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Venomous fish with painful sting was presumed extinct in Smoky Mountains. It’s back

A venomous catfish long believed extinct is “back from the dead” in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is not so good news for people walking in streams.

“Smoky Madtoms have venomous spines which they use as a defense mechanism against other species that may eat them,” the National Park Service said in an Oct. 14 Facebook post.

Or species that step on them or grab them, experts say.

The spines “can deliver a painful sting” to humans, according to A Natural History Guide to Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Reaction to being “stung by a catfish...varies with the individual but is generally considered equivalent to a bee sting,” The Florida Museum says.

Smoky Madtoms, which grow to less than 3 inches in length, are found in just a few counties in the Little Tennessee River system, along the Tennessee-North Carolina border, the museum says.

The fish, which has “no food value” to humans, was considered extinct until the early 1980s, when small numbers were found by biologists, park officials said. It’s still considered “federally endangered.”

“Since its rediscovery, we have fought to protect these fish and the habitat they depend on,” the park wrote.

Keeping tourists and anglers from moving rocks in streams is considered the best way to help preserve the species, the park says. “Smoky Madtoms rely on clean water and undisturbed rocks to complete their life cycle,” park officials said on Facebook.

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Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering beats including schools, crime, immigration, the LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.
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