By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Last Thanksgiving, I discussed the range of food references we have found in collectors’ field notes. I think food makes a great topic given the traditions of the holiday. This year a new aspect of food presented itself as a topic: bait.
The field notes we catalog frequently include details about collecting methods. If the collector is using traps, they might record the types, quantity, and location of traps in a given collecting area. Sometimes collectors even include hand drawn maps of trap placement or detailed sketches about their construction. Collectors also sometimes discuss the type of bait they use.
My curiosity with this topic was born the day I read the following entry by Caleb Kennerly in Puget Sound with the Northwest Boundary Survey, 1857-1861:
13. Starfish and mouse. Steilacoom, WJ. July 4. The former taken with hook in ten fathoms of water, and it had swallowed the small piece of fresh mutton with which the hook was baited.
I have no idea how he came to use mutton as bait, but I made sure to keep my eye out for more information about bait in field books. I found a few references here and there; the information was often sparse, and what little I did find left me intrigued and confused. A few collectors made notes. Alexander Wetmore listed a recipe for bee bait in his field book for August 1902 - April 1903 when he lived in North Freedom, Wisconsin. Frederick True and Daniel Prentiss, Jr., wrote that they used bait composed of anise, oatmeal, and bacon during summer of 1897 in Hancock County, Maine. So now I had references to using mutton and anise, two ingredients I’ve never associated with bait.
I didn’t find any consistent listings or descriptions of bait until I began cataloging in the Division of Mammals. I found a lot of information in field books on bait choices, especially for two projects during the 1960’s: Smithsonian Venezuela Project (SVP) and Smithsonian African Mammal Project (AMP). After working on these two collections I came up with two theories to explain the mutton and anise.
My first theory is that collectors often use whatever is readily available. I found several references in AMP field books to purchasing bait ingredients at local markets. This might explain Kennerly’s use of mutton to catch a starfish. The second theory developed because, unlike the entries in nineteenth century field books, entries from the 1960’s I have read tend be more expansive about what bait ingredients are used and why.
Choices usually seem to involve some sort of grain, fruit, and/or protein. During AMP, collectors of mammals used combinations like: sundried fish; rice-oatmeal mixture, flavored with sardine sauce; banana; or rice and banana mixture. Frederick True and Daniel Prentiss, Jr., were using the same kind of combination; however their listing of anise probably related to anise oil. A SVP participant listed using fresh ripe banana on some old peanut butter, oats, and anise oil as bait.
Now that I’ve laid the background, below are some bait recipes I’ve found. A lot of these remind me of breakfast. As of yet I have not found one involving desserts, but I’m holding out hope.
- September 4, 1962 – Madagascar: traps baited with sun-dried fish
- November 7, 1962 – Madagascar: traps baited with a rice-oatmeal mixture, flavored with sardine sauce.
- January 31, 1963 – Mauritius: traps baited with banana
- April 4, 1963 – Madagascar: traps baited with rice and banana mixture
- July 3, 1965 – West Pakistan: trap baited with white oats, 2 eggs, ghee, parmesan cheese and water. [The collector stated in his journal that he used this combination because he couldn’t find any bananas.]
Whatever food graces your table this year, all of us at the Field Book Project wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!