Mental Floss

Alewives: a very different kind of wife


I was watching someone's excellent sketch audition reel the other day, and almost completely lost it during one of his requisite animal characters--it was an impersonation of a certain pupating insect, and it was genius. I'll post as soon as it's public. I've had my own regrettable, inadvertent run-ins with theater games, and shape shifting was never my, um, bailiwick. But even if I were really good, I still think I'd have a hard time capturing the essence of the alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus, of the herring family--not a married keeper of an alehouse). The only distinctive thing I knew about them before today was that they have a lifespan of about seven years, which is how I--and various Midwest urban legends--rationalized the droves of dead fish that seemed to flank the beaches of my youth every seventh year. But these mass deaths aren't just the end of the line for seasoned 'wives; the deaths actually take place whenever there's a drastic temperature change in the water. When it's warm, they'll venture into nearshore waters to spawn, but if the temperature drops due to prolonged westerly winds, the die-offs start and there they are lining the lake shores. Most interestingly, though, Colonial Americans harvested them in order to make a high-proof pregnancy (well, purportedly just for labor) brew called "groaning ale." So, bringing it back to the alehouse after all...