North Fork White River I

About a month ago, before the great deluge, my brother-in-law Billy and I drove the hour or so over to the North Fork of the White River.  Our first stop was the Mark Twain National Forest’s North Fork Recreation Area and then went on to MDC’s Rippee Conservation Area at the confluence of Rippee and Bryant Creeks. 

Located just downstream of the CC highway bridge across the North Fork of the White River, northwest of West Plains, the NFRA has the usual canoe launch, picnic area and campground.  More importantly for me, since I was expecting to find at least a few other people about, it also has a restroom so I could change into my wetsuit without making a spectacle of myself.

North Fork of the White River at NFRA

I was wanting more photos of the Gap Ringed Crayfish, Oconectes neglectus chaenodactylus, a subspecies of the Ringed Crayfish that only occurs in the North Fork drainage.  It’s also the most common species in the drainage, so I would have been shocked if I hadn’t found it.  The real target of the trip was Orconectes longidigitus, the Longpincered Crayfish, of which I hoped to get a few decent photographs.  I’d found a couple last summer, but before I got an underwater camera and I wasn’t happy with the photos I’d taken with the crayfish on the ground.  I was also expecting (hoping) for some of the darters that occur in the drainage.

The first thing I found after getting in the water was a smallmouth bass guarding a nest.  The nest was in six feet of water which makes for a dark photo unless the sun is out and bright, which it wasn’t.

Shortly upstream, I found the first of two Checkered Madtoms (Noturus flavater.)  The Checkered is the largest of Missouri’s madtoms, reaching 7 inches or a little more.  This one was hiding against the upstream side of a rock and I had to take the shot upside down and rotate it.  And yes, that’s someone’s discarded sinker in the photo.

Soon after, I found one of my primary targets, an O. longidigitus.  This one was trying to hide in a hole in the bedrock that forms the river bottom.  O. longidigitus is very much nocturnal and all of them that I’d found before had been hiding under LARGE rocks and they would take off as soon as the rock was lifted even a little so I was pleasantly surprised to find this one out in the open.

O. longidigitus is one of the largest crayfish in the Unites States, if not the largest, routinely exceeding six inches in length (tip of the “nose” to end of tail.)  This one was a mere babe of 4.5 inches or so.  Click here to see a photo of a really large specimen.  If you’ve happened to read any of the articles on the new species of Barbicambarus that was recently described from Tennessee and seen the nine inch length quoted for the Bottlebrush Crayfish (B. cornutus,) that measurement includes the claws.  According to The Crayfishes of Kentucky (written by the same gentlemen who described the new species of Barbicambarus,) B. cornutus reaches a maximum size of about 5.5 inches, well short of that nine inches.  And a six inch O. longidigitus, with their elongated pincers, will easily reach 10-11 inches. So our crayfish is longer than your crayfish, nanner nanner boo boo!  🙂

Ok, this is a good place to break.  I’ll try and have the next part posted in a day or two.  Expect to see darters.

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