Fish Feared Locally Extinct Spotted in Ohio

The City of Martins Ferry at Sunset
A rare fish was caught in the Ohio River this fall. Photo credit: Kyle Krajnyak / Moment / Getty Images

What’s around five inches, olive yellow with dark blotches and apparently no longer extinct in the state of Ohio?

The answer is the longhead darter, a small-to-medium size fish which was spotted in the state for the first time since 1939, as the Ohio Division of Wildlife announced on Facebook January 6. 

“Why are we so excited? This striking creature, native to Ohio, was thought to be extirpated from the state… that is until fish management crews captured two this fall during Ohio River electrofishing bass surveys,” the division wrote. 

A species is considered extirpated if it is locally extinct in one region or area but still present on the planet at large. Experts thought the longhead darter was extirpated in Ohio because it was last seen in the Buckeye State more than 80 years ago when Milton B.Trautman caught seven in the Walhonding River, which is a tributary of the Muskingum River in east-central Ohio. 

“Fortunately for the longhead darter and for those of us concerned, this species is not extirpated in the Buckeye State,” the Ohio Division of Wildlife wrote. 

That doesn’t mean that the fish is out of hot water. Outside of Ohio, it is present in the Ohio, Tennessee and Allegheny River drainage systems in New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The American Fisheries Society considers it threatened in every state where it lives. 

However, little is known about its population historically. In fact, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List says that it does not have enough data to assess its conservation status.

The fish relies on clear water with gravel or boulder bottoms, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Because of this, the biggest threat it faces is most likely pollution from agriculture, industry and development, the IUCN said.

This means that its return to Ohio is an example of the success of the Clean Water Act, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported. Passed in 1972, the act has led to an improvement in the Ohio River’s water quality.

Thanks to the cleaner water, the fish are “definitely” making a comeback in Ohio, Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife aquatic stewardship program administrator John Navarro told the Cincinnati Enquirer. 

The longhead darter is a carnivorous fresh-water fish with rayed fins. 

“Like most darter species, the longhead darter is quite colorful,” the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation wrote. 

It has a bright olive yellow back with more than 12 squarish splotches. It also has connected splotches along its sides.

“Longhead darters have a series of black blotches down their side that are connected by a broad lateral stripe,” the Guide to the Fish of Ohio wrote. “Their blotches are never taller than they are wide. They differ from the very similar dusky and blackside darters in having a series of 3 dark spots along their jaw line on each side of the head. The largest and most posterior of these often connects with a rather distinct tear drop forming a dark crescent from the eye down to the rear of the jaw.”

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