Florida scientists discover new black bass species

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Scientists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recnently uncovered a new species of black bass — the Choctaw bass, or Micropterus haiaka — in the southeastern United States.

bass0510The Choctaw bass, which was long mistaken for spotted bass, is found in coastal rivers along the Florida Panhandle and southern Alabama.

Sometimes organisms are so similar in appearance that members of two species are considered to be the same one, the agency reported. This was the case for the newest member of the black basses. For decades, biologists and anglers had not realized this bass was distinct from its spotted bass cousin.

FWC scientists first noted a DNA profile that did not belong to any recognized species while testing a bass specimen from the Chipola River in 2007 as part of a broader genetic study of bass.

“We didn’t set out to find a new species,” Mike Tringali, who heads the genetics laboratory at the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, said in a statement. “It found us.”

After confirming the initial discovery, scientists searched for the DNA profile in bass caught in nearby rivers to determine the species’ range. They found that the Choctaw bass inhabits coastal river systems in Alabama and along the western Florida Panhandle, including the Choctawhatchee River.

“We chose the name Choctaw bass because the species’ range overlaps the historic range of the Choctaw Indians,” Tringali said. “As for our recommended scientific name, Micropterus haiaka, ‘haiaka’ is a Choctaw word that means ‘revealed.’ ”

The American Fisheries Society must approve the suggested scientific name for it to take effect.

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