Monday, August 20, 2012

Documenting the Olympic Mudminnow Family Tree

Mudminnow habitat - Connor Creek, Grays Harbor County
This June and July, Fish Biologist Roger Tabor and I hit the highways and dirt roads of western Washington in search of undiscovered and established Olympic mudminnow (Novumbra hubbsi) sites to complete the story of Olympic mudminnow population genetics. That just means we are documenting the Olympic mudminnow family tree to see who is most closely related and where the founding fish for each population may have come from. This type of information will help us down the road as we initiate discussions with our partner agencies and the public about developing a strategic habitat conservation approach for Olympic mudminnow.

Even before we hit the road with our boots and nets, there was a lot of planning and collaborating for Roger to do. He and fellow biologists here at USFWS and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) are working together to research documents and historic data to uncover places where Washington’s only endemic fish were found in the past. This saves us time and money, keeps us from driving to every pond and ditch that looks promising, and allows us to identify land owners so we can ask for permission to access and sample on their property. Once the ground work was done, Roger and I hit the road in search of the mudminnows.

Roger Tabor looking for Olympic mudminnows
in Steamboat bog
Over the course of 5 days, we visited 12 sites and were able to capture hundreds of mudminnows from six targeted localities from Chehalis and along the Olympic Peninsula to Quillayute. We averaged less than a minute per mudminnow (that’s faster than 60 mudminnows per hour!) as we measured, weighed, sexed, and clipped each one. We only took a small bit of tissue from the caudal fin for the genetic clip sample, so we were able to release the mudminnows back to their respective home after a short rest in the "recovery bucket".

Even though our target is genetic samples, I cannot help becoming interested in the many differences and similarities between locations that mudminnows call home. All the sites were in very flat, barely flowing water with vegetation growing in the water and on the edges. We visited shady coastal creeks less than a mile from the ocean, sunny sphagnum bogs, lily-pad ponds, and wetlands at the corner of two busy roads. In some locations, our nets and traps caught up to four other fish species, giant water bugs (which still lurk in my nightmares), dragonfly nymphs, salamanders, frogs, freshwater mollusks (clams and snails), crayfish and more, while in other locations it seemed to be just the mudminnows and us.

For our samples, it’s a quick trip from biologist to geneticist and on to improving our understanding of the history and biology of mudminnow populations, painting a broad picture of how the mudminnows got to be where they are today, and possibly where they might be heading in the future. I, for one, cannot wait to see the results.

---Teal Waterstrat, STEP Student



  1. Did you find any in Connor Creek? Also did you take a look for them in the extensive wetlands along Connor Creek just east of SR 109?

    1. We did sample Conner Creek, but only downstream (west) of the bridge. Addtional locations along Hwy. 109 were sampled, including the junction of Powell Road and 109 and Gillis Slough pond near Hoquiam. The wetlands you mentioned sound like prime mudminnow habitat and likely were part of past studies by Dr. John Meldrim and others in the 1960's and 1970's. Please enjoy more information about the mudminnow at our website:

  2. We have the olympic mudminnow on newman creek road i i see them all the time at night with spotlights unfortnitly 1 year ago there habbitat dried up and i cought over 250 from a small puddle realising them into were had water left but the following winter there was more in the ditch so i feel good about there population here.