Environment

A new species of crayfish discovered in Kentucky officially has a name.

GoWild Alpha, a Louisville-based outdoors company, picked MoWild as the common name for the crayfish after winning the naming rights at an auction last year.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources hosted the auction as part of its Kentucky Wild program, which helps generate funding for conservation efforts in the commonwealth. It’s the first time in history the state has sold a species’ naming rights to a public bidder.

Zack Couch, a Kentucky Fish and Wildlife biologist who specializes in endangered species conservation, discovered the MoWild crayfish near Louisville in 2006. He said picking a good common name for species can boost interest in wildlife preservation.

“It’s something that we want to have stick, and we want it to be something that catches the public’s attention,” Couch said. “With this project, we figured what better way to do that than by auctioning off the naming rights. What that has done is obviously gotten some PR for crayfish and crayfish conservation in the state, which is something that doesn’t get a lot of attention.”

When Couch made the discovery, he was researching a different species, the Louisville Crayfish, to determine if it should be listed as endangered. He, and other scientists, believed the then-unknown MoWild species was a Louisville Crayfish at first.

But after more than a decade, researchers confirmed it is genetically distinct from other species in the area.

“When people hear about the discovery of new species, they typically think about a scientist going off into the Amazonian rainforest or somewhere like that,” Couch said. “The interesting thing about this is it’s literally in people’s backyards in Louisville. it shows how much we have left to discover in biological sciences.”

The MoWild crayfish is considered endangered. It’s only been found in small areas of Jefferson, Bullitt and Meade counties.

Couch said invasive crayfish species that could cause the MoWild to go extinct are appearing more in the region. To preserve the MoWild, he said residents should avoid dumping live bait in local waterways.

“When you take all the streams that [the MoWild] is in and condense all of that surface area down, it takes up about as much space on the surface of the Earth as one runway at Louisville International Airport,” Couch said. “When you think of it in those terms, we have a really rare organism here.”

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife will choose the scientific name for the MoWild crayfish. It’s one of more than 60 species of crayfish in the state.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.