COLUMBUS, OH (WCMH) – A rare species of catfish only ever found in a small section of Big Darby Creek has swam its last stream.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week declared extinct the Scioto madtom, a nocturnal, earthy-colored fish measuring just over two inches long, proposing it be delisted from the federal Endangered Species Act.
Native to central Ohio, the madtom’s first sighting was in 1943 by Ohio State University zoology museum curator Milton Trautman – hence the scientific name Noturus trautmani – but it had been endangered since 1975. It was also Ohio’s only endemic fish species, meaning only found in one area.
The exact cause of the madtom’s decline is unknown, the FWS said in its announcement, “but was likely due to modification of its habitat from siltation, industrial discharge into waterways and agricultural runoff.”
“I grew up in Columbus and learned to fish from my father in Big Darby Creek,” Charlie Wooley, the Service’s director for the Great Lakes Region said in a statement, adding the announcement “really stings at a personal level.”
“Despite the best efforts of state, federal and academic scientists, we have been unable to find any evidence that Scioto madtoms still survive,” he said, alluding to intensive surveys from the 1970s through 2019.
The FWS is accepting public comments, data and information through Nov. 29, and anyone can submit evidence that the species still exists. But history is not on their side, as only 18 specimens of the madtom have ever been collected, and the last confirmed sighting was in 1957.
The fish was notoriously hard to find, hiding in daytime under rocks or in vegetation and foraging on the bottom of the stream after dark. It used sensory barbels – catfish whiskers – to prey on plants and small invertebrates.
‘Woody Woodpecker’ and other casualties
The Scioto madtom was among 23 species of fishes, birds, plants and mussels that the FWS recommended for extinction, including the ivory-billed woodpecker, which famously inspired the Woody Woodpecker cartoon character just four years before its last confirmed sighting.
The FWS also declared extinct the tubercled-blossom pearly mussel, found in the Southeast U.S. and the Ohio River, and last seen in 1969.
The protections set forth by the Endangered Species Act of 1973 “came too late” to save these species, the agency wrote, “with most either extinct, functionally extinct, or in steep decline at the timing of listing.”
“With climate change and natural area loss pushing more and more species to the brink, now is the time to lift up proactive, collaborative, and innovative efforts to save America’s wildlife,” said U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in the announcement.
She added the ESA “has been incredibly effective at preventing species from going extinct,” as less than 1% of all wildlife listed have disappeared from the planet.
Ohio’s native catfish, however, was one that likely had long been gone. The two most recent FWS searches in Big Darby Creek – 2009 and 2014 – came to the same conclusion: “(the) Scioto madtom appears to be extinct.”