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The Tale of Two Minnows: The Discovery (and Rediscovery) of the West Texas Shiner

Texas A&M Agrilife Extension
One scientist thought he'd found an undiscovered minnow in Texas, but taxonomist Charles Girard had beat him to it nearly 150 years before. You can see the full interactive comparison of the two minnows below.

When you think about West Texas you usually don’t think about aquatic life. But that’s exactly where some researchers have discovered a new kind of fish – or, really, rediscovered.

If you look at a picture of the Texas Shiner and the West Texas Shiner – those are fish, not beers – it’s really hard to tell the difference. They’re both small silvery kinds of minnows.  For decades, scientists thought they were the same fish.

That’s until Texas A&M Professor Kevin Conway came along. Conway’s other title is Curator of Fishes at Texas A&M Research and Teaching Collections, meaning he oversees maintenance of the school’s fish specimens.

A while ago Conway was looking at a minnow from out in West Texas and thought he had discovered a new species. But it turned out, that wasn’t quite the case.

“We found out that Girard had beat us to the punch,” Conway says.

He’s talking about taxonomist Charles Girard, who had documented the species back in the 1850s. But since then, the West Texas Shiner had been conflated with the regular old Texas Shiner. They just look so similar. Conway made this discovery while going over some of Girard’s original literature.

“Well, it was maybe disappointing for a minute, but I think it’s important that Girard gets the credit," he says.

And Conway says this rediscovery shows how there are still many new species to be found, or, in some cases, found again.

Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.
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