The “killer fish,” “X-Files Fish”, “frankenfish,” “fish from hell” or, as some Korean anglers have dubbed it, the “fresh water tyrant” is actually called a channa argus – the Northern Snakehead.

U.S.G.S. “Drawing of Channa Argus, 1933, Wikipedia, https://ca.wikipedia.org/wiki/Channa_argus#Subesp%C3%A8cies. Accessed 27 March, 2020.

If you look up images of the Northern Snakehead you will quickly see why it has the nickname the “fish from hell”. It is ugly, some species can walk over land, it can breathe air for up to three days, it has a set of dagger-like teeth, and it isn’t native to our waters – which makes it extra scary.

So, why would the NSLM be interested in this non-native species? There are a few good reasons why we would want to talk about this fish and it isn’t just for the great X-Files references. Northern Snakeheads are considered to be an invasive species with possible negative effects on local waterways. These waterways are where the game fish that we love, like the beautiful rainbow trout, thrive and more competition for them could negatively impact their population. For these reasons the NSLM, which promotes and supports angling, finds it important to discuss any potential threats and it is just a fascinating fish!

“Editorial cartoon on dangers of exotic snakehead (Channa), in Burnaby Pond,” Arnould, The Georgia Straight, 2012. Fishes in the News, https://www.zoology.ubc.ca/~etaylor/fishinnews.htm. Accessed 27 March, 2020. 

Originally John Odenkirk, the Virginia Department of Inland Game and Fisheries (VDIGF) District Biologist and all-around Northern Snakehead expert, was going to give a presentation about the Snakehead population in Virginia and a demonstration on the proper way to clean and prepare the fish for consumption at the NSLM on April 23rd. He is an advocate for not only catching the fish but for consuming it as well. He has informed me that, despite their appearance, Northern Snakeheads are actually tasty. But, as we all know, times have been different with the affects of COVID-19 being seen globally. Educational programs, including Odenkirk’s talk, have been canceled to help flatten the curve of the virus. While the program is no longer taking place, I still wanted to provide some interesting facts about this creature and hopefully ignite a curiosity to cook the fish as well.   If you want to hear from the expert himself about Northern Snakeheads check out John Odenkirk’s work HERE.

Walker , Lee. John Odenkirk Studying Northern Snakeheads. Courtesy of the VDIGF . 
 

Snakeheads have been compared to the “monster from the black lagoon” and other terrifying science fiction references that conjure up images of a monster fish walking on land and eating everything in sight. Since they were first discovered on U.S. soil back in 2002 at a pond in Crofton, Maryland, there have been a lot of myths, horror stories, and interesting facts spread about the Northern Snakehead. The first place that I looked for information on the species was, of course, our Library. Out of 20,000 volumes only one book had any information on the fish! I even poured through our cooking books searching for any signs of the fish, but with no luck (though I did find a porcupine stew recipe). The sole book found was Snakehead: A Fish out of Water by Eric Jay Dolin and I highly suggest you come to the Library when we open back up to hang out and read about the media frenzied 2002 summer of the Snakehead.

Dolin,Eric Jay. Snakehead: A Fish out of Water. Smithsonian Books, 2003. National Sporting Library & Museum, Main Reading Room.

Snakeheads: A Fish out of Water along with the online resources listed at the end of this post, helped me compile a short list of facts on the species. This is in no way an exhaustive list of all the unusual aspects of the Northern Snakehead, but just some of the more interesting ones to me. If you like fun lists of facts then you will like the rest of this blog post!

  1. Snakeheads get their name from the distinctive snake-like shape of their body, their large scaled head, and from the location of their eyes near the top and forward part of their head.
  2. There are 28 species of Snakeheads.
  3. Some species of Snakeheads can “walk” for short distances over land, but the Northern Snakehead (thankfully) is not one of those.
  4. If their skin is kept moist they can survive out of water by breathing air for up to three days.
  5. They are native to China, southern Siberia, South Korea, and North Korea.
  6. They can grow up to three feet and weigh up to 19 pounds.
  7. Their bottom jaw is full of sharp teeth
  8. Insects, small amphibians, and other fish are their favorite foods.
  9. They protect their young.
  10. The Potomac River drainage of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is home to the largest Northern Snakehead population in Virginia.
U.S.G.S. “Caught by Live Bait in Panama City Beach.” Northern Snakehead, Wikipedia, 28 Dec. 2019,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_snakehead#/media/File:Northern_snakehead.jpg. Accessed 27, March 2020.  
“Baby Northern Snakehead.” Northern Snakehead, Animal Spot, https://www.animalspot.net/northern-snakehead.html. Accessed 29, March 2020.  

So, what should anglers be prepared to do if they catch a Northern Snakehead?

The VDIGF recommends that you kill the fish, but you can release the fish back into the water if you wish. You are required though, no matter your decision, to call the Snakehead Hotline in Virginia to report the fish at (804)-367-2925. All anglers should remember that it is illegal to have a live Snakehead in your possession. Since 2002, some anglers have sought to purposely catch the fish to help both with population control and for good sport. In Korea, Snakeheads, known as Sogarli, are a native game fish and are highly prized. This makes for a interesting discussion on Northern Snakeheads as a new game fish in our area because, lets face it, they are established here and are not leaving anytime soon so we might as well make good sport of it!

Hagerty , Ryan. “NAS – Nonindigenious Aquatic Spcies .” NAS – Nonindigenious Aquatic Spcies , USGS, 21 Mar. 2020, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/factsheet.aspx?speciesid=2265. Accessed 31, 2020. 

How do you catch one?

For catching a Northern Snakehead, Odenkirk suggests that tidal rivers are best, but there are several lakes that have the invasive population near us including, Lake Brittle near Warrenton and Pelham Lake in Culpeper. Try fishing for Northern Snakeheads as you would for a Large-Mouth Bass, but fish a bit shallower, near vegetation, and be sure to use weedless artificial baits.

You caught one – so now what?

First, you must report the catch to the Snakehead Hotline and then you have a few options of what to do next. You can release the fish back into the water, you can kill the fish and remove it from the waters, or kill the fish and bring it home for a very tasty dinner.

There are several ways you can cook a Northern Snakehead and, according to Odenkirk, there is no wrong way to prepare the fish. The meat of the fish is a firm, mild, and dense white meat that is very similar to several saltwater species such as grouper or a swordfish steak.

Perillo, Joseph. “Image of Northern Snakehead.” Northern Snakehead, Sea Grant: University of Wisconsin, https://www.seagrant.wisc.edu/our-work/focus-areas/ais/invasive-species/invasive-species-fact-sheets/fish/northern-snakehead/. Accessed: 31, March 2020. 

Once life returns to normalcy, I want to try my hand at Northern Snakehead wrangling, cooking, and consuming. Until then, I asked Odenkirk for two of his favorite recipes that we could share with everyone.

The first recipe is devilishly simple and sounds divine. All you need is a filet of fish, your favorite dry seafood seasoning, and olive oil.

The second recipe incorporates some Asian flair with freshly shaved ginger, soy sauce, Thai chili flakes, scallions, and a filet of fish.

Research on the impact of the Northern Snakehead on local waterways and native fish continues. Odenkirk has written many papers on the topic and hopefully we will be able to reschedule his visit to the NSLM at some point in the future. The more research that comes out, the more informed anglers can be. Whether you are actively luring a big Northern Snakehead or accidentally catch one on your line, be sure to call the hotline and consider taking it home to make a nice meal for the family.

Send us your pictures, recipes, and what you thought of the Northern Snakehead when you tasted it! We love to hear good angling stories!

Dr. Seuss (Ted Geisel), is arguably the most prolific and popular children’s book author and illustrator. He is a household name, with many of us growing up with a love and fascination for his imaginative worlds and creative characters. Geisel had a way of creating books that sparked a passion for reading and creativity for kids and adults alike, even after his death in 1991. For years, previously unpublished manuscripts drafted and sketched by Geisel were complied and published posthumously including, DaisyHead Mayzie (1995) and What Pet Should I Get (2015). Each new published book was followed by excitement and rave reviews, illustrating the deep multi-generational connection we have with Dr. Seuss.

Twenty-eight years after Geisel’s death, the connection is still strong with the publication of Dr. Seuss’s The Horse Museum (2019) released on the 3rd of September. The book immediately hit #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List. Copies flew off the shelves and many shops are on back order for the title. The eighty-page book follows an energetic equine tour guide through an art museum dedicated to horses and teaches the reader about the different ways of making and thinking about art.

It is purely by chance we have a new addition to the Dr. Seuss family of books. Audrey Geisel, wife of Ted Geisel, found an overlooked box of manuscripts in their former California home back in 2012. The box of unrhymed text and sketches, believed to be from the 1950s, was a remarkable discovery and plans to finish the illustrations and publish the book began.

The idea of a Horse Museum, led by a bow tie wearing horse guide, is perfect for NSLM. We have a strong and ever-growing collection in art and books of equines and (obviously) we are museum and library. Our topic can be so niche that it is often hard to find children’s books for our institution, so we pre-ordered two books and impatiently waited for September 3rd to arrive.

The books came and we were speechless! It seemed as though Geisel made this book just for NSLM (or that is what we like to believe).  

Valerie Peacock, Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator and Michelle Guzman, George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian, reading Dr. Seuss’s Horse Museum.

As we devoured the pages of The Horse Museum, we began to realize how perfectly this new Dr. Seuss book fit within our institution. It depicted several images related to our collection, it talked about art in the terms we use for our school tours, and it even included art in library books (told you – made just for us).

The book opens up by asking “What is Art All About?”, something we like to ask our students on tours. The fantastic thing about it is how Geisel uses the horse tour guide to take you through all types of art depicting equines, from cave paintings to modern art and showcases color, speed, and movement.

Several paintings, sculptures, and ways of storytelling through art jumped out at us as relating to our collection.

The “beautiful lines” that the artist Katsushika Hokausai saw in horses are similar to the beautiful lines that we will see in the upcoming exhibition Nakayama’s Horses: The Art of Tadashi Nakayama, opening July 17, 2020 at NSLM. 

You can see similarities in how some artists see color, like Mane-Katz’s painting of horse racing and The Start  by Daphne vom Baur on view in our Recent Acquisitions Hall. The varied uses of color and how it can be used to illustrate mood, movement, and context are my favorite to talk about on tours with school groups.

Some artists see speed, especially those in our collection with many depictions of racing. Eadweard Muybridge, The Horse in Motion, can be seen in the book while our collection holds Muybridge’s Horse and Rider! Can you spot the differences? The speed and power of horses is found in many of our collection pieces.

There was even a 500-year-old image of polo being played in Persia! While NSLM has more contemporary depictions of the sport, seeing the similarities and differences of the sport across time is fascinating.

The book then moves into modern art and the way contemporary artists view and depict horses, including the wire sculpture by Alexander Calder. If you have visited the museum lately you will have noticed a similar medium in contemporary artist Joan Danziger’s sculptures of wire and glass in current exhibition Canter & Crawl: The Glass Sculpture of Joan Danziger. Like Calder’s sculpture, you would not want to sit on Danziger’s sculptures. (Ouch!)

Lastly, Dr. Seuss reminds the reader that art can be found outside of a museum. Just look at books in a library! Books can be adorned with beautiful covers like James Baldwin’s Fifty Famous Rides and Riders. Many books are filled with beautiful illustrations, like the Dr. Seuss’s Horse Museum and C.W.Anderson’s The Blind Connemara. Even anatomy books can be considered art – just look at the skeletal drawing of a horse in a 1683 anatomy book.

All in all, Dr. Seuss’s Horse Museum perfectly encapsulates the things we love about our museum and library collections.

Want to read it? Come by the Library, get cozy in a reading nook and read on. Afterwards, stop by the Museum and see if you can find lines, color, speed, and familiar artworks.

Don’t forget to save the date for our Dr. Seuss Day Celebration on March 1, 2020 at NSLM. For more information on our celebration click here. 

And, while we have not trained a horse to wear bow-ties and give tours (yet!), we do have free weekly tours on Wednesdays at 2PM conducted by our fantastic human staff. We hope to see you there!

Hello everyone and welcome to my first blog post as the Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator here at NSLM. I started in late June and it has been a (pleasant) whirlwind. I have many goals as the educator, one of them being to build a strong relationship between the education department (i.e. me) and the library department (Erica Libhart, Mars Technical Services Librarian and Michelle Guzman, George L. Ohstrom, Jr. Head Librarian). Both departments have much to offer, so using our collective brain power to cultivate engaging programming, displays, tours, and pop-up exhibitions will reap great rewards here at NSLM.

The first of these ventures is the upcoming traveling exhibition, A Brief History of Black Horsemen in Racing, on loan from James Madison’s Montpelier and accompanying program, Roundtable Discussion: African American Horsemen, on October 8, 2019. In conjunction with the traveling exhibition and the roundtable discussion, the Library staff and I wanted to locate related items from the library collection for display in the lobby cases. We found several items in the F. Ambrose Rare Book Room as well as the Main Reading Room, that serve to chronicle the evolving representation of African American horsemen from the period of enslavement, through the Jim Crow era, and up to present day.

The earliest item that we found is a series of three lithographs dated 1840, depicting a race at the Washington Race Course in Charleston, South Carolina. The images of three nameless, enslaved jockeys are accompanied by rhyming verse that refers to the riders as less than humans, and includes caricature of one of the jockey’s speech. These were authored by British conservative political Charles Newdigate Newdegate and seem intended to mock the American horse racing community. This item also exemplifies that some of America’s earliest and prolific jockeys were enslaved men.

Sketches from the Washington Races in October 1840 by An Eye Witnefs, c. 1841, Charles Newdegate Newdiagte (British 1816-1887). Plate 1.
Sketches from the Washington Races in October 1840 by An Eye Witness, c. 1841, Charles Newdigate Newdegate (British 1816-1887). Plate 1

Thoroughbred racing was popular in America, especially the South, beginning in the 1700s, and since its impetus has been defined by black horsemen. Prior to 1865 these skilled men were enslaved. After 1865, jockeys and horsemen gained popularity, but in the 1880s-1890s measures to marginalize and ban African Americans from competing in races or holding employment as horsemen systematically erased the large-scale presence of African American horsemen from the racing world.

Sketches from the Washington Races in October 1840 by An Eye Witness, c. 1841, Charles Newdigate Newdegate (British 1816-1887). Plate 2

Sketches from the Washington Races in October 1840 by An Eye Witness, c. 1841, Charles Newdigate Newdegate (British 1816-1887). Plate 3

The second item is from a souvenir program for Keeneland Racecourse dated 1936, nearly 100 years after the lithographs.  An article titled “America’s Colored Archer: the Story of Isaac Murphy” describes the achievements of the African American jockey Isaac Murphy in glowing terms.  He is repeatedly described as one of the “greatest race riders” and was considered by the author as a model for all future riders.  Despite this, the overall tone of the article is that of an owner praising an especially good horse, hunting dog, or pet.  The author uses terms like, “little ebony boy,” “little Kentucky Negro,” “little Negro boy,” and “little jockey” with what appears to be no malice; making the prejudice all the more insidious.  He infantilizes and demeans Murphy in the same sentence in which he sings his praises.  The article, in 1936, would have been considered high praise for Murphy, but today we can see that the article has a white-centric viewpoint that frames the accomplishments achieved by Murphy in racial terms. 

For example, the title of the article “America’s Colored Archer: The Story of Isaac Murphy”, is a derogatory name given to Murphy in reference to his white, British, contemporary Fred Archer. For people of that time, the British had Fred Archer and America had the “Colored Archer”, Isaac Murphy. 

“America’s “Colored Archer”: The Story of Isaac Murphy”, in Keeneland Lexington, Kentucky Opening 1936, National Sporting Library & Museum OVR B 402. L333 1936; Gift of Alexander Mackay-Smith

Isaac B. Murphy
Isaac Murphy, head-and-shoulders portrait, 
in jockey uniform, facing left., ca. 1895. Photograph.
 https://www.loc.gov/item/2005690025/
Frederick Archer
Unknown artist, 1881
chalk, NPG 3961




This stands in stark contrast to the today’s representation of Isaac Murphy, including his 1955 induction into the Racing Hall of Fame and his depiction in The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Burns Murphy by Dr. Pellom McDaniels III.

Fast forward to today and the contributions of African Americans to the horse racing industry whether as jockeys, trainers, groomers, or hot walkers, are being explored and celebrated in books such as The Black Maestro: The Epic Life of an American Legend by Joe Drape, Race Horsemen: How Slavery and Freedom were made at the racetrack, by Katherine C. Mooney, The Great Black Jockeys: The Lives and Times of the Men Who Dominated America’s First National Sport, by Edward Hotaling, The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Burns Murphy by Pellom McDaniels III, and Wink: The Incredible Life and Epic Journey of Jimmy Winkfield, by Ed Hotaling.

The history of black horsemen, from stable hands, groomsmen, hot walkers, jockeys, and owners has been largely overlooked in mainstream racing history, due in large part to the efforts of white owners, jockeys, and other figures within racing to discredit black horsemen of achievements, knowledge, and skill. As an organization dedicated to preserving, promoting, and sharing the literature, art, and culture of equestrian, angling, and field sports we are acutely aware that a large portion of America’s Thoroughbred racing history has been marginalized. Through hosting the traveling exhibition A Brief History of Black Horsemen in Racing, and the Roundtable Discussion: African American Horsemen  NSLM hopes to illuminate this fascinating sporting history for everyone.

To see  sketches from the Washington Races in October 1840 by An Eye Witness, the 1936 article on Isaac Murphy, and several contemporary books on African American Horsemen, please come by the Library starting October 8, 2019. 

Join us October 8, 2019  for a Roundtable Discussion as scholars and museum professionals examine the content of Brief History of Black Horsemen in Racing. Speakers include Dr. Pellom McDaniels III, Curator of African American Collections in the Stuart A Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory University, Leon Nichols, Founder of Project to Preserve African American Turf History (PPAATH), and Elizabeth Chew VP of Museum Programs at James Madison’s Montpelier. For more information please visit us here

Valerie joined NSLM in June 2019 as the Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator. She is responsible for developing K-12 programs, public programs, tours, and cultivating engaging in-gallery and Library experiences.  Valerie completed a MA in Museum Studies from the University of Leicester in England and earned her BA in History with a Minor in Professional Education from the University of West Florida. She previously worked as the Programs Assistant at the Gaston County Museum of Art and History where she helped facilitate onsite and outreach programs to over 8,000 participants and as the Curator of Education at the Pensacola Museum of Art where she successfully attained Autism Friendly Business Accreditation. When not working, Valerie enjoys spending her free time reading, hiking, or exploring new places and museums.