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Roanoke Logperch Discovered In North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. – A federally endangered fish thought to live only in two river basins in Virginia was recently discovered in North Carolina.

Photo NC Wildlife Resources Commission
The Roanoke logperch, one of the largest darters in the Perch family, was thought to live only in portions of the Roanoke and Chowan River basins of Virginia. However, biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, the Division of Water Quality and the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences found two populations of the fish in the Mayo and Smith rivers earlier this summer — discoveries that have sent ripples of excitement through biologists who are more likely to see fish disappear, than re-appear, in a river basin.

“In a time when we’re seeing a major decline in aquatic critters, we get really excited when a rare fish is possibly expanding its range,” said Chris Wood, aquatic biologist with the Commission. “We think this fish once occurred in most of the Roanoke and Chowan basins of both North Carolina and Virginia but has declined over the past century.

“What we think we see now is a remnant of the fish’s original distribution.”

The search for the Roanoke logperch started by accident in 2007 after Duke Power biologists happened upon a lone specimen while sampling the Dan River, just downstream of the Smith River, near Eden. Another sampling effort later in 2007 produced only one more specimen leading biologists to hypothesize that both fish were either washed downstream from Virginia’s Smith River population during a previous high-flow event or that drought conditions may have caused the two fish to move downstream.

“The discoveries left us with two unanswered questions: Where did these two fish come from? And could there actually be a reproducing population of the Roanoke logperch in North Carolina,” Wood said. “Further surveys were needed to scratch that scientific itch.”

That itch was scratched in the most exciting way possible in early July when biologists found not one — but two — populations of Roanoke logperches. On July 8, they captured three logperches while surveying a short reach in the Mayo River, a large tributary of the Dan River in Rockingham County. The three fish were exciting finds because no records existed of the fish in either the Virginia or North Carolina portions of the Mayo River.

A few weeks later, biologists found 10 Roanoke logperches in the Smith River in Rockingham County, ranging in size from 2.5 inches to 7 inches.

“The size range of the fish found in the Smith River indicates that several age classes exist, which means that there is most likely a reproducing population of Roanoke logperches in the river,” Wood said.

Now that at least two populations of the federally endangered Roanoke logperch have been verified in North Carolina, biologists will look closely at the two populations to determine how extensive and healthy they are. They’ll also look at other rivers with similar habitat for more undiscovered Roanoke logperches.

Garnering as much information as possible about these populations and their preferred habitat will aid biologists in future management decisions and help guide the restoration of this rare fish.

“Usually when we study a federally listed animal we are ‘chasing a ghost’ by going to areas where the animal once occurred but now is missing or extremely hard to find,” Wood said. “Finding a new population, and in this case two, is extremely exciting because it means there are more of that species than we thought, and maybe the conservation efforts at the state and federal levels are paying off.

“Our priority goal for all federally endangered species is to get them off the ‘list’ through restoring their populations.”


Facts about the Roanoke Logperch (Percina rex)

  • The largest member of the darter family (Percidae), the Roanoke logperch averages about 8 inches in length as an adult.
  • The Percidae family has the largest number of species of freshwater fish in North Carolina; only the minnow family (Cyprinidae) has more species.
  • The Roanoke logperch is associated with benthic, or bottom, habitat.
  • It is a striking yellowish-green fish with black vertical stripes. Males tend to have beautiful red, black and greenish-striped dorsal fins.
  • The Roanoke logperch lives in shallow streams with rocky substrates.
  • It has a conical-shaped snout that it uses to flip over rocks and forage on whatever happens to be under them, such as bugs and small crustaceans.


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