This cutthroat trout found in the San Juan River basin looks like any other cutthroat found in southwest Colorado. There is one incredible difference. This and other trout from the area share the same genetic lineage of fish believed to be extinct.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists concerned with the impact of ash flows from the 416 fire discovered the trout in August. CPW biologists removed 58 fish from the area in the event they needed to propagate them for restocking.

Testing of the captured cutthroat found they have a unique genetic lineage linked to southwest Colorado cutthroat trout thought to be extinct. The trout have the same genetic markers as cutthroat found and preserved in 1874 by naturalist Charles E. Aiken near Pagosa Springs.

Aiken's specimen at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. shares genetics with those found last month.

Smithsonian Museum Photo Courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Smithsonian Museum Photo Courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Colorado biologists have been collecting and cataloging cutthroat for decades but didn't have the state-of-the-art genetic science and testing to compare DNA. Now, thanks to advanced genetic testing techniques that can look into the components of an organism's DNA, biologists can accurately identify genetic markers even from specimens over a century old.

The next step for CPW researchers and biologists is to work on testing all cutthroat trout populations in the San Juan Basin in an effort to find any other relic populations.

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