Late summer sun filtered through the thick and lofty boughs of the western red cedars that hung over this small stream. Pools occasionally formed in the downstream sides of the buttress roots. Searching for the Idaho Giant Salamander, many of the pools were without the amphibian, but many contained small, dark ancient-looking fish. I assumed they were horthead sculpins based on the habitat and locations, and today I learned that I may have been mistaken. An error of identification that I am happy to make.
Scientists at the University of Montana and the US Forest Service announced the discovery of the Cedar Sculpin, a new species of fish native to mountain streams of Idaho and Montana. A new species being described in my own neck of the woods is such a rare occurrence that I was slightly agape with astonishment. Recent species discoveries tend to be in far-flung remote places that are difficult for science to explore. Michael Young, one of the lead researchers, has this to say about his discovery, “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.”
The Cedar Sculpin looks very superficially like the shorthead sculpin. However, when the research begin to pay close attention to presumed shorthead sculpins from the area, they found significant morphological differences. The genetic study sealed the fact that tributaries of the Spokane River basin in Idaho and the middle Clark Fork River basin in Montana had within their waters a new species of sculpin. It appears that the Cedar Sculpin and the parent population of the shorthead sculpin have been geographically separated for thousands of years, resulting in the isolated population drift into a new species. A new piece of biological diversity has been added to our knowledge. Now it is up to us to conserve of the habitat from this unique endemic species.