The new aquatic species is a type of freshwater sculpin, a class
of fish that dwell at the bottom of cold, swiftly flowing streams
throughout North America and are known for their oversized head and
"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 a scientific description of the
find published in the latest edition of the peer-reviewed journal
Scientists with the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research
Station in Montana first encountered the new species while
conducting a genetic inventory of fish found in the upper Columbia
River basin, said Young, also an agency fisheries biologist.
At first, researchers were not sure they had stumbled on a
But genetic testing and examination of key physical differences
proved that the specimens in question found in the Coeur d'Alene and
St. Joe rivers in northern Idaho and in a stretch of the Clark Fork
River in neighboring Montana were distinct from known varieties of
the bottom-feeding fishes.
The fish has been named the cedar sculpin, after Western red cedars
that line streams in the Idaho panhandle where it was first
Cedar sculpin differ from more common species by variations in spiny
structures that sprout from their heads, which may protect them from
predators, and the configuration of a line of tiny pores along each
side of the body which fish use to detect movements and compounds in
their environment, biologists said.
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The big-headed fish, which eat aquatic insects and are typically no
larger than six inches, are known for their ill-favored looks, but
Young said the fish's merits are more than fin deep.
Sculpin are the preferred prey of prized sport fish like cutthroat
trout and rare fish like bull trout, and anglers for nearly a
century have lured trout with a fly-fishing pattern that imitates
Don Johnson, professor emeritus in fishery biology at Idaho State
University, said the discovery of a new species shows Mother Nature
still has a few tricks up her sleeve.
"It tells you how much we still don't know about our environment and
the interactions of its diverse components," he said.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; editing by Steve Gorman)
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