‘Forgotten’ West Texas Fish Found After Decades Of Misidentification

By on April 13, 2016

There’s not a lot of water in West Texas, but that doesn’t mean there’s too little to support the discovery of a new fish species. Well, sort of new anyway.

Researchers at Texas A&M University have found that a fish species living in the region long thought to be another fish is actually a Notropis megalops, what they have begun calling the West Texas shiner. For years, the fish was identified as being the same as a closeby species, the Texas shiner, or N. amabilis.

The fish species is new for Texas, but it is in no way new to scientific identification. It was first found back in 1856 by a researcher named Charles Frederic Girard, who is credited with documenting many new species.

Despite his prolific identification of new fish, Girard was thought to be a little careless. Texas A&M scientists say that some of his colleagues of the day believed he had even described some fish species more than once. That carelessness may have contributed to the more recent confusion surrounding the fish.

“… I guess you could say we have discovered an ‘old-but-new’ minnow way out in West Texas where nobody expected to find anything new, especially a fish,” said Kevin Conway, wildlife and fisheries scientist at the university, in a statement.

The West Texas shiner closely resembles the Texas shiner (Credit: Kevin Conway / Texas A&M University AgriLife Research)

He and other researchers involved put together a paper documenting the rediscovery of the minnow and the confusion surrounding it. That includes the wrong name it carried that contributed to its incorrect identification in Texas for so long.

To show that the fish was in fact a different species, scientists used genetics and morphology techniques. And then they set out to describe the fish, noting that even though it resembles the Texas shiner, it never breeds with it. This and other factors help to explain just how unrelated the two fish species are.

Unlike the Texas shiner, which is common in Central Texas, the West Texas shiner is restricted entirely to the Rio Grande drainage, has a fragmented distribution and has low levels of genetic diversity. Because of that, it’s already being considered a conservation priority by state agencies.

The paper detailing the find was published in the journal Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters.

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