Bigmouth Buffalo: This Record-Breaking Fish Was Alive When Theodore Roosevelt Was President

The North American bigmouth buffalo has broken a longevity record for freshwater fish by living for over 100 years, according to scientists.

But the authors of a study published in the journal Communications Biology warn the species needs "urgent attention" because human activity has hurt population levels.

Also known as the Ictiobus cyprinellus, the fish is native to warm-water lakes and pond-like areas of rivers in Mississippi and Hudson Bay. For hundreds of years, the fish, which can weigh almost 80 pounds, were eaten, but in the past decade it has been caught up in the million-dollar night bowfishing industry, the researchers explained.

The practice is "virtually unregulated and unstudied," said the scientists who wanted to understand more about the fish, which has declining populations. Anglers in 19 of 22 U.S. states where the fish are endemic can catch unlimited numbers of bigmouth buffalo. However, in Canada the fish is designated of special concern by the government.

To find out more about the little understood creatures, scientists studied 386 fish collected from 12 populations in two Minnesota drainages: the Red River Basin of the Hudson Bay watershed, and the Mississippi River Basin. They looked at the growth rings of the fish' otoliths, or part of the inner ear which helps with movement and sensing gravity.

Ictiobus cyprinellus, buffalo fish, stock, getty
An illustration of a buffalo fish: the animal which scientists say has broken a longevity record. Public Domain

Researchers used radiocarbon dating to reveal five fish had lived for more than 100 years. One is thought to be 112 years old. That is more than four times the age experts originally thought the fish could live for: with past studies setting the maximum from as low as 10 to as high as 26 years of age.

Beating around 12,000 other species to the title, the bigmouth buffalo is now believed to be the oldest known freshwater teleost, or ray-finned fish.

The team also found many populations of bigmouth buffalo where between 85 to 90 percent of animals are aged over 80 years old. This indicates there are fertility issues among the fish, which can likely be blamed on dams built in the 1930s that restrict upstream movements, according to the researchers.

Solomon David, assistant professor in biological sciences at Nicholls State University in Louisiana, who did not work on the study, told National Geographic: "A fish that lives over 100 years? That's a big deal."

David told Newsweek the creatures are unfairly dubbed "trash fish," and are considered the same as invasive common carp. "These terms should be dropped from usage," he said.

"This study shows us that understudied, under-appreciated species can surprise us."

He argued: "[The study] further supports the need for considering the negative effects of dam construction on migratory fishes."

In 2017, scientists reported finding a shark believed to be 512 years old. The Greenland shark lives in the waters of the North Atlantic and Arctic, according to the authors of the study, which was published in the journal Science.

This article has been updated with comment from Solomon David.