Summer 2013

There's a New Bass In Town

Choctaw don’t look much different from a spotted bass, but the DNA is

Article by Steve Rogers

Photo of a Choctaw Bass
A biologist said discovering a new bass species is the biggest thing to happen in his career. (Courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife)

Introducing, the Choctaw bass.

Scientists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have discovered a new species of black bass in the southeastern U.S. The American Fisheries Society must approve the suggested name of the species, but that appears to be only a formality.

“We didn’t set out to find a new species,” said Mike Tringali, the head of the genetics laboratory at the FFWCC’s Wildlife Research Institute. “It found us.”

For decades, biologists and anglers had not realized this bass, which inhabits coastal river systems in the western Florida Panhandle and Alabama, was actually distinct from one of its relatives, the spotted bass.

The discovery process spawned from a 2007 genetic study on the Chipola River over concerns involving the possible introduction of shoal bass to the river.

“During our studies, a DNA signal came up that was different,” Tringali said. “As we set out to determine what it was, it became very clear that it was a look-alike, a mimic.”

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

Discoveries of new fish species are uncommon but not overly rare. But most freshwater discoveries in the U.S. are small darters.

"I would say this would be the biggest thing that has happened in my career,” Tringali said. “It’s definitely a proud moment for everyone here."