Saving endangered Ozark Cavefish

The Ozark cavefish is registered as endangered in Missouri, and is federally registered as threatened. It is found in Oklahoma, Missouri, and Arkansas.

“In Missouri, Ozark cavefish are located in Jasper, Newton, Lawrence, Greene, Barry, Stone, and Christian counties,” said Rick Horton, fisheries management biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Neosho office, and Ozark cavefish recovery leader.

These cavefish live underground in the spaces of groundwater and are very hard to be observed. The Ozark cavefish is one of three cavefish species found in Missouri and the only species in southwest Missouri. The other two species are the southern cavefish and the spring cavefish.

Declining water quality in cave habitats, declining groundwater levels, and habitat disturbance are considered the main threats to Ozark cavefish populations.

Ozark cavefish at Ben Lassiter Cave, McDonald County March, 1995
Ozark cavefish at Ben Lassiter Cave, McDonald County
March, 1995

Ozark cavefish have always had a strong connection to unpolluted drinking water in southwest Missouri. They were know as “spring keepers” or “well keepers” to the early settlers of the state who would commonly find these fish in their buckets when drawing water. They considered the fish a sign that the groundwater was safe to drink.

In Newton County, they are up and down Shoal Creek, Buffalo Creek, and Lost Creek.

“Ruth Hoppin, a naturalist, came to Sarcoxie for health issues in the late 1800s and she saw little white fish in the ground,” said Horton, adding that’s the first recorded sighting of the Ozark cavefish.

The scientific name for the Ozark cavefish is Amblyopsis rosea. In Missouri, there are 21 sites where the Ozark cavefish can be found, including cave streams and springs.

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