The US Forest Service announced the rare discovery of a new species of sculpin last week, found in river basins in both Idaho and Montana. The new species, identified as the ceder sculpin or Cottus schitsuumsh, was first encountered by Forest Service scientists working out of the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Montana. After study by their colleagues at the University of Montana, researchers confirmed that the ceder sculpin had significant differences from the species it was often misidentified as, the shorthead sculpin.
“Recognizing species of sculpins is a challenge because even distantly related species look very much alike. So rather than taking a morphological approach to identification, we used genetic methods to delineate the species,” Forest Service research fisheries biologist Michael Young said in a release. “It’s really exciting to find a new species of fish. It’s something you might expect in more remote parts of the world, but not in the U.S.”
Sculpins are a small—and some say unattractive—fish with a large head. Biologists say they are important because they are a primary food source for sport fish like trout, and their health provides a litmus test for water quality. Sculpins are most common in cold tributaries where bull and cutthroat trout can be found.
Image courtesy US Forest Service