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New crayfish discovered in W.Va.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The scientific name of a newly discovered crayfish conjures memories of one of history's most famous feuds.

Researchers have named the reddish-orange crustacean Cambarus hatfieldi for the Hatfield family that, according to legend, executed three McCoy brothers near a creek where the crayfish is found.

"One of the places it's really common is on Mate Creek near Red Jacket, right in the heart of Hatfield-McCoy country," said Zac Loughman, the biologist who first suspected the 4 1/2-inch-long critter might be a new species. "As a tried-and-true West Virginian, I knew its name would have to be 'hatfieldi.'"

Loughman has been collecting and identifying crayfish since his days as a Marshall University graduate student. Three of his specimens turned out to be new species -- the Greenbrier crayfish, found in the upper Greenbrier River watershed; the Coalfield crayfish, found in the Guyandotte and Big Sandy rivers; and the Tug Valley crayfish, the colloquial name for C. hatfieldi.

He collected his first Tug Valley specimens in 2009.

"When I first collected one, I noticed something different in the shape of its claw in relation to its carapace," said Loughman, an assistant professor of biology at West Liberty University. "It looked like [the Angled crayfish], which is found just across the ridge in [Virginia's] Clinch and Tennessee River systems. My academic brain said it should be that, but my gut said it might be something new."

His gut was right.

"We compared the Tug Valley specimen's morphology and genetics with those of the animal from the Clinch, and we found we were dealing with a new species," Loughman said.

Loughman and four colleagues -- fellow West Liberty professor Evan Lau, student Raquel Fagundo, Stuart Welsh of the U.S. Geological Survey and Roger Thoma of the Midwest Biodiversity Institute -- collaborated on the paper that described the new crayfish to the rest of the scientific world.

The discovery became official when the paper was published in Zootaxa, an international academic journal that focuses on new species.

Biologists had collected and identified crayfish from the Tug River watershed before, but had never noticed the subtle differences between more common species and the species that now carries the valley's name.

"There were records of two species of crayfish interspersed throughout the region, the Teays River crayfish and the Big Water crayfish," Loughman explained. "They look similar. Telling the difference comes down to bumps on claws and the shapes of their [noses]."

Loughman wondered why two species were reported for the Tug River, since it is unusual for more than one species to occupy a specific niche within an ecosystem.

When Loughman and Welsh collected crayfish specimens in the Tug and its West Virginia tributaries, they at first thought they were dealing with the Big Water species. Thoma, who simultaneously collected species from Kentucky tributaries of the Tug, believed the same thing.

Loughman's suspicion and, later, his discovery that they were dealing with a separate Tug Valley species cleared up the picture. 

Naming the new species after the Hatfield clan might have turned a few strait-laced scientific heads, but Loughman said the proposal sailed through the peer-review process without a shred of resistance. The Tug Valley crayfish, Cambarus hatfieldi, officially took its place in the scientific lexicon when the group's paper was published in Zootaxa on Dec. 19.

Loughman's next project -- if funding comes through -- will focus on the Teays Valley area between Charleston and Huntington, where two yet-unnamed species of blue crayfish are known to exist.

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.

 

 

 

 

 


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