'Zombie fish' declared EXTINCT 20 years ago found hiding in wetlands

Tiny ‘zombie fish’ declared EXTINCT 20 years ago is found hiding in a country lake – leaving wildlife experts baffled

  • Southern purple spotted gudgeon was declared extinct in Victoria in 1998
  • Dubbed ‘Victoria’s zombie fish’ by regional land and water authority
  • The small fish – which grows to 15cm – is endangered in the rest of Australia 

A ‘zombie’ fish thought to be extinct for over 20 years has been rediscovered in a country Victoria lake.

One of the small, colourful southern purple spotted gudgeon, which was declared extinct in Victoria in 1998, was found in a lake near Kerang in 2019 and authorities set up an investigation which turned up another 79 nearby.

The freshwater species, dubbed a ‘zombie fish’ by Victoria’s North Central Catchment Management Authority, will now be revived through a captive breeding program.

Surprise catch: the southern purple spotted gudgeon was believed to have been extinct in Victoria since 1998, but it was found in a lake in country Victoria in 2019 and investigations have turned up enough of the species to begin a captive breeding program

A southern purple spotted gudgeon aka ‘zombie fish’ looking very much alive

‘Most of our team have worked their whole lives dealing with the decline of threatened or endangered species, so to have an opportunity to be witnessing the opposite is something special,’ said Adrian Martins of Victoria’s Environment, Land, Water and Planning Department.

‘This is a really incredible and exciting find.’

‘We couldn’t believe it when we started finding so many at Middle Reedy [lake],’ Mr Martins said. 

The fish is also extinct in South Australia but endangered in New South Wales and more plentiful in warmer Queensland river systems. 

According to the NSW Department of Industry, the southern purple spotted gudgeon lives in still water, around weeds, rocks and snags in rivers, streams and billabongs, feeding on smaller fish, insect larvae, worms, tadpoles and plants.

Authorities have dubbed the southern purple spotted gudgeon ‘Victoria’s zombie fish’ after its rediscovery

‘We have a great chance now to not only bring the southern purple spotted gudgeon back from the brink, but to help build its numbers and distribution back up to what they were before European occupation, river regulation, and the introduction of pest species,’ Mr Martins said.

Meanwhile, Tasmanian Tiger hunters who are still reeling from the disappointment of having their hopes again dashed that the animal might be found decades after being declared extinct, took hope from news of the ‘zombie fish’ in online groups.

One commenter said: ‘Extinct species can come back.’ 

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