‘Forgotten’ minnow rediscovered by AgriLife scientists in West Texas

With no more “swimmable” water than thirsty West Texas has, it’s hard to imagine a fish, even a minnow-sized fish could remain “missing” for more than a century. But due to a mistaken identity, such is the case, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist.

Dr. Kevin Conway, AgriLife Research wildlife and fisheries scientist, and Daemin Kim, a former graduate student of Conway’s, collaborated on the paper “Redescription of the Texas shiner Notropis amabilis from the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico with the reinstatement of N. megalops.”

The paper was published in the journal Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters.

Notropis megalops, the scientific name of the newly discovered fish, is a new species for Texas, though it’s not ‘really’ a new species,” said Conway, the paper’s lead author. “Charles Frederic Girard, an early day scientist who documented many new species, beat us to the find in 1856, but Girard’s discovery has been dismissed since the 1860s.”

Conway said Girard described many new species of fish, amphibians and reptiles from the southwestern and central United States, with most collected during the U.S. and Mexican boundary surveys between 1853 and 1855. But Conway said some of his contemporaries thought Girard was a bit “careless,” saying he sometimes described the same species more than once, which may have led to the current confusion.   

“So I guess you could say we have discovered an ‘old-but-new’ minnow way out in West Texas where nobody expected to find anything new, especially a fish,” Conway said. “Though we can’t give this species a new scientific name, we are proposing the common name of West Texas shiner, though the species is also found in adjacent parts of Mexico.”

Conway said their paper documents the rediscovery of the minnow and the confusion surrounding it. That confusion arose because another minnow, the Texas shiner or Notropis amabilis, and the rediscovered minnow were thought to be one and the same, so it was not recognized as a valid separate species.

But based on Conway’s and Kim’s detailed study using genetics and morphology, they have shown that Notropis megalops and Notropis amabilis are in fact two very different fish and are valid but separate species.

“They do look a lot alike, thus the confusion,” Conway said. “But they do not interbreed, and they are actually not even closely related, although they were considered to be the same thing for the last 120 years or so.

“Finding this minnow just goes to show that we still don’t know everything about the fauna that we share our state with,” Conway said. “Discoveries or rediscoveries can still be made, justifying the need for continuing research in the rivers and streams of Texas.”

Read the rest of the AgriLife TODAY news release for more information. 

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