Malformed fish exist, but they don't usually survive long

A 9-inch brown trout landed by Augusta flyfisherman Sean Burke turned out to have two mouths. Scientists say some malformed fish have extra fins or even two heads.

My recent column about a Screven County nine-pointer that turned out to be a rare antlered doe stirred lots of reader interest.


In fact, it turns out that whitetails aren’t the only species that can show up with abnormalities.

Just ask Sean Burke, one of my favorite outdoor guys here in Augusta.

He left me a voice mail the other day to tell me about his unusual catch while flyfishing along the Doe River in Tennessee’s Roan Mountain State Park.

He was casting a black ant fly – and soon coaxed a strike from a nine-inch brown that lay hidden among the shadows and riffles.

When he landed the trout, he realized something was different.

“It had two mouths.”


Just below its typical mouth was a second one, complete with lips, teeth and jaws, that opened like a trap-door in the fish’s chin.

“It had two sets of functional gills, and two mouths,” he said. “So I guess not only could it breathe better, but it could eat twice as much.”

Burke brought his mutant fish home and froze it, figuring it might warrant preservation, further examination or even a trip to the taxidermist.

I’d never heard of such a thing, so I called regional fisheries supervisor Jeff Durniak of Georgia’s Wildlife Resources Division, who has seen more trout than anyone I know.

Deformed trout, he told me, aren’t terribly unusual and are typically created by flaws during fertilization or stresses during the egg and early development stages.

“We’ve seen about everything,” he said. “Sometimes there are extra fins, even two heads.”

There’s even a pug-headed deformity that can be caused by oxygen deficiencies, he said. “They have a flat, blunt forehead, just like ocean dolphin.”

The common theme among malformed fish, however, is that they rarely survive or grow.

“Nature culls them out,” Durniak said. “It’s survival of the fittest.”

The fact that Burke’s two-mouthed brown trout reached 9 inches was surprising.

“But if there was a deformity that a fish could live with, I guess having two mouths might be a plus,” he said.

Burke showed me the photos of his fish, but I thought it might be fun to stop by his house to see it in person.

When he searched his freezer, though, it was nowhere to be found.

Who would discard a frozen, mutant trout with two mouths?

Burke isn’t naming any suspects, but my wife told me if she ever found something like that in our freezer, it would get pitched quicker than expired cottage cheese.

He was appropriately disappointed.

“Yep, there goes my chance to be on David Letterman.”


TREE PLANS: Christmas is still a ways off, but the Corps of Engineers is already sharing its plans to collect and reuse holiday trees after everyone else is finished with them.

The Corps will accept used, real Christmas trees (not artificial trees) for recycling Dec. 20 through Jan. 8. The recycled trees will be placed in various locations throughout the lake to enhance fish habitat.

Trees can be dropped off at Riverside Middle School at 1095 Furys Ferry Road in Evans.

All decorations must be removed from the trees before dropping them off.

The corps has held the tree recycling program for more than 20 years at Thurmond Lake. Last year, volunteers collected between 1,000 and 1,200 trees.