For more than a century, scientists thought the West Texas shiner was just another Texas shiner. Photo by Texas A&M
COLLEGE STATION, Texas, April 5 (UPI) -- Thanks to a case of mistaken identity, the minnow species Notropis megalops, eluded scientists for more than a century, hiding out in the shallows of West Texas.
The West Texas shiner looks a lot like the Texas shiner, Notropis amabilis, and that's what scientists thought it was. But a reanalysis of the fish's genetics and morphology by scientists at Texas A&M confirmed the species distinction.
"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," Kevin Conway, a wildlife and fisheries scientist, said in a news release. "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 and his research partners can't give it a scientific name because the fish already has one.
"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 explained.
While the two fishes look similar, they don't interbreed and are not closely related, genetically speaking.The West Texas shiner has low genetic diversity, as its population is limited to the Rio Grande drainage system and highly fragmented.
"As such, it is already being considered a conservation priority by state agencies," Conway said.
Conway says the findings, detailed in the journal Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters, is a reminder that there still surprising biological discoveries to be made right here in his home state.