WEST LIBERTY — What do the names Hatfield and McCoy bring to mind? The famous West Virginia and Kentucky feuding families involve generations of grudges and a colorful history that has been much publicized lately, thanks to the History Channel and other pop culture trends.
But as of today, the rivalry now has another link to West Virginia as West Liberty University researchers, along with biologists from the United States Geological Survey Cooperation ResearchUnit based out of West Virginia University and the Midwestern Biodiversity Institute described a new species of crayfish Cambarus hatfieldi, also known as the Tug Valley Crayfish, in honor of this famous family feud.
“The new species worldwide distribution is limited to the Tug Fork river basin and its tributaries in Southwestern West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky and a small portion of Virginia, though the majority of the animal’s range occurs in West Virginia,” explained Dr. Zachary Loughman, West Liberty University assistant professor of biology.
“Since this is the same region of the famous Hatfield and McCoy rivalry, we thought it was only fitting to name the animal Cambarus hatfieldi, especially since the majority of its range occurs in West Virginia,” Dr. Loughman said. Loughman is known nationally for his work with crayfish, and has named two other species in addition to the Tug Valley Crayfish.
“Initially in 2009 when we first encountered the species I thought it was another species of crayfish not typically found in West Virginia. In the lab I realized it was anatomically different from the species I thought it was, but wanted to make sure. This led us to use genetics techniques to differentiate C. hatfieldi from other species. Genetics results confirmed my hunch.”
Loughman worked with his West Liberty University colleague Dr. Evan Lau, biology student Raquel Fagundo, Dr. Stuart Welsh (USGS) and Roger Thoma (MBI) to describe the crayfish. The results of their work were published in Zootaxa this December, a leading international academic journal dedicated to the description of new species of animals.
Fagundo, who is a college senior in West Liberty’s Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology major, performed much of the molecular genetics work under the guidance of Dr. Lau. Dr. Stuart Welsh, Division of Forestry and Natural Resources, West Virginia University, was a partner with Loughman on this project, as well as a recently completed West Virginia crayfish atlas project that involved sampling crayfishes across the state. Mr. Roger Thoma, Midwest Biodiversity Institute, Hilliard, Ohio, completed fieldwork in Kentucky, and determined the Tug Valley crayfishes distribution in that state as well as Virginia.
“The discovery and naming of the Tug Valley Crayfish is why I became a biologist, and enjoy teaching at West Liberty University,” said Loughman. “This type of research and work is happening daily in the biology labs and classrooms at West Liberty, and we are proud to see the results published.”
Research in Loughman’s lab focuses on crayfish natural history, taxonomy, and conservation biology, with an emphasis on crayfishes that occur in West Virginia. He and his biology students travel throughout West Virginia and the southeastern United States surveying crayfishes. In addition to this work, his research teams study the ecology of high elevation burrowing crayfishes, investigate the systematics of the Cambarus robustus complex, and maintain the West Liberty University Astacology Collection which currently houses 1,500 lots of catalogued crayfishes from across West Virginia and the southeastern United States.