Tonguetied Minnow

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Fish of the week, the Tonguetied Minnow, captured Oil Creek at Drake’s Well, Saturday September 14.

The Tonguetied Minnow is found in the runs and flowing pools of larger streams. It is intolerant of turbidity or siltation, and thus a good water quality indicator. The Tonguetied Minnow has several quirks that make it a very unusual fish. One is its limited distribution: The worldwide range of the Tonguetied Minnow consists of three geographically restricted populations. One is in the Miami River of western Ohio, one in the headwaters of the New River in West Virginia and Virginia, and one in the upper Allegheny and Genessee drainages of Pennsylvania and New York. Within these areas, the fish is locally abundant, but has declined across its range in recent years. The Oil Creek fish are at the southern edge of the Allegheny population. We have also encountered the tonguetieds in the Brokenstraw and Kinzua drainages.

The Tonguetied Minnow is named for its unusal lower lip – it is a protruding bony plate that nestles inside the thick upper lips – so you can say it keeps a stiff lower lip. And finally, like many other minnows, it has interesting reproductive habits. In spring, males construct nests for spawning that consist of a mound of pea-gravel, about a foot wide and several feet long, oriented perpendicular to the current. Males gather the small stones, about a centimeter long, from as far as 10 meters from the nest, and carry the stones in their mouths to the nest site. Females are enticed to lay eggs onto the gravel bar, and males then cover the eggs with yet more gravel. The ecology and life-history of this species is not well known, providing yet one more example of a fish mystery waiting to be solved.

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Silver Shiner

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The Silver Shiner is one of the Notropis that cause students to have fish identification headaches, as it is very similar to the very abundant Rosyface Shiner, and somewhat similar to the Emerald Shiner and other Notropis species. Traits useful in identification include the pointed snout, relatively large eye, black mid-dorsal stripe, and dorsal fin insertion directly over the pelvic insertion. One easy distinguishing feature of this fish is its large body size, as they can approach 6 inches in length, making it by far the largest of the local Notropis.

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The Silver Shiner is found in deep riffles and runs of medium to large streams, and is a fast water fish: it is generally found in higher gradient systems. The Silver Shiner is relatively intolerant of siltation and turbidity, and thus may be used as an indicator species. It is widespread but common only in the larger streams of the glaciated Allegheny plateau.

All of the minnows similar to the Silver Shiner are, of course, silver in color, so the common name is of dubious value in identification. You can, however, make this difficulty work to your advantage. If confronted with the task of identifying a difficult Notropis, one strategy is to confidently proclaim that it is a “silver shiner”, lowercase, knowing that you are correct in at least one sense of the word!

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Note the relatively large eye; Rosyface Shiner has a smaller eye

Creek Chub

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The creek chub of one of our most widespread and abundant stream fishes. This is a breeding male, captured Friday May 18, Sugar Run, Crawford County. Note the breeding tubercles, the only known function of which is to impress the female creek chubs. Males this time year are busy excavating shallow pits in the gravel substrate of streams, hoping for a female to deposit her eggs in it, and then fertilizing the eggs and covering them with a pile of gravel. The males then aggressively defend the nests, so much so that other minnow species deposit their eggs in the nest too, taking advantage of the free protection. It pays to have a tough guy on the block.

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Fantail Darter

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The Fantail Darter lives in shallow riffles of small to medium size streams of moderate gradient, and are often the most abundant darter in such streams. Male Fantail Darters excavate nests under flat stones, and then attempt to induce females to deposit eggs in the new digs. Eggs are adhered to the underside of the flat rock. So, what’s up with those knobs on the dorsal spines of the males? They function as egg mimics, which for some reason compel female darters to deposit eggs in the males’ nest. The lucky males can then contribute their gametes to the next generation.

Brook Trout

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Fish of the week, the Brook Trout. Brook Trout require clear, cold water, but given this one ecological constraint they are extraordinarily adaptable to a wide range of habitats. In our region they penetrate further up headwater streams than any other fish, but they are also found in larger streams when and where temperatures allow. No Pennsylvania fish is more tolerant to acidity than the Brook Trout, and they also thrive in alkaline, hard water streams. Brook trout are very common on the unglaciated plateau and can be found in most any unpolluted stream that does not get too warm in summer (which is most of our headwater streams). Stocked individuals can be found in larger and warmer streams, but these bear little resemblance to wild trout.

The Brook Trout is a char, a family of fish that includes the Lake Trout, Arctic Char, Dolly Varden, and Bull Trout. The entire family is restricted to cold waters, and are typically inhabitants of the boreal forest, tundra, and high mountains. The brook trout used the cold water streams draining the slopes of the Appalachian Mountains as a refuge from the Wisconsin glaciations and never left. Their current range extends down the spine of the Appalachians to northern Georgia. The introduction of brown and rainbow trout has sadly resulted in the displacement of brook trout from many streams they once dominated, and they are now most successful in the coldest, most acidic, and least productive streams of Appalachia. There is a perception that brook trout are a “sensitive” species, but the data on this animal suggest a different view: the brook trout is a survivor, tolerant of the worst we have thrown at it, and will certainly still be swimming in these streams far into the future.

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Logperch

DSC_6101Fish of the week, the Logperch, collected Pymatuning Reservoir, June 2012. The Logperch is most abundant over the gravel and sand shallows of larger lakes and rivers. It is widely distributed and common in our region. The Logperch is quite unique in several respects. It is the largest species of darter in our region, as well as the darter most likely to be found in a lake or reservoir. Perhaps most interestingly, Logperch forage by using their pointed snout to flip stones on the bottom to expose benthic invertebrates. In waters where they are abundant, their incessant stone flipping (up to ten stones per minute) creates a continuous clicking sound that can be heard by snorkelers. The larger fish may develop calluses on their snouts from stone flipping.

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Banded Darter

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Banded Darter, Allegheny River in Venango County, May 6 2013.

If you turn kids loose with dip-nets in one of western Pennsylvania’s streams or rivers, there is a pretty good chance that the first fish they will bring you to identify will be a banded darter. The reason that banded darters often turn up in kid’s dip-nets is that they can be abundant in riffles of streams ranging from small brooks to large rivers, which makes it unique in a world in which most fish species are associated with a particular size of stream. They are, however, reported to prefer streams with an abundance of attached algae and are relatively tolerant of degraded water quality. The banded darter is geographically widespread, ranging from Minnesota to Louisiana to Pennsylvania, and locally abundant. In Pennsylvania it was until recently found only in the Upper Ohio drainages, especially the Allegheny River and French Creek. However, it recently (1960’s) invaded the Susquehanna River and is now abundant in that watershed as well. The banded darter is most colorful during its spring mating season, which is underway right now, so grab a dip net and go visit your local stream!