Scientists have discovered a new tiny fish with a rather large head in the mountain rivers of Idaho and Montana.
Biologists from the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station described the discovery of the new type of freshwater sculpin, fish that dwell at the bottom of cold streams throughout North America, as a rare one.
“The discovery of a new fish is something I never thought would happen in my career, because it’s very rare in the United States,” said Michael Young, co-author of the species naming of the creature published in the peer-reviewed journal Zootaxa. “It’s something you might expect in more remote parts of the world, but not in the U.S.”
The fish has been named the cedar sculpin for the Western red cedars that are found near the Idaho rivers.
Scientists first encountered the big-headed fish while conducting genetic inventory of fish found in the upper Columbia River basin. At first, biologists were not sure if what they had encountered was a new species.
“Recognizing species of sculpins is a challenge because even distantly related species look very much alike,” Young said. “So rather than taking a morphological approach to identification, we used genetic methods to delineate the species.”
Biologists found that the cedar sculpin differ from other sculpin because of the spiny fractures the come from their heads, which can protect them from predators.
The cedar sculpin eats aquatics insects and are usually no larger than six inches. Their tiny size make them the preferred prey of sport fish such as the cutthroat trout and rare fish like bull throat.
The new discovery proves that Mother Nature still has a few tricks up her sleeve, according to Don Johnson, professor emeritus in fishery biology at Idaho State University.
“It tells you how much we still don’t know about our environment and the interactions of its diverse components,” Johnson said.
Sources: Reuters, USDA