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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Smelt It (for the Week of Nov. 11, 2007)

November 11, 2007

Q. Dear Twig: Guess what my uncle eats. Smelt! They're small little fish like minnows. Where do they come from?

A.: I can't say for certain. Scientists list at least 16 different smelt species. They live in many places on Earth. (Smelt do, that is, but scientists do too for that matter.) And many of them get netted, gutted and eaten for dinner (smelt types; probably not scientists).

Smelt, like all fish, are a good source of protein. The Japanese smelt (Japan, Korea), the European smelt (north Atlantic Ocean), the Arctic rainbow smelt (Bering Sea, Arctic Ocean, north Atlantic, north Pacific) and the Atlantic rainbow smelt (Great Lakes, north Atlantic, north Pacific, Mississippi River) number among them.

What's cool about smelt? Well, the chilly northern waters they live in, for one. (Hyuck!) Their cucumber-y scent when they're fresh, for another. (Cool as a cucumber. Get it? Ha-HEE!) And also how people eat them: usually with bones, fins and all. (Oo, crunchy ...)

Props to your uncle as one who smelts it!



P.S. Scientists call the smelt family Osmeridae. Other smelt species: Surf, pond, pygmy, delta.

Notes: Sources included the fishy FishBase, specifically its Osmeridae link,;,; and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Like non-smelt fishes, too? Then [caution: gratuitous promotion ahead] check out Hairy Blenny and the Monkeyface Prickleback, the second-ever Twig Walkingstick collection ($5; cheap!), this one focused on water and all things watery. Find out more at

"Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick," published by The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences - specifically, by the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and Ohio State University Extension, the research and outreach arms, respectively, of the College - is a weekly column for children about science, nature, farming and the environment. It's written at a 4th-grade reading level. For details, to ask Twig a question, and/or to receive the column free by mail or e-mail, contact Kurt Knebusch, CommTech, OSU/OARDC,1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691,, (330) 263-3776. Online at


Kurt Knebusch