This scientist searches streams for one of Missouri’s rarest fishes.
Doug Novinger floats facedown in the water, breathing through a snorkel while he scans the pebble-strewn stream through his diving mask. He spies a small fish darting between the rocks, and with a bubbly sweep of his arm, deftly scoops it into an aquarium net.
The pinkie-sized fish, a Niangua darter, is as brilliant and rare as a gemstone. With an orange belly, bluish-green stripes, red spots and two jet-black dots at the base of the tail, it looks like you should find it swimming around coral reefs in the Caribbean. But Niangua darters are found only in Missouri. Part of Doug’s job is to keep tabs on how these rare fish are faring.
So from May to September, Doug, fellow biologist Jamey Decoske and their crew of researchers—they call themselves “Team Niangua”—don snorkels to search streams for darters. To avoid clouding water ahead of them, they work their way upstream by pulling from rock to rock or swimming like mad. It’s thrilling, exhausting and full of surprises.
“I’ve stuck my arms in leech nests and had to pull off dozens of bloodsuckers,” says Doug.
Despite leeches, Doug thinks he has the world’s best job. “I get to swim in beautiful Ozark streams, see tons of amazing animals and study one of the world’s rarest fishes,” he
Nichole LeClair Terrill