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Salvelinus malma malma

Salvelinus malma malma

See Salvelinus

Cladus: Eukaryota
Supergroup: Opisthokonta
Regnum: Animalia
Subregnum: Eumetazoa
Cladus: Bilateria
Cladus: Nephrozoa
Cladus: Deuterostomia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Infraphylum: Gnathostomata
Superclassis: Osteichthyes
Classis: Actinopterygii
Subclassis: Neopterygii
Infraclassis: Teleostei
Superordo: Protacanthopterygii
Ordo: Salmoniformes
Familia: Salmonidae
Subfamilia: Salmoninae
Genus: Salvelinus
Species: S. malma


The Dolly Varden trout, Salvelinus malma malma, is a subspecies of anadromous fish in the salmon family, and is technically a char. Although many of the fish are anadromous, the fish also exists in landlocked waters.


The subspecies S. m. malma is found in coastal waters of the North Pacific from Puget Sound to the Alaska Peninsula and into the eastern Aleutians, along the Bering Sea and the Arctic Sea to the Mackenzie River. It is known as "Belyi golets" in Russian.[1]

Anadromous Dolly Varden

The back and sides are olive green or muddy gray, shading to white on the belly. The body has scattered pale yellow or pinkish-yellow spots. There are no black spots or wavy lines on the body or fins. Small red spots are present on the lower sides. These are frequently indistinct. The fins are plain and unmarked except for a few light spots on the base of the caudal fin rays. S. malma is extremely similar in appearance to the bull trout (S. confluentus), so much so that they are sometimes referred to as "native char" without making a distinction.[2]

Origin of the name

It appears that the first recorded use of the Dolly Varden name to refer to a species of fish, was to S. confluentus, now commonly known as the bull trout. This was likely due to over-lapping ranges and similar appearances among members of the two species.

"Dolly Varden" in California
Dolly Varden trout (S. m. malma) in spawning coloration

The first recorded use of the name "Dolly Varden" for a fish species was applied to members of S. confluentus caught in the McCloud River in northern California in the early 1870s. In his book, Inland Fishes of California, Peter Moyle recounts a letter sent to him on March 24, 1974, from Valerie Masson Gomez:

My grandmother's family operated a summer resort at Upper Soda Springs on the Sacramento River just north of the present town of Dunsmuir, California. She lived there all her life and related to us in her later years her story about the naming of the Dolly Varden trout. She said that some fishermen were standing on the lawn at Upper Soda Springs looking at a catch of the large trout from the McCloud River that were called 'calico trout' because of their spotted, colorful markings. They were saying that the trout should have a better name. My grandmother, then a young girl of 15 or 16, had been reading Charles Dickens' Barnaby Rudge in which there appears a character named Dolly Varden; also the vogue in fashion for women at that time (middle 1870s) was called "Dolly Varden", a dress of sheer figured muslin worn over a bright-colored petticoat. My grandmother had just gotten a new dress in that style and the red-spotted trout reminded her of her printed dress. She suggested to the men looking down at the trout, 'Why not call them "Dolly Varden"?' They thought it a very appropriate name and the guests that summer returned to their homes (many in the San Francisco Bay area) calling the trout by this new name. David Starr Jordan, while at Stanford University, included an account of this naming of the Dolly Varden Trout in one of his books.

In 1874, Livingston Stone, a naturalist working for the U.S. government wrote of this fish:[3]

Also called at (Upper) Soda Springs the 'Varden' trout. … The handsomest trout, and, on the whole, having the most perfect form of all the trout we saw on the McCloud. Also, the only fish that had colored spots. This one was profusely spotted over most of the body with reddish golden spots. ... The local name at (Upper) Soda Springs is the Dolly Varden.

It is currently unknown whether the name "Dolly Varden" was later applied to S. m. malma because of its similar appearance to S. confluentus; the two may have even been believed to be the same species. The name "Dolly Varden" may have also been given to S. m. malma independent of the McCloud River fish.

Ironically, it appears that the original "Dolly Varden" trout (i.e., S. confluentus) likely became locally extinct in the McCloud River in the 1970s, although reports continue of its being caught. Other fish species, typically introduced trout, will out-compete S. confluentus, and can interbreed resulting in sterile hybrids. An attempt to re-introduce S. confluentus to the McCloud was unsuccessful, and no additional attempts are expected.[4]

Other uses of "Dolly Varden"
Dolly Varden fry in an Alaskan lake

The "Dolly Varden" name is also applied to the other subspecies of S. malma: S. m. krascheninnikova, and S. m. miyabei, found on the island of Hokkaidō in Japan.[5]

The name has also been applied to S. alpinus, today more commonly known as Arctic char.


* U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service;

1. ^ [1]
2. ^ Washington's Native Chars, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
3. ^ VI. Report of Operations During 1872 at the United States Salmon-Hatching Establishment on the M’Cloud River, and on the California Salmonidae generally; with a list of Specimens Collected. By Livingstone Stone. In: United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries. Part II. Report of the Commissioner for 1872 and 1873. A- Inquiry into the Decrease of the Food Fishes. B- The Propagation of Food-Fishes in the Waters of the United States. With Supplementary Papers. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1874 at pp. 203 - 207.
4. ^ Detailed history of Dolly Varden/Bull trout on McCloud River
5. ^ Use of Dolly Varden name in Japan

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Source: Wikispecies: All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License