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Fish of the North: Whiskerfish - Fauna
Written By: Elizabeth Barrette (Writer)
Whiskerfish are among the North's more unusual and interesting aquatic life.

The whiskerfish or kivirth group is vaguely similar to Terran catfish. The name comes from kirv (whisker) and irth (fish). They are freshwater bottom feeders and scavengers, with a cylindrical body slightly flattened on the ventral side. They have a tough, slimy skin without scales that can absorb oxygen. They can also gulp air if the water is hypoxic. Thus, they can survive quite turbid water even after a big fire or landslide, often recolonizing waterways after other fish have died.

Like catfish, their heads are large and heavy, with wide mouths. They have prominent barbels, along with chemoreceptors all over the body, which allow them to touch-taste potential food and detect chemicals in water. The barbels allow electroreception, which helps them identify food and avoid temporal distortions. The dorsal fin has a sharp, rigid spine covered with glandular cells that produce venom (not very strong in Northern species) which causes irritation and increases the chances of infection. For this reason, these fish should not be caught barehanded but only with appropriate equipment.

These fish are less cold-hardy than most Northern fish. Some species hibernate during winter, burrowing into soft mud or clay. Others leave only eggs, buried in a safe nest to hatch when the weather warms, while the adults die off during the winter. There are fewer species than other fish groups, and fewer whiskerfish total, but a species can be locally plentiful.

Kittenfish or erranirth somewhat resemble Terran walking catfish or mudskippers. The name comes from errarn (kitten) and irth (fish). The summer kittenfish are pale gray dappled with black. The winter kittenfish are white dappled with gray, similar to a snow-cat kitten for which they are named. The summer species lays eggs which overwinter, while the adults die out. The winter species hibernates in underwater burrows to avoid freezing temperatures.

Kittenfish have well-developed pectoral fins. Thus they can writhe along the ground, skip forward in short hops, or jump several feet in the air. They can breathe air as long as they stay moist; they often move between marshes, puddles, flooded areas, small creeks, etc. Their barbels have strong electroreception for use in turbid water. Protuberant eyes atop the head, like those of a mudskipper, allow them to watch for predators and prey above the water's surface.

These are small fish, rarely reaching 1 foot long or weighing more than a pound, but their meat is mild and pleasant. It is a good snack food, usually small fillets fried with a crispy coating. They may be caught with hook and line or gig-spear. It is also possible to herd them into fish traps.

Mud-blower or bubort somewhat resembles the Terran burbot with some features akin to channel catfish. They are mottled green and brown on the back, fading to pale green on the belly. They have weaker electroreception than kittenfish do. Unusually long dorsal and pectoral fins span over half the body, and the fish swims with an undulating motion similar to an eel. They typically measure 2-3 feet and weigh 8-10 pounds, although individuals over 25 pounds have been caught.

These fish live in deep rivers and lakes, spending the winter in a dormant state. They are cavity nesters. They will eat almost anything, including carrion and garbage, but they are also aggressive hunters of smaller fish, frogs, young birds, etc.

Mud-blowers are usually caught with stinkbait on hooks, especially trot-lines, but may be taken with gig-spear if they venture into shallow water. Slat traps also work well. The meat has a strong 'fishy' flavor which can be mellowed by careful cooking. It is often cut into chunks and cooked in a thick white sauce made from snowy-yogurt.

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