Tiny Parasite Swallows Yellowstone

August 24, 2016


There are winners and losers in climate change.  Here’s a story about a tiny winner. Donald Trump likes winners.


Montana wildlife officials shut down almost 200 miles of the Yellowstone and its tributaries to recreation last week to prevent the parasite from spreading to other rivers, or south into Yellowstone National Park.

The white bodies of thousands of dead fish litter many parts of the river, victims of a parasite that causes a fatal illness called proliferative kidney disease, or P.K.D., in mountain whitefish. There have been reports that it is also killing trout, the prized game fish here. The outbreak has not spread to humans or other animals.



“The aroma of rotting fish tells you what we’re dealing with,” Travis Horton, a regional fisheries manager for Montana, said Tuesday as he inspected the riverbanks near here.

Outfitters along the river, used to doing a booming business in August, are shuttered. “We put 100 to 150 people a day on the river,” said Marlie Anderson, a partner at Rubber Ducky River Rentals on Livingston’s main street. Last week, however, “our business pretty much ground to a halt,” she said.

“Everybody’s kind of reeling,” said Roger Nelson, who, with his wife, Mary, owns Nelson’s Spring Creek, a half-mile stretch of prime trout stream that flows into the Yellowstone just south of town. Before the closing, he said, as many as 10 fishermen a day paid $120 each to fish on the Nelsons’ property and booked rooms in their lodge.

This parasite is not the first invasive species to disrupt life on the river. “We got through whirling disease and mud snails, and we’ll get through P.K.D.,” Mr. Nelson said.


The parasite is native to the northern US, Canada and Europe, but outbreaks have not been common. According to FWP, there have been only two isolated PKD outbreaks in Montana in the last 20 years.

Why such a huge outbreak, and why now?


According to the FWP release, the effect of the disease on Yellowstone’s fish populations is exacerbated by other stressors like near record low flows, consistent high temperatures, and the disturbance caused by recreational activities.

We know that these stressors are extreme:

  • The area of the Yellowstone River system that has suffered the PKD outbreak is suffering from extreme drought conditions. According to the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Water Conservation, Sweetgrass, Stillwater, and Yellowstone counties — the primary locations of the closure — are all suffering from extreme drought as of July, 2016.


Billings Gazette:

PARADISE VALLEY — A previously unidentified strain of parasite has grown so prolific in the Yellowstone River that it is overwhelming whitefish, killing thousands and prompting the state last week to close more than 180 miles of the river to all recreation.

“The sheer parasite loading itself is almost shocking the fish, that’s what’s killing them,” said Eileen Ryce, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ hatchery section chief, during a Tuesday press conference along the banks of the Yellowstone River south of Livingston.

Scientists like  Ryce  believe that the parasite bloom may be so large and unprecedented in part because the Yellowstone River is experiencing near-record low flows and high water temperatures.

“We could see varying responses (of the parasite) depending on which river it gets into,” said Travis Horton, Region 3 fisheries manager in Bozeman.

The nearby Madison River, where flows are dam controlled, may be more resilient to the parasite since the water’s temperature is cooler, coming from the bottom of Hebgen Lake, and the flows can be maintained at a steadier rate. Likewise, outbreaks of similar parasites in Idaho that killed whitefish in 2011 and 2012 may have been more limited because some of the streams are dam controlled, Horton said.

Natural History Museum – UK:

We are examining how bryozoans act as a source of a disease in salmon and trout that is increasing in prevalence and severity as a result of environmental change.

Myxozoans are a group of parasites that live inside the bodies of their hosts. They have a complex life cycle, exploiting both vertebrate and invertebrate hosts. The myxozoanTetracapsuloides bryosalmonae develops in freshwater bryozoans and causes adevastating disease called Proliferative Kidney Disease (PKD) when transmitted to salmon and trout hosts.

PKD is emerging as a serious disease in wild and farmed fish populations as a result of environmental change.

We are investigating the drivers of PKD by:

  • characterising bryozoan populations and the dynamics of the myxozoan parasite within this host
  • establishing risk factors associated with disease prevalence, burden in bryozoans and disease transmission to fish

12 Responses to “Tiny Parasite Swallows Yellowstone”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    Sad news. Spent a week in both 1966 and 1984 camping, hiking, and fishing in Yellowstone NP, and also fished the Big Hole and Madison Rivers, although not the stretch of the Yellowstone in MT. I had fished the famous trout rivers of the Catskills in NY, and at times that was like fishing in a hatchery, but the rivers in MT went far beyond that in size and quantity of trout.

    My bucket list includes a desire to go back to that area one last time and fish, but climate change looks to be killing that possibility. Also on the bucket list is scuba diving on a coral reef, which I last did on my honeymoon in Bermuda in 1965—-since the reefs are dying, I guess I need to hurry that up too.

    Nature DOES bat last.

  2. […] August 24: Our post is featured in an article on the river closure on climatecrocks.com, which describes the evolving parasite as a “tiny winner” of climate chance. The […]

  3. sotexguy Says:

    I was not blocked from leaving a reply of three periods.. lets see how this goes..

    Here’s something of what I’ve been trying to post that has been blocked repeatedly.

    ‘Climatecrocks’ has been a regular stop of mine for some time, much good info and news.. Now? it’s very political and promotional..

    Anything Elon Musk does is lauded, his shoes are licked clean daily. It doesn’t matter that the Flamingos in Chile will be extirpated before one fraction of the world is driving his expensive lithium powered cars.. Or that public beaches are closed for his (subsidized) launch facilities.

    And anything Trump does or says is lambasted.. I agree he is not likeable? but the powers that be and especially the Clintons have brought us to where we are today.. What makes anybody? and especially the smart people here? think or believe Hillary represents anything except more and worse of the same policies?


    • greenman3610 Says:

      I don’t block any comments here, unless you threaten to kill somebody or deliberately insult me. In the 6 or 7 years I’ve been running it, I’ve only blocked maybe 2 or 3 abusive posters.
      Because I have, in general, an exceptionally well informed and intelligent readership, following every comment thread need not be high on my list of priorities, and it’s not.
      Apologies to any one that thinks they are being singled out or deliberately ignored, but it’s not a plot against you. I’m busy and over extended – help me raise enough money for an intern and this problem will go away.

    • redskylite Says:

      I just want to say I have been following this site for quite a long time now, I reside on the other Hemisphere and have absolutely no interest (or understanding) in the Republican or any other political parties in the U.S. I find this a very strong site on Climate Science and C.S information, that is why I follow it. I am against Trump being President, not because he is standing on a Republican ticket, but because he rejects climate science, I am sure the Greenman has a similar attitude. I follow Elon Musk because I believe he can make a difference, at least he is trying through industry. The world needs positive action now, not waiting for yet another presidential term or two, especially from the country that can contribute the greatest contribution to fighting AGW, using science and social attitudes.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Redsky—-you say you “….have absolutely no interest (or understanding) in the Republican or any other political parties in the U.S.”?

        May I suggest that you reexamine that position? It actually represents a state of denial about the huge impact that “politics” has on the efforts to fight AGW. And don’t forget that the two hemispheres are connected, and you folks in the southern half can’t escape what goes on up here, and remember too that Abbott and friends have made it worse by contributing a whole lot of nastiness to the pottage that is climate change “policy”. Remember too that AUS and NZ are the most vulnerable of the developed countries—-when the SHTF, they will suffer first (and severely).

        The science is clear on climate change—the only thing standing in the way of the “positive action now” that we all desire is the lack of political will here in the U.S. The fossil fuel interests, the free-marketers, the rich, and the corporate oligarchy have BOUGHT the political process here, and are trying to confuse the issue and delay action until they make all the money they can (so that they can take it to the grave with them).

        If you want to better understand our “politics” here are some books you might read (ones with * first, and Dsrk Money before all others).

        Thomas Frank, 2008
        Steve Fraser, 2015
        Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson
        Thom Hartmann, (Hartmann has written several other good ones)
        Chris Hedges
        Naomi Klein
        *DARK MONEY
        Jane Mayer, 2016
        Chris Mooney
        David Neiwert, 2009
        Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway
        Kevin Phillips, 2002
        Thomas Piketty
        Nicholas Stern, 2009

        • redskylite Says:

          Thanks DOG for the extensive reading list and informative post. I did read a great paperback book in the mid 1960’s about the vast amounts of money, power, greed and corruption in U.S politics and presidential bids, back then, wish I could remember it’s name and author as it was a truly great book. It has stuck in my mind, as it kind of shocked naive me, I don’t know if I have the stomach for politics. I tried it once for a few years as a payed up and very active member of a political party and in the end didn’t like it.

          Anyway in New Zealand with our population of a mere 4 million odd souls, our government has decided to act at last. I have some pride that the enlightened kiwi’s were very early to abolish slavery and have sexual equality in voting.

          I know you will probably view it as bright-siding and it won’t make much difference to NZ as CO2 is a well mixed gas. But to me it is symbolic and I have little other news to cure my “Climate Changes Blues”. If every country recognized the problem we are creating for future generations, (as well as the present generation) and started tackling Anthropogenic Global Warming a bit more enthusiastically the sum of all activities would begin to count. At least it is better than waiting for extinction and following the arch doomsayers (like Guy McPherson).

          This is the first time I have seen our Liberal government acknowledge the existence of AGW, with a national need to address it. . .

          “The government of New Zealand said it formed a special counsel tasked with accelerating the deployment of electric vehicles on the road.

          The government this year launched an initiative aimed at doubling the amount of electric vehicles on the road to 64,000 by 2021. Transport Minister Simon Bridges said a 10-member panel was appointed to help reach that goal.”


    • dumboldguy Says:

      WHAT are you whining about, sotex? WordPress has an occasional brainfart and loses comments (or hold them for days before posting them). Peter is known for having one of the most “liberal” sites around, in that he allows people who are bigger fools than you to post rather ignorant and obnoxious stuff without banning them. Your comments here ARE ignorant and obnoxious, but they do NOT rise to an level beyond making us true “regulars” chuckle and say “JFC! Has another Tom Bates or Russell Cook appeared on Crock?”

      You say that Crock is now “very political and promotional”? LOL Life in America is now very political (in no small part because of climate change denialism) and it’s been “promotional” since the “Mad Men” arrived in the last century to turn us all into consumers.

      “Anything Elon Musk does is lauded”, you say? Peter posts news about Musk because what Musk does IS news that can impact AGW, and a number of us (me included) then attack Musk for being a pie-in-the-sky self-promoter whose plans never quite seem to meet their deadlines. Saying “….his shoes are licked clean daily” here on Crock is insultingly untrue and the worst kind of hyperbolic bullshit (to say nothing of your maundering about Flamingos in Chile and closed public beaches—LOL)

      And “anything Trump does or says is lambasted”, exactly because it should be—-he is the worst candidate EVER to run for the presidency, and you can find many pages of commentary everywhere you look “lambasting” him for his personality disorders, ignorance on issues, and lack of character (much of which commentary comes from Republicans and conservatives).

      “I agree he is not likeable?” Lord love a dozen ducks!!! He is far beyond “not likeable”, and well into the realm of disgusting and despicable!

      In closing, I AM impressed with the insight you show in declaring “the powers that be have brought us to where we are today”. DUH! (and no shit!” Too bad you show your “soTX” politics with “….and especially the Clintons”. Knee-jerk much? Vote for Gohmert, Cruz, and Lamer Smith?

      I will close by saying that I like to fancy myself as one of the “smart people here”, and I KNOW that Hillary, imperfect as she may be in some ways, DOES represent something far better than “…more and worse of the same policies” that the Repugnants have given us over the past 15 years. I suggest that YOU read the books on the list I posted in the reply to Redsky—-you really need to up your game before you spout more inane BS here..

      • Lionel Smith Says:

        …and I KNOW that Hillary, imperfect as she may be in some ways…

        We should all remember, ‘…that in the service…we should always chose the lesser of the two weevils’. A quote found in an excellent series of novels later in a film created from them.

    • redskylite Says:

      On a similar vein I read an interesting article on CBCNews today, about an abundance of life in the great St Lawrence River. . . .

      It’s not all bad (so far), but we do need to turn the dumping of greenhouse gases around, tout de suite.

      There’s no way to know for sure why the fish and whales are migrating to the St. Lawrence, but Morissette said the area is a great habitat for right whales.

      “Maybe they found something here that is suitable for them. Less threats, more food, we don’t know for sure,” she said.

      One explanation could be the warmer water — the water temperature is about two degrees higher than it was a decade ago, she said.


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