SciSun: Chubby Reign   Leave a comment

A species must be in very, very precarious circumstances to be placed on the Endangered Species list. Rather than an honor, the list includes only those plants and animals that through no fault of their own have become rare; or are the unfortunate residents of an environment that is now in danger of disappearing and the list is literally the final stop on a path to extinction. So it’s even more rare when a species recovers and is removed from this ill-fated list. Today, we can congratulate one little fish that beat the odds and, while not exactly thriving, has managed to step (or rather, paddle) away from the edge.

The Oregon chub (Oregonichthys crameri) is a small silver, white and olive-colored minnow most people would overlook and not give a second thought. Living only in the usually calm, often stagnant floodplains formed in the Willamette River Basin of western Oregon, this less than three-inch guppy has survived for generations by peacefully inhabiting the limited confines of small ponds, marshes and swampy environments with water only a few feet deep; ‘hibernating’ in the undergrowth and pond-side detritus; living the best life a little fish could live considering its’ world is limited between the banks of about 200 miles of shallow water. Over time, though, these resilient – and, it turns out, incredibly buoyant – fish have learned to ride the waves of infrequent floods that wash through the valley, moving the fish into new environments; creating new wetlands; and re-distributing the population. It’s not known if this relocation also requires the younger fish to transfer into new schools.

So all was well with the Chub (other than what sounds like a boring lifestyle), until human development diverted streams and filled in marshes; flood control projects and dams ended, or greatly reduced, the periodic flooding; expanded farming, run-off and chemicals harmed native plants and the chub, themselves; and the introduction of non-native species such as bullfrogs; bass; and mosquito-fish which became formidable predators to the chub.

Oregon State Fish biologist Brian Bangs enthusiastically searches for chubb while wading in the shallow waters of a remote channel.  He's also thankful he didn't decide to be a piranha researcher.

Oregon State fish biologist Brian Bangs enthusiastically searches for chub while wading in the shallow waters of a remote channel. He’s also thankful he didn’t decide to be a piranha researcher.

A little fish can only take so much, and in 1993 the chub was added to the Endangered Species list. With only eight known scattered and isolated populations totaling a few hundred individuals, the future for this little fish – and the unique environment it calls home – looked bleak. But through hard work, careful planning and some good luck, last month the Oregon Chub was officially removed from the list of threatened and endangered species, along with a determination of the habitat that’s critical for the fishes’ continued success has recovered to the extent that, with responsible stewardship, the Chub should now be out of danger. Other than good news for the Chub – who, we are certain, doesn’t quite understand anything about an endangered species list but is very happy that his home is now unpolluted and there seem to be more chubby-friends to associate with and the pond is generally bullfrog-free – this one little step, by one little fish, demonstrates that endangered can, in the best situations, not be the beginning of the end – but just the start of a second chance.

The Oregon Chub is the first fish to ever recover and be removed from the Endangered Species list. While significant, this doesn’t necessarily make this little guy king of fishes (and it would almost impossible to find a small enough crown, anyway); but it does make him the reigning member of a very small community of all species that have beat the odds and recovered from the edge of going away, forever. There are over 16,000 species officially listed as endangered – including the ironically named Common Thresher Shark (Alopias vulpinus), unfairly targeted for hunting because people believe all sharks are bad and must be killed; and the oldest fish species known to exist, the African Coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae), one of the last members of a group that has been on earth for 65 million years. So the story, here, is about more than one species of minnow that managed to pull through; it’s about how, as the saga states, sometimes it’s the smallest and least known that leads us forward toward a greater good.


Michonne Says: That’s a nice story about a little fishie. I don’t know much about fishies, and marmots almost never go near any ponds and marshy-swamps and other places because you never know what might be hiding in there – but I don’t know why the chubby fish lets others call him that name. He’s probably not that chubby at all, maybe he’s just big boned.

Posted March 8, 2015 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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