The tiny Scioto madtom, once a resident of Big Darby Creek but unseen since 1957, has been officially declared extinct. This unfortunate declaration comes from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which removed the Scioto madtom, along with 20 other species nationwide, from its endangered list due to extinction.
The journey to this declaration began when the agency first listed the Scioto madtom as endangered back in 1975. In September 2021, they proposed delisting the species, but it wasn’t until October of this year that the final pronouncement was made, effectively marking the Scioto madtom as extinct.
“It hasn’t been seen for over 60 years,” stated Anthony Sasson, a research associate at the Midwest Biodiversity Institute in Hilliard and a member of the Darby Creek Association.
The Scioto madtom, once a unique inhabitant of the Big Darby Creek, measured a mere 2.4 inches in length and was exclusive to this national and state scenic river. From 1943 to 1945, only four of these tiny fish were spotted, and they were all confined to a 500-foot stretch of the Darby. Then, in 1957, 14 Scioto madtoms were recorded.
But since that time, not a single one has been sighted.
Nate Shoobs, curator of mollusks, crustaceans, and general invertebrates at Ohio State University’s Museum of Biological Diversity, emphasized that although the Scioto madtom was observed only a few times, its extinction is still a cause for concern.
Shoobs explained, “I think that declaring a species extinct should evoke reflection. It should wake people up to the fact that extinction is not something that happened in the distant past.”
Marc Kibbey, assistant curator for fish at the biological diversity museum, further underscored the importance of this declaration. He noted that even as water quality in Big Darby Creek improved during the 1970s, thanks to new federal and state regulations and protections, the extinction of the Scioto madtom serves as a reminder of the ongoing need to safeguard our water resources.
Kibbey expressed, “I would say it is a cautionary tale that if we allow something else to impact the waters, we could have more problems.”
The extinction of the Scioto madtom coincides with efforts by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to establish stronger protections for the Big Darby Creek watershed, especially as development pressures mount in Madison and Union counties.
In June, the Ohio EPA announced plans to extend protections to the creek in Plain City and Madison County, mirroring those in Franklin County. In the latter, the 2006 Big Darby Accord has provided a blueprint for safeguarding the watershed within the county.
Sasson pointed out that seven species of mussels in the Big Darby are currently on the federal endangered list, indicating the significance of these ongoing development-related challenges.