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Dolly Varden Trout


Scientific Name:

Salvelinus malma





Also known as:

The Dolly Varden trout (Salvelinus malma) is a species of salmonid native to cold-water tributaries of the Pacific Ocean in Asia and North America. It is in the genus Salvelinus of true chars, which includes 51 recognized species, the most prominent being the brook, lake and bull trout, as well as Arctic char. Although many populations are semi-anadromous, fluvial and lacustrine populations occur throughout its range. It is considered by taxonomists as part of the Salvelinus alpinus or Arctic char complex, as many populations of bull trout, Dolly Varden trout and Arctic char overlap.

For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Dolly Varden trout (S. malma) and the bull trout (S. confluentus) were considered the same species. Additionally, the Arctic char (S. alpinus) along with the bull trout have ranges that overlap and are remarkably similar in appearance, thus complicating identification. In 1978, inland forms of the Dolly Varden trout were reclassified as Salvelinus confluentus, retaining the common name bull trout. It appears that the first recorded use of the Dolly Varden name for fish referred to S. confluentus, now commonly known as the bull trout. This was likely due to overlapping ranges and similar appearances among members of the two species.

In North America, two subspecies of Dolly Varden are distinguished, the Northern Dolly Varden (S. m. malma) of the Arctic drainages and the Southern Dolly Varden (S. m. lordi) of the Pacific drainages. Neither of these two subspecies are officially listed in the ITIS database(s).

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) and Arctic char (S. alpinus), so much so that they are sometimes referred to as "native char" without a distinction.

The Dolly Varden trout is found in coastal waters of the North Pacific from Puget Sound north along the British Columbia Coast to the Alaska Peninsula and into the eastern Aleutian Islands, along the Bering Sea and the Arctic Sea to the Mackenzie River. The range in Asia extends south through the Kamchatka Peninsula into northern Japan.

Dolly Varden are found in three distinct forms. A semi-anadromous or sea-run form migrates from fresh water and spends some time in the ocean or saltwater bays and estuaries to feed before returning to fresh water to spawn. Fluvial forms live in moderate to large freshwater riverine environments and migrate into smaller tributaries to spawn. A third form is found in deep, cold lakes, from where they eventually migrate into tributary streams to spawn. Most populations of the northern Dolly Varden (S. m. malma) are semi-anadromous, while more fluvial and lacustrine populations are found among the southern Dolly Varden (S. m. lordi).

Dolly Varden - by Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game

Fish Facts: Dolly Varden (Salvelinus malma) - by Orvis

Dolly Varden - by

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