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Friday, February 23, 2024
Feb. 23, 2024

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Off Beat: Stumptown scud doesn’t live here, but its cousin does

‘Cool little critters’ represent more widespread species than the one native to Portland

By , Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter
2 Photos
A &quot;Stumptown scud&quot; (Ramellogammarus similimanus) -- a mysterious, shrimp-like creature whose entire population lives in and around Portland.
A "Stumptown scud" (Ramellogammarus similimanus) -- a mysterious, shrimp-like creature whose entire population lives in and around Portland. (Michael Durham/Courtesy of the Oregon Zoo) Photo Gallery

It may not be a Stumptown scud, but it’s ours.

Last week, some tiny river dwellers made a big splash — in the media, at least — when the Oregon Zoo issued a news release. It was an update on the Ramellogammarus similimanus, nicknamed (for obvious reasons) the Stumptown scud.

DNA research indicates that the crustacean only lives in the immediate area around Portland, known in an earlier era as Stumptown.

So, does that immediate area include Vancouver?

Sadly, no, said Bill Gerth, an Oregon State University research associate who is leading the study. But that doesn’t mean the Vancouver area is Ramellogammarus-less. One of the scud’s cousins lives on our side of the river, at Columbia Springs Environmental Education Center in east Vancouver.

“I was out at Columbia Springs in 2012. We thought it would be an ideal spot” for scud-hunting, Gerth said. However, “The species that we found there was Ramellogammarus oregonensis, a more widespread species found in Oregon and Washington.

“They’re cool little critters themselves — don’t sell them short — but not that super-local,” having been found as far north as the Chehalis River.

Research has changed since Gerth bagged that specimen. Last week’s update was based on samples of river water.

According to the Oregon Zoo’s news release, aquatic organisms leave trace amounts of DNA in the surrounding water. Scientists collect water samples and bring them back to a lab, where the DNA is extracted. A machine can find evidence of scud as well as other river dwellers, such as trout and crawfish. It can even estimate the size of the scud population at that collection site.

“A lot of people don’t pay attention to these little guys,” Gerth said.

With so many high-profile fish species in the Columbia River system, it’s easy to overlook a creature that’s about the size of the nail on your little finger — particularly one that likes to hide under the decaying organic matter it’s eating.

“And some people consider anything ‘bug-y’ to be kind of icky. But they’re the iconic invertebrates of the Pacific Northwest.”

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.

Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter