A Knoxville conservation group is successfully raising a miniature catfish
following its surprise discovery in the upper Clinch River. When biologists
from the University of Alabama called Conservation Fisheries Inc. last
spring and reported that they'd collected two pygmy madtoms, the hatchery,
which specializes in propagating rare and endangered fish species, thought
it was a joke.
"We didn't believe them at first," said J.R. Shute, co-director of
Conservation Fisheries. "The last ones we'd seen were back in the early
1980s. In fact, for awhile we were afraid this species might be extinct."
Considered one of the rarest species of North American fish, the pygmy
madtom measures about 2 inches in length and is known to live in only two
places in the world -- the Duck River in Middle Tennessee and a portion of
the upper Clinch River in Hancock County.
Several months after the pygmy madtoms arrived at the Knoxville hatchery,
Conservation Fisheries received another surprise: The fish were hanging out
under the same rock, indicating they were male and female. To simulate the
pygmy madtom's natural spawning conditions, the biologists put a water pump
in the 55-gallon tank to create a constant rush of water. For nesting cover,
they added mussel shells and pieces of floor tile. A few days later, the
male pygmy madtom was discovered beneath one of the floor tiles, guarding a
cluster of BB-sized eggs. Of that initial cluster of 10 eggs, three hatched.
About a week later, the male madtom was discovered beneath another rock,
guarding a second clutch of eggs. This time, 10 more pygmy madtoms hatched,
giving Conservation Fisheries a total of 13 new baby madtoms.
Shute said the pygmy madtoms reared at the hatchery will eventually be part
of a federal and state reintroduction effort aimed at restoring rare,
non-game fish to their historical range. "The pygmy madtoms look great,"
Shute said. "The young ones are about an inch long -- about as big as the
parents when they were bought in.
"We went back through all the TVA's records trying to find how many of these
guys have been collected ever, and it was about 25 specimens. They are very
difficult to observe and very difficult to collect."
-- Jay DeLong Olympia, WA
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