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Newly Discovered Choctaw Bass: Freshwater Species of the Week

Bass fishing in the American Southeast may have just gotten a little bit more complicated. According to a release filed this week, biologists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) would like to name a new species of black bass, the Choctaw bass, or Micropterus haiaka.  In 2007, FWC scientists found an unusual DNA...

The Choctaw bass, a new species? Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife

freshwater species of the weekBass fishing in the American Southeast may have just gotten a little bit more complicated. According to a release filed this week, biologists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) would like to name a new species of black bass, the Choctaw bass, or Micropterus haiaka. 

In 2007, FWC scientists found an unusual DNA profile of a bass collected in the Chipola River. “We didn’t set out to find a new species,” Mike Tringali, who heads the genetics lab at the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, said in the statement. “It found us.”

The Choctaw bass looks very similar to its cousin the spotted bass, so identification currently isn’t easy. The FWC puts it this way: “Choctaw bass can usually be distinguished from other basses by counting scales, fin rays and gill rakers, which are comblike projections inside the gills that prevent particles from collecting on the gill filaments. Foolproof identification, however, requires genetic testing.”

Ongoing study has suggested the Choctaw bass can be found in the western Florida panhandle and coastal river systems in Alabama (see map below).

Choctaw bass range map
Projected range of the Choctaw bass and its closest relatives. Illustration via Florida Fish and Wildlife

“We chose the name ‘Choctaw bass’ because the species’ range overlaps the historic range of the Choctaw Indians,” said Tringali. Haiaka in the proposed Latin name is Choctaw for “revealed,” he added.

Before the species is officially recognized, the American Fisheries Society must approve it.

The FWC is working to determine the new animal’s conservation status. So far, the specimens have been found only in areas that are absent their closest relatives, suggesting that the related species aren’t very compatible.

We’ve written before that the American Southeast has more freshwater biological diversity than any other place on Earth, so it’s perhaps not surprising that a new species of fish would be discovered. Unfortunately, the region has also seen significant threats in the form of pollution, development, dams, and over-harvesting.

Some 50 known species have already gone extinct there, and this latest finding suggests there may be some as of yet undescribed.

 

Brian Clark Howard is an Environment Writer and Editor at National Geographic News. He previously served as an editor for TheDailyGreen.com and E/The Environmental Magazine, and has written for TheAtlantic.com, FastCompany.com, PopularMechanics.com, Yahoo!, MSN, Miller-McCune and elsewhere. He is the co-author of six books, including Geothermal HVACGreen Lighting and Build Your Own Small Wind Power System.

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