When Debbie Geddes was reeling in her line, she knew she had a good catch. While she thought she had a big fish, she never expected a trout with two mouths.
In a Facebook post that has since gone viral, a fish caught on Lake Champlain in upstate New York appears to have two mouths, fueling speculation about the one-of-a-kind catch.
“When I was reeling it in, it felt like a good fish,” Geddes told USA TODAY. “I made the comment, ‘I hope this is as big as it feels.'”
When Geddes and her husband actually saw the fish, they were shocked. “I had never seen anything like it,” Geddes said. The fish’s bottom “mouth” had been hooked, and it appeared to have a normal mouth on top and a gaping hole that connected to its body on the bottom.
Geddes said the fish, a young lake trout, appeared to be in good health: “Obviously it was still trying to eat,” she added. She and her husband typically catch and release, but they made sure to take a few photos of the rare find first.
Adam Facteau, who lives in Plattsburgh, is Geddes’ co-worker and posted a photo of the fish on his Facebook page, Knotty Boys Fishing, which he helps run for a group of local competitive bass fishers.
“It was bizarrely beautiful,” he said. “It’s definitely not fake. It is definitely real.”
Geddes said she believes the fish may have been injured by another angler who ripped the bottom of its mouth when they pulled it in. Facteau said he’s seen other theories in the comments of the post, including that it could have a genetic defect or pollution from Canada and Vermont could have affected how its mouth attaches.
“That’s the cool part, no one really knows,” Facteau said.
Geddes and Facteau both said they never expected to draw so much attention from the fish. “I’m astonished,” she said.
The trout’s all-too-brief brush with humanity leaves plenty of room for speculation, agrees Ellen Marsden, a professor of fisheries at University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources.
But she’s quite certain, after looking at the pictures and discussing the trout with colleagues: “It’s definitely got two mandibles, two lower jaws.”
Marsden, an expert in fish behavior in Lake Champlain, speculates that a random, embryonic mutation prompted the growth.
Such departures from the normal happen fairly frequently in nature, she said, “but most are lethal.”
Possibly a pollution-linked mutation?
“I wouldn’t leap to that conclusion,” Marsden cautioned. “There are many, many causes for abnormalities.”
Could it be an evolutionary advantage in the making? Unlikely: Trout rely on a streamlined, unblemished face for speed, she said.
In a statement to USA TODAY, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said its biologists had studied the picture, too, and “believe that it is most likely a rare biological anomaly that is sometimes found in nature.”
Still, Marsden is puzzled. How did Geddes’ two-mouthed trout adapt to its apparent handicap, especially while feeding?
“It’s remarkable,” she said. “It’s really cool. And as a biologist, I really wish she’d kept that fish.”