Xyrauchen texanusRazorback Sucker

Geographic Range

Razorback suckers, Xyrauchen texanus (Abbott 1861) are restricted to a relatively small number of sites in the Colorado River system, from southwestern Wyoming to southeastern California. Xyrauchen texanus has a more stable population in the lower basin of the Colorado River than the upper basin. Within the lower basin, Lake Mojave, Arizona contains the greatest population of razorback suckers. They are also found in Lake Mead and the Grand Canyon, as well as in some associated canals and impoundments (Gilbert and Williams, 2002). In the upper basin of the Colorado River, the largest extant population is found in the Green and Yampa rivers.

Razorback suckers were once much more abundant and widely distributed. Xyrauchen texanus was found throughout the Colorado River and its major tributaries. As recent as the 1920's X. texanus was found in the Salton Sea (Gilbert and Williams, 2002). Human activities that have degraded and destroyed the physical and biological components of the habitat of X. texanus are directly responsible for the geographic range decline of this species. (Gilbert and Williams, 2002; U.S. Fish and Wildife Service, 1998)


Xyrauchen texanus is adapted to a fluctuating river basin system with unpredictable and extreme flows and turbidity. In presettlement times, razorback suckers would have utilized backwaters, sloughs, inundated floodplains, and sand flats (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1998). Now the habitat is much different. Xyrauchen texanus must cope with human alterations, such as large dams, impoundments, channels and reservoirs. The habitat preference of adult razorbacks changes with seasons. Within rivers, razorbacks seem to prefer to spend most of their spring time in flooded areas. This likely aids in foraging and temperature regulation. They generally stay in water from 0.6 to 3.4 meters depth and 0.3 to 0.4 m/s water velocities (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1998). When summer comes, the fish occupy mid-channel sandbars in water less than 2 m deep and velocities around 0.5 m/s. Winter sees the razorback suckers utilizing eddies and slow runs with depths of 0.6 to 1.4 m and velocities from 0.03 to 0.33 m/s (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1998). Razorbacks have even been recorded moving in whitewater areas.

Within reservoir habitats, adult razorbacks move around throughout the different microsites, but prefer backwaters and main impoundments (Bradford and Gurtin, 2000). The larvae razorbacks move along the edge of bodies of water from the spawnig grounds to their nursery environments, large backwaters (Tyus, et al., 2000). They enter the drift at night and allow it to carry them to their new destination. Backwaters provide the larvae a more temperature regulated environment with more foraging opportunities. However, since the introductions of several exotic invasive fish predators, these seemingly safe havens are very dangerous places for the larvae. Within reserviors, shallow shorelines and coves may provide a similar nursery environment (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1998).

Xyrauchen texanus is sensitive to water temperatures, using it as a gauge for spawning times. Bulkley and Pimentel (1983) found the preferred temperature to be between 22.9 and 24.8 degrees Celsius. The upper avoidance boundary is between 27.4 and 31.6 degrees Celsius, and the lower boundary is between 8.0 and 14.7 degrees Celsius (Bulkley and Pimentel, 1983). Temperature can also play an important role in the development of early life stages of X. texanus (Clarkson and Childs, 2000). (Bulkley and Pimentel, 1983; Clarkson and Childs, 2000; U.S. Fish and Wildife Service, 1998)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams
  • temporary pools
  • Range depth
    0.5 to 18 m
    1.64 to 59.06 ft

Physical Description

Xyrauchen texanus is a relatively large catostomid, reaching lengths of over 3 feet (91 cm) and weights of 5-6 kg (Gilbert and Williams, 2002; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). The sexes are dimorphic, and females are usually longer and more robust. The largest individuals are found in the warmer waters of the lower Colorado River. A study in the upper basin of the Colorado River found that females averaged 547 mm and males averaged 507 mm (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1998).

Razorback suckers look similar to average catastomids, except for two major features. The most defining characters of X. texanus are a pronounced ridge made of neural and interneural bones that extends from the head to the dorsal fins, and elongated filaments on the gill rakers (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). Females have a lower keel. The well-developed filaments are an adaptation for zooplankton feeding.

Xyrauchen texanus has a long snout, a long and rounded head that is ventrally compressed, and a ventral mouth with a cleft lower lip (Gilbert and Williams, 2002). The dorsal fin has 12 to 15 rays, and the anal fin has 7 rays. Pelvic and anal fins are longer in males. Xyrauchen texanus has a nearly straight lateral line with 68 to 87 scales (Gilbert and Williams, 2002).

The sexes are dimorphic, especially during the breeding season. In general the species is dark brown to olive on the dorsum, slightly lighter on the sides, and yellowish to white on the ventor. Males are much darker dorsally in the breeding season, and the sides and ventral area are orangish-yellow to bright orange. Tubercles appear on the anal and caudal fins, and on the ventral area of the caudal peduncle through the breeding season. These tubercles are more distinguished in the males. (Gilbert and Williams, 2002; U.S. Fish and Wildife Service, 1998)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • ornamentation
  • Range length
    370 to 910 mm
    14.57 to 35.83 in
  • Average length
    males 507; females 547 mm


More research is needed in this area in wild populations. Data show that when young life stages of X. texanus are exposed to water temperatures below 15 degrees Celsius, they experience significant reductions in growth rates (Clarkson and Childs, 2000).

Growth during the first six years of life is rapid for razorbacks. Newly-hatched larvae measure 7 to 9 mm and studies in the backwaters of Lake Mojave showed that some larvae grew up to an astounding 35 cm from January to November (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1998). Juveniles, similarly have been shown to grow over 40 cm in two months (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1998).

The growth of adult X. texanus is quite slow. They only seem to grow from 2.2 to 3.1 mm per year (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1998). (U.S. Fish and Wildife Service, 1998)


Razorback suckers are polyandrous. Males aggregate together and when a female comes by, several males will pursue and position themselves for mating (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1998). The group spawns over a depression and then disperses. (U.S. Fish and Wildife Service, 1998)

Spawning in razorback suckers seems to be tied to the increase of discharge and water temperature, and usually takes place from January through June, depending on the location (Mode and Irving, 1998; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1998). Spawning may take place in a variety of environments, including mainstreams, riverine-influenced impoundments, and wave-washed shorelines of impoundments, primarily over coarse sand substrate. The temperature linked to the best hatching percentage of razorback eggs is 20 degrees Celsius (Tyus, 1987). In lakes and reservoirs spawning has been observed in water depths as deep as 10 to 18 m, but most fishes spawn in less than 2 m of water. In riverine systems razorbacks spawn at an average depth of 0.63 m (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1998).

Spawning is the time when razorback suckers are most active, and they may travel anywhere from 0 to 112.7 km (Modde and Irving, 1998). When the fish reach their spawning grounds, they lie close to the bottom in large aggregates. When females become ready to mate they leave the group, followed by one or more males, and move to the bottom. After spawning takes place, which takes up to three minutes, the fish return to the group (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1998). Females may spawn repeatedly in an hour and/or on successive days. Modde and Irving (1998) concluded razorbacks spawn at more than one site, but this needs more study. (Modde and Irving, 1998; Tyus, 1987; U.S. Fish and Wildife Service, 1998)

  • Breeding interval
    The species breeds once per year, concentrated in the spring and summer.
  • Breeding season
    The spawning season is variable across the species' range, but is generally from January through June, but has been documented both earlier and later.

Xyrauchen texanus does not appear to provide parental care. Further research is needed to determine if there is any protection of the spawning depressions before the eggs hatch. (Tyus, 1987)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning


Razorback suckers are long-lived. The approximate maximum age is 50 years. Using otolith rings to age the fish, surveyers in Mojave Lake in the 1980's found adult fish between the ages of 24 and 44 years (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1998). (U.S. Fish and Wildife Service, 1998)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    50 (high) years


Data suggests that X. texanus use discharge as the primary cue for movement to spawning grounds (Modde and Irving, 1998). Water temperature may also be an environmental cue timing spawning movements.

Larval razorbacks coordinate their downstream movements with darkness and increased water flow. They move very little during daytime and remain relatively sedentary during the night, unless stream flow is increased. Stream flow being increased during daylight hours does not seem to have the same effect (Tyus, et al., 2000). (Modde and Irving, 1998; Tyus, et al., 2000)

Communication and Perception

Very little is known about the communication techniques of this species. More research should be done to find out how they coordinate movement to spawning grounds and communicate between mates.

Data suggests that X. texanus use discharge as the primary cue for movement to spawning grounds (Modde and Irving, 1998). This would require a relatively sensitive tactile system in their lateral line organs to detect slight differences in discharge. Water temperature may also be an environmental cue timing spawning movements.

Larval razorbacks coordinate their downstream movements with darkness and increased water flow. They move very little during daytime and remain relatively sedentary during the night, unless stream flow is increased. Stream flow being increased during daylight hours does not seem to have the same effect (Tyus, et al., 2000), so Xyrauchen texanus may be sensitive to changes in ultraviolet radiation. (Modde and Irving, 1998)

Food Habits

The diet of X. texanus depends on a variety of factors, including habitat, life stage, and availability of food.

In the wild larva and juvenile razorback suckers eat a wide variety of foods, when the mouth is terminal (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1998). As larvae, X. texanus eats primarily phytoplankton and zooplankton. In hatchery ponds larval and juvenile razorback suckers have been fed diets of brine shrimp and certain dry commercial products (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1998).

In Lake Mohave and other still waters, planktonic crustaceans, diatoms, filamentous algae, and detritus dominate the diet of razorbacks (Marsh, 1987). In riverine ecosystems, the species primarily feeds on immature Ephemeroptera, Trichoptera, and chironomids, as well as algae and detritus (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1998). (Marsh, 1987; U.S. Fish and Wildife Service, 1998)


Many species of fish feed on razorback larva. Other predators are birds, mammals, and some insects. Adults have few natural predators. Native Americans and early settlers, however, ate razorback suckers.

Most of the fish that presently predate on X. texanus are non-natives. Green sunfish and channel catfish (among many others) heavily predate razorback larvae. Since X. texanus did not evolve in an environment with a large concentration of predatory species, it is at a disadvantage. When compared to the northern hog sucker Hypentelium nigricans, a species adapted to a predator-rich environment, in laboratory experiments, X. texanus larvae had a significantly lower initial predator avoidance rate (Johnson, Pardew, and Lyttle, 1993). Habitat alteration has further amplified predation rates on X. texanus. Mainstream dams have severely reduced the turbidity of western river systems. The decrease in turbidity has a consequence of diminishing the amount of suspended sediments in the water. Razorback suckers use this suspended sediment for predator avoidance. Johnson and Hines (1999) found that as turbidity increases, X. texanus predation rates drop (Johnson and Hines, 1999).

Dragonfly and damselfly nymphs may be responsible for impacting larval razorback sucker survival. The abundance of backwaters that do not fully drain, combined with the exotic invasive sago pondweed has perhaps allowed large populations of odonates to form. In lab tests odonata nymphs appeared to pose a serious threat to X. texanus larvae (Horn, et al., 1994).

Downstream night movement is a possible predator avoidance mechanism for young razorback larvae (Tyus, et al., 2000). (Horn, et al., 1994; Johnson and Hines, 1999; Johnson, et al., 1993; Tyus, et al., 2000; U.S. Fish and Wildife Service, 1998)

Ecosystem Roles

Razorback suckers are detritivorous and help perform the critical job of biodegredation. In addition to eating insects, crustaceans, and algae, razorbacks consume detritus and break it down so that it can be recycled back through the system. This species is also a food item for many other species.

The parasitic copepod, Lernaea cyprinacea, is known to use X. texanus as a host species. It is not been proven to have a serious effect on razorback recruitment (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1998). (Marsh, 1987; U.S. Fish and Wildife Service, 1998)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Native Americans and early European settlers used razorback suckers for food and fertilizer (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1998). Since the 1950's this species' populations have been drastically reduced, and razorbacks are now federally endangered. Therefore, humans no longer use them for such purposes. (U.S. Fish and Wildife Service, 1998)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • produces fertilizer

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse affects of X. texanus on humans.

Conservation Status

Xyrauchen texanus is endangered on the IUCN red list, endangered on the U.S. federal list, and does not have a designation by CITES. The razorback sucker was placed on the U.S. federal list as endangered on October 23, 1991. On March 21, 1994 a ruling set forth critical habitat for the species. The causes for this species' decline stem from massive habitat destruction and introduction of exotic invasive predator species. Alterations to the Colorado River, such as diverting water through canals and building dams, have altered the water flow, degraded the water quality, fragmented the habitat, and completely eliminated many of the ecosystems associated with the river system. With decreased turbidity in the water, predation rates on razorbacks increased because utilizing suspended sediments in the flow is part of the predator avoidance strategy of X. texanus. With the addition of countless non-native predatory fishes, the predation rate on larval and juvenile razorback suckers increased exponentially. Selenium contamination in the upper and lower basins of the Colorado River is also a problem facing razorback suckers. Selenium is accumulating in their tissues and eggs and is directly leading to increased mortality of larvae (Hamilton, Holley, and Buhl, 2002). The selenium contamination is also causing deformities(McDonald, et al., 2002). Non-point source pollution is leading to copper contamination in the Colorado River, which may affect razorback suckers, too(Hamilton, Buhl, 1997).

The Recovery Team is doing a variety of things to help recover this species. It has designated critical habitat to maintain the remaining integrity of the habitat. Captive rearing is another large part of the recovery program. Allowing the fish to grow in captivity past the age where they are vulnerable to most of the non-indigenous fish, allows for a much higher recruitment. There is a fine line between holding onto them too long and not long enough, however. (Hamilton and Buhl, 1997; Hamilton, et al., 2002; U.S. Fish and Wildife Service, 1998)


Lucas Langstaff (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, William Fink (editor, instructor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Renee Sherman Mulcrone (editor).



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


helps break down and decompose dead plants and/or animals


an animal that mainly eats meat


flesh of dead animals.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


an animal that mainly eats decomposed plants and/or animals


particles of organic material from dead and decomposing organisms. Detritus is the result of the activity of decomposers (organisms that decompose organic material).

external fertilization

fertilization takes place outside the female's body


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


(as keyword in perception channel section) This animal has a special ability to detect heat from other organisms in its environment.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


photosynthetic or plant constituent of plankton; mainly unicellular algae. (Compare to zooplankton.)


Referring to a mating system in which a female mates with several males during one breeding season (compare polygynous).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


uses sight to communicate


animal constituent of plankton; mainly small crustaceans and fish larvae. (Compare to phytoplankton.)


Bradford, R., S. Gurtin. 2000. Habitat Use by Hatchery-Reared Adult Razorback Suckers Released into the Lower Colorado River, California-Arizona. North American Journal of Fisheries Management, 20 (1): 154-167.

Bulkley, R., R. Pimentel. 1983. Temperature Preference and Avoidance by Adult Razorback Suckers. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 112 (5): 601-607.

Clarkson, R., M. Childs. 2000. Temperature Effects of Hypolimnial-Release Dams on Early Stages of Colorado River Basin Big-River Fishes. Copeia, 2000 (2): 402-412.

Gilbert, C., J. Williams. 2002. National Audobon Society Field Guide to Fishes: North America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc..

Hamilton, S., K. Buhl. 1997. Hazard Assessment of Inorganics, Individually and in Mixtures, to Two Endangered Fish in the San Juan River, New Mexico. Environmental Toxicology, 12 (3): 195-209.

Hamilton, S., K. Holley, K. Buhl. 2002. Hazard Assessment of Selenium to Endangered Razorback Suckers (Xyrauchen texanus). Science of the Total Environment, 291 (1-3): 111-121.

Hamilton, S., K. Holley, K. Buyl, F. Bullard, L. Weston, S. McDonald. 2002. Impact of Selenium and Other Trace Elements on the Endangered Adult Razorback Sucker. Environmental Toxicology, 17 (4): 297-323.

Horn, M., P. Marsh, G. Meuller, T. Burke. 1994. Predation by Odonate Nymphs on Larval Razorback Suckers (Xyrauchen texanus) Under Laboratory Conditions. The Southwestern Naturalist, 39 (4): 371-374.

Johnson, J., R. Hines. 1999. Effect of Suspended Sediment on Vulnerability of Young Razorback Suckers to Predation. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 128 (4): 648-655.

Johnson, J., M. Pardew, M. Lyttle. 1993. Predator Recognition and Avoidance by Larval Razorback Sucker and Northern Hog Sucker. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 122 (6): 1139-1145.

Karp, C., G. Mueller. 2002. Razorback Sucker Movements and Habitat Use in the San Juan River Inflow, Lake Powell, Utah, 1995-1997. Western North American Naturalist, 62 (1): 106-111.

Marsh, P. 1987. Digestive Tract Contents of Adult Razorback Suckers in Lake Mohave, Arizona-Nevada. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 116 (1): 117-119.

Minckley, W., P. Marsh, J. Deacon, T. Dowling, P. Hedrick, W. Matthews, G. Mueller. 2003. A Conservation Plan for Native Fishes of the Lower Colorado River. Bioscience, 53 (3): 219-234.

Modde, T., D. Irving. 1998. Use of Multiple Spawning Sites and Seasonal Movement by Razorback Suckers in the Middle Green River, Utah. North American Journal of Fisheries Management, 18 (2): 318-326.

Mueller, G., P. Marsh, D. Foster, M. Ulibarri, T. Burke. 2003. Factors Influencing Poststocking Dispersal of Razorback Sucker. North American Journal of Fisheries Management, 23 (1): 270-275.

Tyus, H. 1987. Distribution, Reproduction, and Habitat Use of the Razorback Sucker in the Green River, Utah, 1979-1986. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 116 (1): 111-116.

Tyus, H., C. Brown, J. Saunders, III. 2000. Movements of Young Colorado Pikeminnow and Razorback Sucker in Response to Water Flow and Light Level. Journal of Freshwater Ecology, 15 (4): 525-535.

U.S. Fish and Wildife Service, 1998. Razorback sucker (Xyrauchen texanus) Recovery Plan. Denver, Colorado. 81 pp.: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.