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Date: January 29, 2014

Scientists discover new fish species, the Cedar Sculpin

Cedar sculpin (left) and the shorthead sculpin (right)
Illustration of a cedar sculpin - Click to enlarge/download

Following genetic surveys of fishes in the upper Columbia River basin, scientists from the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station suspected the presence of several undescribed species of sculpins. Colleagues at the University of Montana confirmed these suspicions after conducting morphological studies, which revealed subtle but consistent differences between one of these “new” species and the previously suspected species, the shorthead sculpin. Further genetic tests at the Wildlife Genetics Lab in Missoula, Mont., corroborated these results, which led to the description of a new species of fish in the northern Rocky Mountains.

The new species was discovered in the Coeur d’ Alene and St. Joe River basins in Idaho and part of the Clark Fork River basin in Montana. Because the current range of this fish overlaps the historical homeland of the Coeur d’ Alene Tribe, the scientists consulted with Tribal elders to select a scientific name for the new species. This led to the naming of the species as Cottus schitsuumsh (s-CHEET-sue-umsh), the Cedar Sculpin. Translated, Schitsu’umsh means “those who were found here” and is the name for the Tribe. The common name refers to the western redcedar, a tree often found in streamside stands in this region.

Sculpins, often the only small fish found in headwater streams, provide two significant resources – an important food source for sport fish such as large trout, and an indicator of water quality. This particular species is common to abundant in cold tributaries that also support Westslope Cutthroat Trout and Bull Trout.

“Recognizing species of sculpins is a challenge because even distantly related species look very much alike. So rather than taking a morphological approach to identification, we used genetic methods to delineate the species,” Forest Service research fisheries biologist Michael Young said. “It’s really exciting to find a new species of fish. It’s something you might expect in more remote parts of the world, but not in the U.S.”

Read more or download a copy of the report published in Zootaxa: Cottus schitsuumsh, a new species of sculpin (Scorpaeniformes: Cottidae in the Columbia River basin, Idaho-Montana, USA) at

The Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) is one of seven regional units that make up the U.S. Forest Service Research and Development organization - the most extensive natural resources research organization in the world. The Station maintains 12 field laboratories throughout a 12 state territory encompassing the Great Basin, Southwest, Rocky Mountains, and parts of the Great Plains, and administers and conducts research on 14 experimental forests, ranges, and watersheds, while maintaining long-term databases for these areas. RMRS research is broken into seven science program areas that serve the Forest Service as well as other federal and state agencies, international organizations, private groups, and individuals. To find out more about the RMRS go to You can also follow us on Twitter at


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Top, side and bottom view of a male cedar sculpin
Top, side and bottom view of a male Cottus schitsuumsh (cedar sculpin) - Click to enlarge/download
A subtle difference in the lateral line distinguishes the cedar sculpin (left) and the shorthead sculpin (right)
A subtle difference in the lateral line distinguishes the cedar sculpin (left) and the shorthead sculpin (right) - Click to enlarge/download