Archive for August, 2022

Catfish Farmer Wars

August 25, 2022

One of the first species of fish I ever caught was the brown bullhead catfish (Amerius nebulosa). I caught it in a canal that marked the border of my grandfather’s backyard when he lived in Inverness, Florida circa 1972. I remembered how good it tasted, so I was surprised when I first began sampling farm-raised catfish being marketed during the 1980s. Farmers in Mississippi and Alabama raise channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus). The farm-raised catfish tasted ok, but the flesh had a flabby texture, and it was filled with streaks of tasteless fat. Frying the fish makes the fat crisp, but it is just not a versatile product. During the 1990s Vietnamese catfish farmers began flooding the American market with their farm-raised catfish, and The American Catfish Farmers of America went to work trying to cheat away the competition. During 2003 this organization convinced Senator Trent Lott to add an amendment to an appropriations bill that made it illegal for Asian catfish to be marketed as catfish. Asian catfish farmers were forced to rename their product as swai (Panganius hypothalmus) and basa (P. bocourti). The catfish Vietnamese farmers raise are known as the shark catfish, though they are true catfish and not related to sharks. However, Vietnamese raised catfish were still cheaper, and consumers seemed to prefer it over American farm-raised catfish. Not surprisingly, during 2008 American catfish farmers unsuccessfully tried to force Vietnamese catfish farmers to change the names of swai and basa back to catfish.

Brown bullhead. This is 1 of the first species of fish I ever caught. Some call it a trash fish, but it tastes just as good as American farm-raised catfish and the flesh has a better texture.
Adult and juvenile channel catfish. American catfish farmers raise this species. The flesh has a flabby texture and there are big blobs of fat in it. Vietnamese farm-raised catfish is better.
Vietnamese catfish farmers raise 2 species of shark catfish known as swai and basa because American catfish farmers bribed politicians to pass a law not allowing them to be called catfish. Vietnamese catfish is superior in texture compared to American farm-raised catfish, and beat it in a small blind taste test involving 58 people.

The American Catfish Farmers of America are a bunch of liars. They’ve convinced celebrity chefs including Alton Brown and Emeril Lagasse that farm-raised catfish tastes better than wild catfish, but from my experience I know this is untrue. Perhaps wild catfish caught in evaporating mud puddles do taste muddy, but wild catfish caught in clear water taste just as clean as farm-raised catfish. They want to discourage competition from sports anglers. This organization is also probably behind propaganda videos that falsely claim Vietnamese farm-raised catfish are raised in sewage and are contaminated with bacteria. An independent study conducted by Alan Marshall and Amit Pal of Mississippi State University found that Vietnamese raised catfish were just as safe to eat as American farm-raised catfish. Moreover, in a taste test involving 58 people, Vietnamese farm-raised catfish beat American farm-raised catfish. Accusing Vietnamese farmers of raising unsanitary food seems a bit racist to me. The Vietnamese eat their own product. They wouldn’t feed hazardous food to customers in their own country. In my opinion the American Catfish Farmers of America is a dishonest and racist organization. They represent unethical rednecks.

I made fried swai, hush puppies, and okra and tomatoes for supper last Sunday.

I recently discovered swai, and the product was so good it inspired me to research what exactly it was. It is an economical and quality product. The flesh is meaty without the flabby texture and streaks of fat found in American farm-raised catfish. It is as good as farm raised tilapia. I will be a regular consumer of this product.

Pleistocene Paw, Hoof, and Footprints in New Mexico (redux)

August 17, 2022

I already wrote an article with this title 2 years ago, but a minor disaster last week inspired me to rewrite it. In the original article I wrote the fossilized human footprints found at White Sands National Park were at least 11,000 years old. A new study published last year determined the footprints were between 23,000 years-21,000 years old. I tried to edit in a note to the old article explaining the results of the new study, and some kind of glitch erased the last 2 paragraphs and the image I used for the original article. I could look for the old handwritten first draft in a stack of old notebooks I keep in a dusty, old, cardboard box, then retype it, but I decided to start all over and rewrite it completely.

During the late Pleistocene climate patterns were much different in the American Southwest than they are today. The region enjoyed higher rainfall and a cooler more temperate climate, resulting in abundant lakes. Lake Otero, now a completely dry lakebed, was filled with water then and surrounded with lush prairie and scattered trees. A drier climate phase struck, and the lake began to recede, leaving a muddy shoreline where many species of mammals left trackways, including humans, mammoths, camels, bison, Harlan’s ground sloths, saber-toothed cats, giant lions, and dire wolves. Some of the human trackways crisscross those of a ground sloth, and it appears as if the sloth paused and stood, so the animal could better detect the human scent. 61 fossilized human footprints have been found here, and they are mostly of teenagers and children. Apparently, the teenagers were going back and forth, as if they were carrying objects. Children appear to be playing. Scientists hypothesize the adults were fishing and/or collecting edible aquatic plants, and the teens were carrying the items to a camp (not yet found by archaeologists). One teenager was babysitting a toddler and carrying it around.

Human trackways at White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Some scientists estimate these footprints are about 21,000 years old. Human trackways are interspersed with the prints of Pleistocene megafauna.
Artist’s rendition of White Sands National Park 21,000 years ago. Image is a courtesy of the National Park Service.

Of course, fossilized footprints can’t be radiocarbon dated, so how did scientists date the trackways? They radiocarbon dated the ditch grass (Ruppia cirrhosa) seeds found in sediment above and below where the trackways are located. They determined the trackways are between 23,000 years BP-21,000 years BP. This evidence contradicts mainstream archaeologists who believe humans didn’t arrive in North America until about 14,000 years ago.

Diagram showing how the conclusions by the above discussed study could be wrong. Gary Haynes believes wind erosion redeposited older sediment over younger sediment or simply displaced younger sediment so 21,000-year-old ditch grass seeds were on the surface when men and megafauna walked in the area 13,000 years ago. Image from the below reference (Haynes 2022).

Gary Haynes, a renowned archaeologist, casts doubt on the purported age of the trackways. In an article he published in the journal PaleoAmerica, he points out 3 factors that could cause the scientists to reach misleading conclusions about the age of the trackways. The presence of hardwater in an environment causes radiocarbon dates to be older than they actually are. The scientists who dated the trackways were aware of this but think this isn’t a problem because local water is currently not hard. However, Haynes points out they didn’t analyze modern ditch grass to see if it absorbs a greater concentration of hard water than is found in the environment. Another factor that could cause misleading dates is redeposition of sandy sediment by wind. One study of a stratigraphic column in the area nearby found roughly half of the dates were out of order with older sediment on top of younger sediment and alternating with it. Haynes thinks the stratigraphic column in the region where the trackways are found date to between 15,000 years BP-11,000 years BP, dates consistent with when the Clovis culture was known to occur in North America. Finally, he thinks the trackways were made 13,000 years ago, but the exposed sediment where the humans and animals walked happened to be older due to wind redeposition. In other words wind blew the younger sediment away, and people and animals were walking on old sediment.

M. Bennett is the lead author of the study determining the trackways were 21,000 years old. His response to Haynes’s alternative explanation was short and rather obtuse. He believes it was unlikely redeposition of windblown sand occurred, but he offers no explanation why. He also stated the trackways couldn’t be of Holocene age because the human trackways were interspersed with Pleistocene megafauna trackways, and Pleistocene megafauna were extinct by the Holocene (beginning about 11,000 years ago). However, Haynes merely quoted another study that mentioned the trackways being of Holocene age was just 1 of 3 possibilities. Bennett didn’t even address Haynes’s belief that the trackways date to 13,000 years BP when Pleistocene megafauna still roamed the region.

References:

Bennett, M. , et. al.

“Evidence of Humans in North America during the Last Glacial Maximum”

Science 373 6562 2021

Haynes, G.

“Evidence for Humans at White Sands National Park during the Last Glacial Maximum could be for Clovis People ~13,000 years ago”

PaloeAmerica March 2022

Aborigines may have Occurred in South America and Southwestern North America Before the Last Glacial Maximum

August 10, 2022

There is tantalizing genetic and archaeological evidence suggesting small ephemeral populations of people related to Australian aborigines occupied parts of South America and southwestern North America thousands of years before Amerindians colonized the continents. The archaeological evidence predates or at some sites is simultaneous with the Last Glacial Maximum, the climate phase when the most recent Ice Age glaciers reached their greatest extent about 21,000 years ago. Mainstream archaeologists long believed the first humans arrived in the Americas about 14,000 years ago, but there are just too many compelling archaeological sites, especially in South America and southwestern North America, that contradict this view. The radio-carbon dates can’t be wrong on all of them. Examples of archaeological sites predating or simultaneous with the Last Glacial Maximum include Monte Verde, Chile (33,000 years BP), Toca de Tara Peia, Brazil (20,000 years BP), Arroyo del Vizcaina, Uruguay (30,000 years BP), fossil footprints in Argentina (30,000 years BP), Chiquihuite Cave, Mexico (26,000 years-19,000 years BP), Conxcatlan Cave, Mexico (30,000 years BP) and fossil footprints in New Mexico (21,000 years BP). Now, a recent study of a site in New Mexico determined humans butchered a mammoth and calf here 37,000 years ago.

The recently studied site located in New Mexico is known as the Harley Mammoth Locality named after the hiker who found it. Scientists examined the mammoth bones using CAT scans and determined the mammoths were butchered by humans. The skulls were broken to extract the calorie-rich brains. Ribs were removed from vertebrae–a logical step when breaking down a large mammal. Calorie-rich marrow was extracted from the bones as well. 6 chert flakes, debitage from toolmaking, were found in situ. And it appears as if some of the bones were used for fuel to cook fish over open campfires. Fish scales were found, though the site is 70 yards from the nearest source of water. There is no sign of carnivore scavenging, but the scientists did find termite and cicada burrows in the bones. Insects likely burrowed into the bones after they were slowly buried when rain over time washed sediment downslope over the bones. Later, wind eroded some of this sediment away, allowing Hartley to find some of this material.

Stones modified by tool-making found at the Hartley Mammoth Site dated to an incredible 37,000 years BP. Image from the below reference.
Mammoth bones with evidence of human butchering. From the Hartley Mammoth Site located in New Mexico. Image also from the below reference.

3 Indian tribes found in the Amazon Basin, including the Surui, Karitiana, and Xavanti, have a genetic marker suggesting some of their ancestry is related to the ancestors of Australian aborigines. This genetic marker is known as the Y population and is found in no other known populations of Indian tribes. The oldest known human skeleton in the Americas, the Anzick child from South Dakota, dates to about 12,900 years ago and does not have this genetic marker. This genetic evidence suggests 2 different populations colonized the Americas. Aborigines colonized Australia about 40,000 years ago, and it seems likely they were capable of long-distance sea travel then–a knowledge that was lost over time. Small groups of them may have discovered South America at about the same time their relatives found Australia. Maybe, they were so traumatized by harrowing sea journeys, they decided to stick to land, and over a generation they forgot how to travel by sea. I hypothesize populations of aborigines in America remained low over millennia and likely were always on the verge of extinction in the harsh environments of the Late Pleistocene. The later invasion of more technologically advanced Indians probably displaced the aborigines across most of their range with the exception of the Amazon Basin where they interbred. Perhaps, Indians were more dependent upon aborigine knowledge in the more challenging environment of the Amazon jungle.

3 tribes in the Amazon basin have a genetic signature shared with Australian aborigines. No other Indian tribes in the Americas have this signature. These tribes may be relics from a more widespread population that was displaced by Indians during the Late Pleistocene. Linguistic evidence also suggests the former existence of aborigines alongside Amerindians.

Apparently, aborigines didn’t have as negative an impact on megafauna populations as the Indians. They were fewer in number and never specialized in hunting megafauna, though they did occasionally kill large animals. They probably preferred exploiting small game and fish because it was less risky. Small aborigine tribes couldn’t risk casualties when hunting larger more dangerous animals.

Reference:

Rowe, T. et. al.

“Human Occupation of the North American Colorado Plateau ~37,000 years ago”

Frontiers of Ecology and Evolution July 2022

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fevo.2022.903795/full#S12

6 Selected Plants that Grow in my Yard

August 3, 2022

I live on the beach, or rather it used to be a beach 33 million years ago. Now, this location is about 128 miles inland. Nevertheless, the soil is still sandy, and ecologists classify it as a piedmont sandhill. Plants able to grow in arid sandy conditions thrive here. The co-dominant trees are sand laurel oak and loblolly pine, though I think long leaf pine formerly prevailed. I believe this area was alternately part of the long leaf pine savanna region that before European colonization dominated the coastal plain. The name of the road I live on is “Piney Grove,” indicating its original appearance. It was likely subject to frequent light grass fires. The soil is particularly sandy compared to much of the coastal plain, however, and the local environment may have been quite unique. Cleared lots soon get covered in sand laurel oak saplings, persimmon, sumac, sassafras, prickly pear cactus, and low bush blueberry. Many interesting herbaceous plants grow here as well. I stopped using a lawn mower over 20 years ago and instead use a scythe to keep vegetation in check. I selectively cut my yard and allow interesting plants to form patches. Here are 6 interesting plants that find refuge in my yard.

Florida pusely, a non-native species related to the coffee plant.

Florida pusely (Richardia scabra) is native to South and Central America and Mexico and is also known as Mexican parsley, though it is related to coffee trees, not true clovers which are legumes. Most google results for this plant suggest how to get rid of it. Some people demand perfect lawns. I’d rather have the pusely. It produces pretty white flowers that attract bees and butterflies, and the foliage covers the ground. Reportedly, it is edible, but I wouldn’t try it because it is closely related to a species used to induce vomiting.

Buttonweed, also a non-native species related to the coffee plant.

Next to a patch of Florida pusely is a patch of buttonweed (Hexasepalum teres), also known as poor joe. This species is also a native of South America and belongs in the coffee family. It has tiny blue flowers.

Trumpet vine.

Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) is a member of the Bignoniaceae family. Its flowers attract hummingbirds, but the rest of the plant is toxic to people and most animals. It is native to eastern North America and fairly abundant in my neighborhood.

Golden cottony aster is very abundant in my yard.
Bumble bee on golden cottony aster bloom.

Golden cottony aster (Chrysopsis gossypinus) grows on the edges of wooded areas and blooms from September to November. The flowers attract butterflies and bees, and it is so named because the flower buds resemble the buds on cotton plants before they bloom. It is a member of the aster family.

A big colony of evening primrose grows in my yard next to the road.

A long patch of evening primrose (Oenothern biennis) grows alongside the road on the front part of my yard amidst the Bahia grass. Every part of this plant is reportedly edible including the roots, leaves, and seeds. Evening primrose seed oil is thought to ease the symptoms of PMS, but pharmacological studies are so far inconclusive. Birds eat the seeds, and evening primrose is the host plant for 2 species of moth. Native-Americans used the plant as well. It blooms in June here, especially in the evening, hence the name. It is a member of the Onagraceae family and is found throughout North America.

I destroy sandspurs on sight. Nevertheless, I can’t get rid of them.

I destroy sandspurs (Cenchrus sp.) as much as I can, but I can’t get rid of this tough plant. The hairs on this plant cause annoying itching when they come into contact with human skin, and the seeds are encased in burrs covered with sharp spines that attach themselves to animal fur or human socks and shoes. I’ve spent much time pulling dozens of them off my socks, getting them stuck in my fingers instead. They fall off in the carpet where my bare feet step on them too. The seeds of this plant are spread all over by animal transport. This genus is so successful they are native to 4 continents. Reportedly, the seeds are edible, but may be infected with the ergot fungus–the kind that causes LSD-like reactions.