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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Lucky Stones, Lucky Fish, Lucky Finder (for the Week of June 28, 2009)

June 28, 2009

Q. Dear Twig: My sister and my friend and I found lucky stones on a beach at Lake Erie. My aunt said they came from the ears of a fish. True?


A. Yep, true. Props to your aunt!

To be exact, the "lucky stones" that you found likely came from a fish called the freshwater drum, a big-eyed, sad-faced, round-tailed fish that people call croaker, sheepshead and silver bass, too.

The drum has an ear on each side of its head. And each of these ears has a part way inside it that scientists call the otolith ("OH-toe-lith").

Otoliths help with balance and hearing. Most fish have them. But the drum's are bigger than most. They look like big, fat, white, shiny buttons, the size of a penny or a nickel or bigger, with the shape of an "L" on one side.

Made out of calcium carbonate, the same stuff in seashells and eggshells, otoliths last for years and years. They last a lot longer than the fish itself. They last long enough for somebody to find them!


P.S. Otoliths get bigger every year. They tell scientists many things: how fast a fish grew, etc.!



"To the fisheries biologist, the otolith is one of the most important tools for understanding the life of fish and fish populations. Growth rings not unlike those of a tree record the age and growth of a fish from the date of hatch to the time of death. ... Virtually the entire lifetime of the fish is recorded in the otolith." So writes Steven E. Campara, Otolith Research Laboratory, Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Nova Scotia, Canada, at

Twig hitched a ride on a passing common loon and is currently vacationing at an undisclosed location in the UNESCO Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve (ttp:// This column first ran on Feb. 25, 2007.


About This:

"Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick" is a weekly feature for children (ages 9+; 4th grade reading level) about science, nature, farming and the environment. Online at

Brought to you by your scientific friends at The Ohio State University — specifically, at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) ( and with Ohio State University Extension ( OARDC and OSU Extension are the research and outreach arms, respectively, of Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Written by Kurt Knebusch of OARDC and OSU Extension. For details, to ask Twig a question, and/or to receive the column free by mail or e-mail, contact Kurt at CommTech, 1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691;; (330) 263-3776.

Buy (or not) Twig's books at (enter "twig walkingstick" in the search box), including his latest, Beware the Flying Steamer Duck! Birds and What They Doo, and his previousest, Hairy Blenny and the Monkeyface Prickleback: Freshwater Life and a Bit 'o Salt — the latter the winner, believe it or not, of a 2008 gold award for writing and the 2008 outstanding professional skill award for writing from the Association for Communication Excellence in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Life and Human Sciences, yeah, we know, go figure. Also available, his firstest, now back in print: Purple and Green and Stinky in Spring (bugs, plants, wildlife, farming).

Kurt Knebusch