When Jack Sutton noticed a dense cloud of tiny black specks along his frontage at Yellow Creek Lake in mid-May, he thought it was the start of another algae bloom on the surface of the 151-acre natural lake in southern Kosciusko County.
But these specks were different. Turns out they weren't even plants.
They were daphnia eggs, what biologists call ephippia.
Daphnia are microscopic animals that are a favorite food of small fish. They feed on algae and are a natural part of the aquatic food chain.
Daphnia can produce large numbers of ephippia in the spring when the water is clear, often when adult populations are most dense.
"I was looking outside my window and saw what looked like a film on the water," Sutton said. "I've been here for 40 years and never seen anything like it."
Sutton grabbed a water sample and contacted DNR biologist Jed Pearson.
Like Sutton, Pearson had no clue what the tiny specks were. To him, they looked like little bits of pepper.
"I thought they may have been small seeds, pollen or some form of plant," Pearson said.
Back in the lab and under a microscope, the specks appeared to be encased in a clear protective covering. But Pearson still couldn't identify them.
So he sent a close-up digital photo to Dr. Bob Gillespie at Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne and Dr. Nate Bosch at Grace College.
Both came back with the same response — daphnia eggs — ephippia.
When told the specks were ephippia, Sutton's first response was: "How do you spell that?"
After hearing that daphnia are a prime food item for fish, Sutton added, "No wonder a lot of fish have been hitting the top."
Now if he can only figure out to get them on a fish hook and use them for bait.