The Great Mudpuppy Escape (Sort Of)

The Great Mudpuppy Escape (Sort Of)

The origin of unusually large salamanders in the Belgrade Lakes? A Colby professor was the culprit.

By Stephen Collins '74

Mrs. Richard Adams of Waterville was the first angler reported to catch a mudpuppy, according to Crocker's account. She did so ice-fishing on Great Pond in January 1957. That fall David Sirman '60 brought a specimen he caught at the Colby Outing Club on Great Pond to Crocker in the Biology Department, and the following spring Paul Reichert '59 brought another. A year later Jerome Boulette, a Waterville firefighter, showed up with several of the creatures in a bucket. Though he had speared them, they were still alive. "They're almost indestructible," said Boulette, now in his late 70s and living in Oakland. "At first I didn't know what they were because nobody had ever heard about them."

Ironically, Boulette was out with friends looking to spear walleyed pike on their spawning beds, part of a concerted effort to eliminate that species from Great Pond, when he discovered the mudpuppies. The walleyes had been introduced accidentally in the 1930s when a fish hatchery erroneously crossed up two orders and shipped the walleyed pike to Great Pond in Belgrade and a brood of landlocked salmon to a different Great Pond, in Minnesota, according to Bill Woodward, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologist now responsible for the Belgrade Lakes fisheries.

imageBoulette clearly remembers the night he caught the mudpuppies. Using flashlights to hunt for unwelcome walleyes on shoals near Pine Island, he found none. Instead he saw quite a few foot-long salamanders. "They seemed to change color with the bottom of the lake . . . like a chameleon," he said. "They looked like little dragons."

It's just as well that Aplington was far away 20 years after the first accidental release. Among local anglers, reaction to the invasion of necturus maculosus was hostile, according to Donald Mairs's report in the reference book Maine Amphibians and Reptiles. Dire concerns about the effects on game fish populations mobilized an echo of the anti-walleye campaign, and for a few years some residents killed as many as they could, mostly by spearing and netting them around the old hatchery. John Caswell, who lives in North Belgrade and has fished Great Pond for decades, said that in the early 1960s he and friends used to spear 100 or more mudpuppies each year, cut their heads off and throw them on the stream bank.

Such efforts have ceased, but Caswell, Boulette and many other fishermen still resent the intruders, which are now believed to live throughout the Belgrade Lakes chain now. "They're a big nuisance," Caswell said. "They go in the streams and eat the fish eggs when the fish go up the streams to spawn." They steal bait from ice-fishing lines, often without getting hooked or springing the trap, he said.

"They eat the fish spawn," echoed Boulette, who blames mudpuppies for the decline in the hornpout and brook trout populations.

It's not unusual that the fishermen and the official experts don't agree on all aspects of the controversy. State fisheries biologist Woodward, for one, isn't terribly concerned about the big, non-native salamanders. "They don't really seem to be a threat to any species," he said, summing up their impact as "incidental."

A report from McGill University's Redpath Museum, in Montreal, says, "Though mudpuppies do occasionally eat fish eggs and some fish, there is no evidence that they significantly reduce game fish populations."
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