Did you know that one of the world’s rarest fish resides in Birmingham? The name of that fish is the watercress darter.
This beautiful, multicolored, two-inch fish lives only in five limestone springs of The Magic City and its suburbs. Last month, Dr. Mike Howell published History of Birmingham’s Endangered Watercress Darter. This publication tells the story of his discovery—one he claims is a personal yet factual account based on photographs, field collections, scientific literature and meetings. Keep reading for all the fun details on Howell’s book, the watercress darter + more.
Dr. Howell taught biology at Samford University for 37 years and Cornell University for two. He explained in an interview with Bham Now that he wrote this book in first person because he has a 59-year relationship with this darter.
“59 years we’ve had this relationship. The fish doesn’t know it, but I do.”Dr. Mike Howell, author, History of Birmingham’s Endangered Watercress Darter
Howell discovered the fish as a graduate student at the University of Alabama and was the one responsible for naming the watercress darter. He had the name officially published in 1965 with Tulane Studies in Zoology.
“I wrote this book because I’m the only one around that knows the history this well. Because I lived it.”Dr. Mike Howell, author, History of Birmingham’s Endangered Watercress Darter
What is the watercress darter?
Roebuck Springs is home to the watercress darter and one of several natural springs in Jefferson County that provides the cool, flowing water needed for darter species to thrive.
For a while, it was only found in Roebuck and surrounding springs. In 2002, Howell and one of his students found the watercress in West Birmingham, over 20 miles from its original location. Those involved in the discovery process recognized that the species populates in cool springs located in heavily suburban areas.
According to Howell, many Birmingham environmental organizations are responsible for the efforts made to protect this species. In 2019, Freshwater Land Trust and partners completed their habitat restoration at Roebuck Springs.
He expressed his gratitude to the environmental organizations who had a hand in the conservation efforts and scientific literature needed to write this book. Organizations such as:
- Black Warrior Riverkeeper
- Freshwater Land Trust
- Cahaba River Society
- Alabama Audubon
- Southern Environmental Center, BSC
- David Glenn, Glenn Springs
You can buy your own copy of Howell’s book and educate yourself on the beautiful Birmingham watercress darter here.
“It really feels like Birmingham’s flagship fish. It gives us something to point to, something we’ve got that no one else has.”Dr. Mike Howell, author, History of Birmingham’s Endangered Watercress Darter