SALMON, Idaho — A tiny fish characterized by a disproportionately large head and previously unknown to scientists has been found in mountain rivers of Idaho and Montana, in what biologists said on Thursday marked a rare discovery.
The new aquatic species is a type of freshwater sculpin, a class of fish that dwell at the bottom of cold, swift-flowing streams throughout North America and are known for their oversized head and shoulder structure.
"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 that has been published in the latest edition of the peer-reviewed journal Zootaxa.
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 never-before-seen fish.
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 the Western red cedars that line streams in the Idaho panhandle where it was first discovered.
In addition to Young, the authors of "Cottus Schitsuumsh, a New Species of Sculpin (Scorpaeniformes: Cottidae) in the Columbia River Basin, Idaho-Montana, USA" include Michael Lemoine, Kevin McKelvey, Lisa Eby, Kristine Pilgrim and Michael Schwartz.