step 1: Tools for Catching and Studying Fish
An aquarium; you do not need a big aquarium just remember, the bigger the tank the more and larger the fish.
Dip net, fish trap, or minnow trap; mesh limits size, the bigger the holes in the fish traps mesh the bigger the fish are because the small ones just swim out of the trap.
Bate for the trap; in my case I used a slice of bread.
String to secure the trap.
A live well to bring the live fish home.
A bowl to sort the fish from debris caught in the dip net or trap.
A camera and a notepad if you want to document your observations.
Step 2: Catch Fish
Do not use a hook and bate to catch fish for an aquarium; fish caught with a hook have a lower survival rate, and the smallest of injuries can be detrimental to a fish in the confined space of a tank.
When you use a fish trap or minnow trap, bate the trap and tie a string to it. My minnow trap is made with 1.4 inch mesh so minnows like sticklebacks can swim in and out of my trap.
Just before nightfall take the trap to a pond or river you are harvesting minnows from and throw the trap in the water near weeds or some other cover.
Tie the loose end of the string to something solid like a small tree or branch and go home for the night, you do not want your trap to accidentally drift away in the night. Standing over the trap and waiting for fish to swim into the trap is time consuming, especially if the fish do not come out of hiding until nightfall.
Step 3: Gather Your Catch
The next morning go to where you set your trap and pull it out of the water by the string.
Open the trap and dump the contents in a bucket for sorting
Place the fish you want in your live well.
Return any fish you don’t want back to the waterway this is a good time to look for signs of disease, and dispose of the old bate and other debris.
The fish I kept were 6 chub under 2 inches and one crayfish 3 inches long, these are the fish I took home.
Step 4: Acclimate the Fish
Don’t just dump the fish in your aquarium; acclimatize them to their new environment first.
Place the fish with the live well water, in a clear container.
Sometimes it is hard to tell disease carrying water fleas from larvae and parasites; and you won’t be able to see things like tape worm or round worms but fin rot, fleas, leaches, and black spot, are easy to see. In the confined space of an aquarium diseases can run ramped. Some parasites have a symbiotic relationship with fish like muscles. Once you are reasonably sure there are no unwanted parasites, or disease, on your fish place the container in the aquarium for an hour or until the water in the aquarium and the container is the same temperature before you release them.
Step 5: Dip Netting Minnows
For dip netting you will need a fine mesh net, a bowl for sorting, and a live well.
Fine mesh dip nets work best for small critters and fish; I have a 6 foot dip net but most of the time I use this little dip net for small minnows and other critters.
Find a spot in the river or pond you are going to harvest the minnows that has weeds and algae. The small critters in a water system like places with cover, many cling to the weeds, and some eat them.
Step 6: Catch the Fish
Fill the bowl and the live well with clean water.
Dip the net in the water passing it through the weeds, chances are you will capture some of the weeds in the net.
Sort what you want from what you do not want in the bowl; I caught several leaches that I returned to the pond. Leaches make good fish bate; but in an aquarium, if you do not have large fish or other water creatures for them to fed on, they can kill small critters by feeding.
Step 7: Fish Count
This time I caught 6 crayfish under 1 inch, 13 stickleback minnows, a couple minnows that did not fare well, and 4 snails.
If you keep some of the weeds you can use the weeds as natural cover in your aquarium. You may also end up with mystery critters that laid their eggs on the weeds like amphibians, snails, and other invertebrates.
Acclimate the sticklebacks, crayfish, and snails, just as I did the chub before introducing them to the tank.
Step 8: Releasing the Fish in the Aquarium
The aquarium should be set up like the fishes natural environment; in this case, crowded with plants and other obstructions. In this environment the fish behave as they would in the wild. Surprisingly there are 30 fish in this tank 6 chub, 7 crayfish, 13 sticklebacks and 4 betas. In a natural environment the betas would be an invasive species. As soon as the fish were released in the tank they headed for places that suited their liking.
As well as this can be educational it is great outdoors summer fun activity for the kids. And now you and the kids can watch and learn.