Sensational Sharks

One animal that is feared by many is the shark. Though they do need to be respected for the potential harm they can cause, they often are greatly misunderstood. These animals can actually show us a lot of specialized design features that God built into their bodies to increase their ability to survive in the oceans of the world.

Bodies Covered With Teeth!

Let’s take a  closer look at some of these features. Have you ever held a shark in your hand or felt their skin? It feels like sandpaper. If you run your finger up one direction and then the other you will feel quite a difference. Shark skin is actually very different than other fish. It looks like thousands of tiny shark teeth overlapping one another. These are called placoid scales. In a sense, the shark’s entire body is covered with teeth. When I caught these fish several children and adults wanted to touch them before I returned them to the sea. It is quite and experience. 

This design has a function. It actually reduces the resistance of the water’s drag on the fish as it swims. Mankind has even taken lessons from the shark and used this surface feature in wet-suits and the surfaces of submarines and other water vessels. It also provides a protective surface on the shark’s exterior. Shark skin is actually used as sandpaper in many seaside communities around the world. This type of sandpaper is called Shagreen.

Crystal Eyes:

Next, let’s look at the shark’s eyes. These can vary a lot between the different species of sharks according to where they live and how the feed. The two I caught have eyes like this:

Did you know shark’s eyes actually have crystal inside them? These are Quanine crystals that are highly reflective. This enables the sharks to see in darkness.  In addition, some sharks actually have special eye coverings that cover the eyes like goggles.

No Bones About It!: Sharks Are Very Flexible!

Did you know, sharks do not have bones in their skeletons?  Instead, they have a skeleton that is very flexible composed entirely of cartilage. Cartilage is like the material in your nose and ear that holds the shape of these body parts. Imagine if your skeleton was composed of cartilage instead of bone. You would not be able to stand up. Sharks, of course, live in the water and cartilage is a great material for animals that do not need to bear the weight of their bodies like land animals. God knew just what would make the best skeleton for these creatures.

Designed for Speed:

Notice also their streamlined bodies. They have a pointed head and an extremely long tail.

Five Kinds of Fins:

Most people actually identify sharks by their pronounced dorsal fins, the ones on their backs that stick up out of the water at times. Some sharks actually have two different dorsal fins. The various fins act along with the tail to provide direction and propulsion. The tail is asymmetrical.  The top part of the tail is much longer than the bottom. Besides the dorsal fin, they also have pectoral fins. These are the two on the front just behind the head. These are the primary ones used in steering. Most sharks also have anal, caudal and pelvic fins which provide stability. Sharks are very fast in the water and can change directions in an instant in order to chase down their prey.

The various fins of the shark allow them to be very graceful swimmers that can turn on a dime to pursue their prey.

Sharks Are Very Sensitive!

If you look closely on the bottom of the head you will find some very sensitive nasal passageways that allow the shark to smell blood and other body fluids in the surrounding water. Having two of these sensors, one on each side of their head,  allows them to sense the direction of the source of these fluids so they can track down their food. In addition to their nostrils, sharks also have special sensors in their heads that are collectively called Ampullae Lorenzi. With these sensors they can even detect animals buried in the sand. It’s kind of like a metal detector only it works to find living things.

 

Two Toned With a Purpose:

As you can see in the pictures in this post, sharks are white on the bottom and darker on the top. This protects them from would be predators that might see them from above, and from larger sharks that might see them looking up from the bottom of the ocean. This color arrangement also conceals them so they are not seen by the animals they prey upon until it is too late to escape.

 

I caught these sharks while fishing of the end of a pier in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. They seemed to like the shrimp and squid I was using for bait. After removing the hooks I returned them to the sea. While we were fishing we saw a large shark cruising by the front of the pier.  Apparently the sharks have learned they can find some good feeding out where fishermen dump their fish carcasses after cleaning their fish. Some fishermen actually chop up bait fish and dump it into the ocean as chum to attract fish. Since the beaches next to the pier are used by swimmers, this practice is regulated in many areas to protect those swimming nearby. Sharks can be very aggressive when there is blood in the water. Sharks, however, have been feeding in these waters for thousands of years. Some varieties swim in schools that patrol the shallow waters near the shoreline. Others are found far off shore feeding on smaller fish, crabs, lobsters, squid and octopus. The large Great White Sharks can even capture and eat sea lions and seals! Some have been known to even attack whales.

Important Creatures in the Sea.

Sharks are important creatures in the food chains of the sea. They help regulate populations of other creatures, that if unchecked, would over populate the region. Sharks also help remove some of the dead organisms in the water as well. Because of the bad press they get and their portrayal in films like Jaws, they are often feared and hunted and killed. Sharks used to be hunted for their fins which are used to make shark fin soup which is a delicacy in many places. Some shark species have been hunted almost to extinction. Many rules have been established by the fishing industry to help remedy this problem.  Recently, however, the sharks have been making a come back. Much education about sharks has changed man’s perception of these interesting animals. Most fishing services encourage those fishing on their boats to release the sharks if caught while trying to catch other fish species. Some scientists actually go out and catch sharks and place special tracking devices on them and then release them. In this manner they can find out a lot about the shark’s life style and movement around the ocean. With so much attention on the sharks, public sentiment has changed greatly over the last 20 years. Interestingly, you are much more likely to die from being stung by bees, hit by lightning, be in an auto accident or some other means than ever being attacked by a shark. It is important, however, to heed the warnings of the beach patrol if several large sharks are seen cruising near swimming areas. Let them eat the fish and move on to other waters.

 

Catching Panfish: Shellcrackers, Crappie, & Bluegill

Probably one of the first fish a person will catch will be one of these fun hard-fighting fish. These fish are plentiful and can live in a wide variety of waterways.  Let’s take a closer look at these fish and learn more about their habits and importance in God’s creation.

One of the Fishermen’s Favorites

One of the fisherman’s favorite panfish is the Crappie. These are sometimes called “Slabs” (especially if they are big!). In other parts of the country they are called “Papermouths” due to their thin easy to break loose mouths. Others call them “Bachelor Perch“. Whatever you call them, they are worth the time to catch. One of the neat things about fishing for Crappie is that if you catch one, you know there are many more about! They school up in the same areas. One of the best times to seek Crappie is the Springtime when they are spawning. They come in close to shore to build their nests in about 1 to 5 ft. deep. In the summer they seek deeper water where the temperature is cooler and there is more oxygen. Look around structure! They are often found under docks, fallen trees, and brush piles. Some fishermen actually drop their used Christmas trees into the lake to create a spot to come back to in the Spring and Summertime for a stringer of fish. In one lake, not far from where I live, the fish and game department has sunk a series of pipes and spaced them just the right distance apart to create an artificial brush pile habitat. These are marked so fishermen know where to drop their jigs and bait.

Be Aware of the Laws!

Since Crappie are so popular it is an economic boost to those who sell fishing gear, provide overnight accommodations, and food to feed the fishermen near where the fish are caught. Some lakes have strict laws governing the size of Crappie that can be kept by the fishermen. Be sure to know the regulations for your area! In most regions there is also a limit of how many you can catch a day. In Tennessee, the statewide creel limit for Crappie is 15 fish and they must be at least 10 inches long to keep. However, at some lakes, like Percy Priest Lake, (this is the one with the sunken pipe habitats mentioned earlier), you can catch twice that number, 30 a day. These size limits and creel numbers often change from year to year depending on the populations available.

Many Different Techniques

One of the interesting ways these fish are often caught is called Spider Rigging. This technique is used widely in shallow lakes like Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee. Fishermen set up their boats with multiple poles all the same size, usually about 12 ft. long. The poles are set in rod-holders about 8 to 10 inches above the water all around the boat. The lines are rigged with jigs and sunk only about 1 to 2 ft. deep. The fishermen use a trolling motor and move around the edges of the lake. When a fish grabs the jig they flip it up into the boat, unhook it and place it in the live-well or bucket and then reset the pole and line for another fish. In lakes like this fishermen can catch a whole freezer full in a day’s tine. I’ve never tried this yet since I have neither a boat or that many poles. I can still catch fish from the dock or shore. Some people use a  minnow under a bobber and others trail a Crappie jig behind a bobber and just roll it in slowly until the bobber sinks and set the hook. Be very careful when setting the hook, however! They don’t call them “Papermouths” for nothing!

Crappie are highly prized for their pure, white, flaky flesh. There are tons of great recipes for cooking them up. Since you usually catch a bunch it is well worth your while to fillet them up. Others just scale them and fry up the whole fish, bones and all. Since the meat is flaky it is easy to remove it from the bones.

The fish below went back in the lake to grow up. It was fun to catch, however.

 

Strong Fighters and Meaty

 

Another large sunfish is the Shellcracker, also known as a Red-ear Sunfish.

 

These fish put up a good fight and have a lot of meat on them. I caught one yesterday that was bigger than my large hands and fought harder than a bass. These fish also breed near the shore in the Springtime. Last year I caught a half dozen large ones in a half an hour in the same General area near the shore. I almost always catch them on worms. They are masters at stealing the bait so I usually only use part of a worm and bury a small hook totally inside the worm. Sometimes it will take a couple worms to get them on the line because of their sneaking worm grabbing abilities.

 

Create a Memory with this Old-Time Favorite: Bluegill

The final sunfish we will talk about is the most dependable species that can be caught year round in most freshwater lakes, streams, rivers, and ponds. These feisty little fish are the Bluegill. I rarely go to the lake without hooking into a number of these. I love to show kids fishing for the first time how to catch these fish. I used to work at a camp for the mentally disabled and they all seemed to enjoy fishing since it wasn’t long before they had one on the line. These are the fish to target if you are taking a child fishing for the first tine. They will be hooked on fishing for the rest of their lives. I remember taking my own kids down to the lake in California in the early Springtime, baiting up their lines with two hooks on each pole, and spending the whole time baiting hooks and removing fish while they kept bringing them in. In many places there is no size of creel limit on Bluegill. Just remember, however, that if you keep them you have to clean them! They are a good eating fish and a great fish to introduce someone to the wonderful taste of fish. I still remember my Grandpa cooking up a batch for me when we used to catch them out in the irrigation canals in Northern California when I was a kid. Why not take a kid fishing and create a wonderful memory of your own?

An Important Part of the Environment

These fish eat insects, other fish, spiders, snails, crayfish and other crustaceans, worms and insect larvae. They are often eaten by other animals including: larger fish (like bass), many birds (like herons and egrets, osprey, and eagles), raccoon, mink, and other mammals, as well as reptiles like snakes and turtles. They are part of many food webs and support a wide variety of animal life around and in the water.

Self-Regulating

Interestingly, if there are too many of these fish in a given area, their growth rates are diminished  and all the fish will be about the same size and very small. It’s important that their numbers be regulated and monitored in smaller lakes and ponds. Some fish, like these ones, secrete a chemical hormones that affects the growth rates of other fish in the area. Size is also related to the amount of food per fish available. 

 

Have You Ever Eaten Lotus Seeds? AKA “Cajun Peanuts”

One of the interesting plants that God created for man to enjoy was the American Lotus Plant. It not only provides beauty, it is also very useful to man and other creatures providing both food and shelter and even a bathing place for birds. Let’s learn more about these unusual plants.

 

  

Last Fall my son-in-Law, two grandsons, and I went for a boat ride on Reelfoot Lake. Our guide for the day let us experience a new tasty treat that grows right in the lake. Though I had often seen the the seed pods of the American Lotus plant in flower arrangements, I didn’t know that they contained edible seeds. They are often harvested in the months of August and September just after they flower, the petals fall off and when the pods are still tender. When you break open the pods you can find about 20 seeds inside. Squeeze one out of its outer skin and pop it in your mouth. They taste sort of like a water chestnut. They can also be boiled and eaten. Some people boil them down and turn them into paste that can be used like flour or as a thickening for soups.

 

 

 

The young leaves of this water plant can also be sliced up and cooked like spinach. I also learned that the long roots, about as long as your forearm, can be sliced up and fried like pancakes. These plants were a mainstay in the diets of Native Americans who lived near ponds and lakes where they grow in abundance.

The larger leaves of this water plant were often used to wrap food for cooking, keeping the food contained and moist until unwrapped and eaten.

 

When God designed the leaves of this plant He gave them a waxy surface so they would float on the surface of the water providing a natural bird bath as they collect fresh rainwater and create small pools in the centers of the leaf. The leaves also provide shade and protection for the fish that make nests under them. Fishermen like to throw their lures up into a bunch of these plants knowing that their lures will usually slip right through them and that the big fish can be found there. Many small animals can actually use the leaves like a raft out in the open water.

 

 

If you want to see the flowers of these plants you only have a short time to do so. The flowers bloom and in two days time they have dropped their petals. The nectar and pollen from these flowers provide food for many insects. Fortunately they don’t all bloom during the same two days so there can be different fresh flowers providing food for several days.

 

The next time you go boating in a lake full of water lilies, look for these plants. You will be glad you took the time to investigate these amazing gifts of God.

Fried, Almond Crusted and Broiled Bass Fillets: A Light, Tasty Treat

 

I love the early Spring time when the bass are easy to catch. One of the best tasting fish, they can be prepared several ways. In the last two weeks I made several tasty meals from ten bass I caught down at the lake. After filleting them, I rolled pieces in a mixture of cornmeal and whole wheat flour with a little salt, pepper and ginger powder. An easy way to apply the mixture is to put it in a small plastic ziplock bag and drop in the fillets. Shake it until they are totally covered and drop them in a frying pan with melted butter. Cook briefly on both sides and you are ready for a yummy meal. Some people like to roll the fish in egg before adding the flour and cornmeal for a more crispy texture.

 

These were served with broccoli and grapes.

The fish below have almond powder mixed with the flour mixture. They have more of a crunchy texture. The almonds blend with the bass flavor to create a tasty meal. Melon and cilantro make a nice meal.

 

Another way to prepare them is to put them into fish tacos.

A lighter way to cook them up is broiling. I added a little water to a frying pan and heated it up. While it was heating, I cut up some bell pepper, onions, and cilantro. I then put the fillets into the pan and poured in the veggies. I added a pinch of Italian seasoning, a sprinkle of ginger powder, salt and pepper. I covered the pan and cooked it until the fish was tender and flakey. I drained off the excess water and put the fish and veggies into a bowl. It makes a tasty, light, meal, very low in calories. Bass also is a good fish to use in making chowders.

 

You better get get out there and get some bass while they are biting!

 

 

Turtles Everywhere!

Turtles make up one of the most interesting groups of reptiles. I seemed to find them everywhere I go fishing, especially since I moved to Tennessee. In this post I will show you several that decided to take my fish bait.

Some of the others I saw sitting around the lake or in the waterways nearby. One even traveled up to my yard to lay her eggs last Summer.

 

 

This unfortunate snapping turtle got snagged on my fishing lure as I brought it back to the shore. He wasn’t happy to be so rudely taken. After snapping and hissing, I was able to remove him with my hook pliers and set him free. This is just one of three snapping turtles that I have caught down at the lake so far. One of the others snapped out and jumped toward my camera and hit the lens. It got my attention and taught me to respect these aggressive turtles.

These turtles can grow to massive sizes. Below is a picture of one I saw in a stream-bed under a dam at Radnor Lake State Park in Brentwood, Tennessee. It was about three feet long.

Interestingly, the Snapping turtles are actually good fishermen. They actually use a lure, part of their tongue that looks like a worm. As they wave it in the water with their mouths open, along come fish trying to eat the worm. Snap!  Guess who becomes dinner?

Here are some more pictures of snapping turtles I caught since first publishing the first post. This snapper tried to bite me a couple of times. Needless to say, I moved quickly! I was able to flip the biggest one over and get some pictures of its belly. Notice also the long claws.

I caught one on chicken liver and the other on a hunk of bluegill. I was trying to catch a catfish. This big one is about two feet long.

 

 

 

Here are some more turtles. Notice that most of these are Red-eared sliders.

 

Time to lay some eggs.

The turtle below laid eggs under a tree in my front yard. It traveled about a quarter mile from the lake to my yard.

Can you see the area behind her? She dug a hole and carefully laid and buried the eggs.

 

Red-Eared Sliders

                 

Worms and cut up bluegill were too tempting to these turtles.

 

One day I caught seven turtles in just a couple hours. The picture (above right) with three turtles, shows three of the seven still on shore before I let them all go back into the lake.

Below is a softy!

One of the turtles was much different from the others. It was a soft-shelled turtle. The picture above shows the underside of a Soft-shelled turtle.

Keep Turtles Where They Belong!

Though most turtles spend most of their lives in the water, some types are more terrestrial, like the box turtles.  The majority of water turtles are the Red-eared sliders. Unfortunately many of these have been introduced into the environment by people with good intentions but a poor knowledge of the environment.

When I was a child, red-eared sliders were sold by the thousands to people wanting a cute pet. Practically every kid had one in a plastic container. What they didn’t tell you when you bought one was that they grow up and often outlive their owners. When the turtles got bigger and people didn’t like maintaining a suitable habitat for their pets, they took them to the nearest lake or stream and released them. This caused a lot of problems for the native turtles in those regions. Competition for food and space created a difficult situation for the natives. Unfortunately many of these species were threatened and some were completely wiped out in certain areas. Today there is an over-abundance of this species. Go to any park pond and you will probably see what I mean. The turtles are often stacked on top of each other on the logs in the pond and on the shore-line.

Turtles do serve a purpose in the areas you find them. They are the clean-up crew. They will eat dead and decaying fish, help control the insect population, and regulate the fish if there are too many of a given species.

Enjoy Them Where You Are!

  

When God created the turtles He designed them well for where they live. Their hard shells, ( for most turtles), provide great protection from predators who seek to eat them. When the enemy comes they just withdraw into their shells and hide until the threat passes. Many also have offensive weapons to use to drive off other animals or each other. The snapping turtles are probably the best example of this. They can literally snap off a broom handle with their powerful beaks. Turtles also give off warning hisses when they think someone or something is getting too close.

 

Below are a couple pictures from Texas of some large turtles that come up and sun-bathe on shore at my son’s house on Spring Lake.

 

 

Just Hanging Out In The Sun!

Notice that more than one species can occupy the same area. This big guy must be at the top of the pecking order. Turtles love to lay out in the sun to warm up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look For Turtles Near You.

Why not take some time to watch the turtles in your area. They have many interesting habits and are sure fun to watch while sitting lake-side and fishing. You may see a head pop up out of the lake when they come up for air. Look along the shore-line. They will often be sunning themselves on a the ground, a rock or a log. Just be sure to take along a pair of pliers to remove the hook if they decide to eat your bait!

Looking for Gold…..Golden Trout, That Is!

One the most fun types of fish to catch are the trout. There are so many different kinds of trout and they all are so interesting to observe. Trout also a very yummy if you decide to keep them. Just watching them is a thrill. In this blog post you will learn about several different kinds of trout. I hope you find pleasure in learning about these amazing fish God created for us to enjoy.

Click below to open the Powerpoint presentation. You can also open it in Keynote, if you have that app.

Looking for Golden Trout

Can You Walk On Water? This Bug Can!

On a recent trip to Missouri I spent some time down by a creek. I had walked a mile up the canyon and my wife wanted to go farther. I decided to wait stream-side while she went farther up the trail. While sitting down by the edge of the water I noticed an interesting creature. This creature was actually standing on the water and streaking around like an ice skater on the surface. As I watched it, it went out and intercepted an insect that had been caught in the water surface tension. I continued to keep my eyes on this creature and watch what was going on in its surroundings. What an amazing creature God created for this very environment. Is it helpful or harmful? How is it uniquely designed to live where it is found? Let me tell you more about this insect called by many names: Water-Strider, Jesus Bug, Water- Skater, and more.

 

Click below to open Powerpoint presentation.  You can also open it in Keynote, if you have that app.

 

Can You Walk On Water

Big Bird, Great Bird! The Blue Heron

One night while fishing for catfish, out on the end of the pier, I was startled by a huge bird landing right next to me. Not only was I startled, but the bird gave out a loud squawk when it realized it was not alone. The bird rustled its wings and gave flight rising like a large Pteradactyl. It flew just a short distance away and landed near the shore about 100 feet away. Throughout the night we both kept an eye on one another. Though I caught larger fish he was content to spear the shiner minnows swimming near the surface in the moonlight. He also caught a larger bluegill when it wandered too close chasing the shiners.The heron is a very patient fisherman. He stood in the shallow water on his long stilt-like legs. He kept his long neck in an S shape. By doing this he had a springlike reaction when he jabbed his spear, his long beak, into the water. Once he caught a fish he would often squeeze it several times in its beak while flipping it up to a point where it could swallow it.

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These pictures were taken at my son’s house in Texas. He really captured the colors of these majestic birds well.

 

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I once lived on a ranch in Northern California near Clearlake. On the ranch we had two small ponds full of fish. The pond on the front of the property had hundreds of small catfish in it. I observed that the herons there were specialist in removing the organs from inside the fish. They left the rest of the spiny small fish on the shore for other creatures to feed on. I have never seen this behavior anywhere else. Usually they eat the whole fish in one big gulp.

Did you know these birds are about 4 feet high and have a wingspan of about 6 ft. They usually hunt alone by spreading out around the waterways where they feed. They do, however, enjoy nesting in large groups which adds extra protection by adding a lot of eyes to keep watch on potential threats to their eggs and young. Interestingly, the daddy herons gather the sticks for the nest building but leave the construction of the nest to the mother. The nests are huge and can be found in the tops of trees near the shore. Both parents help in feeding the young. The parents catch and eat fish and then regurgitate it for the babies so it is easier for them to digest. Doesn’t sound pleasant to me, but I’m not a heron. It takes a lot of feeding to raise the young. There are usually around five or six of them in the group. Many enemies can snatch the young if the parents aren’t watchful. These include: crows, ravens, raccoons, hawks, eagles, bears and snakes. The parents take their responsibility to care for the young seriously. The males spend about 10 and a half hours on the nest while the eggs are incubating. The females spend the rest of the time. Once hatched a parent is usually nearby while the other parent is hunting food.

Interestingly, fish is not the only thing on the menu. They also eat small rodents like mice, gophers and voles, frogs, snakes, insects, baby turtles, as well as other smaller birds.

After about 80 days the young are ready to leave the nest to fend for themselves.

The scientific name of the Great Blue Heron is Arden  herodias.

 

Heron Catching and Eating a Catfish:

I can’t help but be amazed at how much care God put into designing these birds and giving them the ability to catch their own food and build huge nests out of sticks. He provided everything they would need to survive and help maintain the balance of the ecosystems where they live. If He cares for them, He surely is able to care for us.

More Pictures Around Spring Lake:


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Beautiful Blue Heron:

Another near relative of the Great Blue Heron is the Little Blue Heron. It has a more purplish hue and more vivid light blue on its face. Below are a couple pictures of these birds capture in pictures at the same place as the Big Blue above. Notice the Bull Frog that the bird is eyeing. He better watch out or he will become lunch!

If you want to learn more about herons, you can do research by reading about them. More fun, however, is to spend some time out watching them for a few hours. Take a pair of good binoculars and you can see a lot more of the action. Be prepared, however, to wait patiently. Why not take a fishing pole along and do some fishing while you wait. See if you can out-fish the amazing herons. 

Catching Bass at Clearlake, CA

One of my favorite places to fish was on my friend’s pier in Lakeport, CA.  I have probably caught more fish there than anywhere else on earth. Though I would often go in the evenings and sit under the stars while fishing for catfish, another fish species was active during the daytime. This was the Largemouth Bass. Sometimes I would use a purple plastic worm and cast it up against the tules and jerk it back toward the dock. The Bass would dart out and strike the worm and I would pull back and set the hook and have a fun battle reeling it in. On other days, like the day when I caught these Bass, they were hungry for night crawlers. There was a Bass tournament going on at the lake that day with a lot of Bass boats buzzing around the perimeter of the lake working the docks and tules. I just sat out on the pier and cast out the worm and waited for a  strike. This was in early spring when the fish are active.

It helps to have a net to land them or you often lose the fish when they shake the hook. With a limit of five fish, you can catch a yummy dinner. Bass meat is white and flakey and has a mild taste. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and it’s hard to beat.

 

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Leaping Leopard Frogs

One day at school, the high school Biology teacher came over and said, “Do you want some frogs for your Creature Feature?” Apparently he had purchased frogs for dissection and they were supposed to be dead and preserved. I decided it would be fun to learn more about the Leopard Frogs and watch how they behaved compared to the Bullfrogs I was most familiar. There were a lot of fun things to learn. In this presentation I will share a few of the things I learned and show you several pictures of these unique creations.

 

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