Phenacobius mirabilisSuckermouth minnow

Geographic Range

Suckermouth minnows (Phenacobius mirabilis) inhabit watersheds in the central United States ranging north to south from southeast Minnesota to north Alabama, and west to east from Wyoming to West Virginia. They also occur in a few Gulf Coast drainages that are isolated from their contiguous range. Prior to European settlement, the species probably did not occur east of the Mississippi River. As deforestation and erosion increased the turbidity of more eastern streams, suckermouth minnow populations expanded east into the Ohio River drainage. Relatively recent reports of the species from Lake Erie tributaries in Michigan and Buckeye Lake on the Muskingum River in Ohio may represent human transplants or recent natural range expansions. Reports from two Rivers in New Mexico are believed to represent human transplants, probably by transportation of live bait. (Bestgen, et al., 2003; Nico, et al., 2014; ODNR Division of Wildlife, 2012)


Suckermouth minnows are found freshwater streams and rivers. They are found in habitats characterized by changing water chemistry, high turbidity, and variable water depths. They are mainly found in streams with permanent flow and within those streams prefer microhabitats of pools, runs, or deeper riffles. They do well on mixed, sand-gravel substrate, and can be found in agriculturally degraded streams as long as sand and gravel riffle beds are not silted over. (Bestgen, et al., 2003; Matthews, 1985)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • rivers and streams

Physical Description

These small fish are slender and their mouth is sub-terminal and sucker-like, with a fleshy, expanded lower lip. They vary in size from 5 to 10 cm with a maximum length of 13 cm. They have an anal fin located closer to the tail than other species of minnows, and they have 8 dorsal fin rays. A dark stripe runs down the side of their body which eventually ends in a spot at the base of the tail. The sides of their body can be light brown or silvery and their belly is a darker gray and a light cream color. They are similar in appearance to Central stonerollers (Campostoma anomalum) but are distinguished by the sucker-like mouth and the presence of more than 50 lateral scales. (Miller and Robison, 2004)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • male more colorful
  • Range length
    5 to 13 cm
    1.97 to 5.12 in


Suckermouth minnows develop from eggs to embryos to larvae. The most optimal temperature for embryos to hatch is between 17 to 23°C at a 50% survival rate, and this rate decreases as temperature fluctuates. Survival of the larvae and their rate of growth also depends on water temperature. Larvae have a flattened eye and a high myomere count in comparison to other minnow larvae. (Bestgen and Compton, 2007)


There is little information on the mating system of suckermouth minnows and their display behavior, but it is known that they spawn in groups. Among cyprinids, group spawners mate over a water column or over nests created by other species. Females mate with multiple males, and it has been shown that the male testes may be larger in group spawning species compared to those that have pair mating. Sexual size dimorphism varies among these two types of mating systems, in which females are larger than the males, which might be due to the need of higher clutch size. (Pyron, 2000; Pyron, et al., 2013)

Spawning usually occurs in late spring or early summer, as late as early July. Water temperatures have been observed to range from 14° C to 25°C during the spawning period. Females produce 200 to 500 eggs per season with a record 1,640, but they only deposit a few eggs (1-5) per spawning event. Laying eggs in small batches is hypothesized to allow greater survivorship among the developing embryos. (Bestgen and Compton, 2007; Miller and Robison, 2004; Starrett, 1951)

  • Breeding interval
    Suckermouth minnows breed once yearly
  • Breeding season
    Late spring- early summer
  • Range number of offspring
    200 to 1640

Females lay eggs in small groups in gravel beds. Beyond the provisioning of eggs, suckerfish minnows have no parental care. (Bestgen, et al., 2003)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning


These minnows have a lifespan of roughly 3 to 5 years in the wild. (Matthews, 1985)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    3 to 5 years


Suckermouth minnows are a highly mobile species that can travel considerable distances. It is believed that these minnows came from the Mississippi River into Ohio once water became more turbid due to agriculture development over several generations. (ODNR Division of Wildlife, 2012)

Home Range

A home range for suckermouth minnows has not been observed.

Communication and Perception

Given their tolerance of turbid waters, suckermouth minnows probably locate prey more by touch and taste than by sight. (Miller and Robison, 2004; Wildhaber, et al., 1998)

Food Habits

Suckermouth minnows eat plankton and small invertebrates with chironomid larvae, trichopteran larvae, and chironomid pupae prominent in their stomach contents. (Whitaker, 1977)

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • eggs
  • insects


Green sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus), yellow perch (Perca flavescens), and brown trout (Salmo trutta), have been found to be predators of suckermouth minnows. Other piscivorous fish, birds, turtles, and alligators probably feed on them. Larval suckermouth minnows may be preyed on by large aquatic insects as well. The species is also known to be cannibalistic. (Quist, et al., 2005)

Ecosystem Roles

Suckermouth minnows are mainly found in streams and creeks that have moderate levels of turbidity. They provide a good food resource to predatory fish, and are themselves predators on aquatic invertebrates. Adults do not appear to be strong competitors with other species of co-occurring fish species. (Bestgen, et al., 2003; ODNR Division of Wildlife, 2012)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Like many minnows, these fish are used by as bait by fishermen. (Bestgen and Compton, 2007; Quist, et al., 2005)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Phenacobius mirabilis on humans.

Conservation Status

Suckermouth minnows as a species are not considered to be in need of special conservation measures. The species was rated as Least Concern by the IUCN in 2012. However, some populations are in decline or have been extirpated, and the species is legally protected in some states. Some suckermouth minnows populations in degraded stream systems in Colorado have increased after habitat improvement and conservations efforts were made, leading to the possibility of lifting the endangered status there. (Bestgen, et al., 2003)


Amanda Smith (author), Indiana University - Purdue University Fort Wayne, Mark Jordan (editor), Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.



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


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

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.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

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.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


seaweed. Algae that are large and photosynthetic.


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.


an animal that mainly eats fish


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


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


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


Bestgen, K., R. Compton. 2007. Reproduction and Culture of Suckermouth Minnow. North American Journal of Aquaculture, 69/4: 345-350.

Bestgen, K., K. Zelasko, R. Compton. 2003. "Environmental Factors Limiting Suckermouth Minnow Phenacobius mirabilis Populations in Colorado" (On-line). Report submitted to Colorado Division of Wildlife. Accessed March 09, 2015 at

Matthews, 1985. Distribution of Midwestern Fishes on Multivariate Environmental Gradients, with Emphasis on Notropis lutrensis. American Midland Naturalist, 113/2: 225-237.

Miller, R., H. Robison. 2004. Fishes of Oklahoma. USA: University of Oklahoma Press.

Nico, L., J. Larson, T. Makled, A. Fusaro. 2014. "Phenacobius mirabilis" (On-line). USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Accessed July 06, 2015 at

ODNR Division of Wildlife, 2012. "Suckermouth Minnow - Phenacobius mirabilis" (On-line). Species Guide Index. Accessed April 04, 2015 at

Pyron, M. 2000. Testes Mass and Reproductive Mode of Minnows. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 48/2: 132-136.

Pyron, M., T. Pitcher, S. Jacquemin. 2013. Evolution of mating systems and sexual size dimorphism in North American cyprinids. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 67/5: 747-756.

Quist, M., W. Hubert, F. Rahel. 2005. Fish Assemblage Following Impoundment of a Great Plains River. Western North American Naturalist, 65/1: 53-63.

Starrett, W. 1951. Some Factors Affecting the Abundance of Minnows in the Des Moines River, Iowa. Ecological Society of America, 32 No.1: 13-27. Accessed March 04, 2015 at

Whitaker, J. 1977. Seasonal Changes in Food Habits of Some Cyprinid Fishes from the White River at Petersburg, Indiana. American Midland Naturalist, 97/2: 411-418. Accessed March 04, 2015 at

Wildhaber, M., A. Allert, C. Schmitt. 1998. Potential Effects of Interspecific Competition on Neosho Madtom (Noturus placidus) Populations. Journal of Freshwater Ecology, 14/1: 19-30.