Tadpole Madtom

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While visiting Southern Illinois last October, I found a few examples of a neat fish that I had never encountered before. A tiny catfish, an adult Tadpole madtom is typically 2–3 inches long – however they have been recorded to reach a length of 5 inches.

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This species lives in the pools and backwaters of sluggish creeks and rivers, as well as in shallow areas of lakes. It avoids fast rocky streams and usually is found near rocks or debris over a soft substrate. Its range includes most of the eastern United States.

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These catfish, as well as the other Madtoms, can inflict a painful puncture wound with the spines on their pectoral and dorsal fins. When one is stung or pricked by one of the spines, there is a burning sensation similar to a bee or wasp sting.

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Like many catfish species, Madtoms have venom glands at the base of these fins. The glands secrete venom that becomes incorporated in the slime and cells that make up the spine. This is a useful defense mechanism to keep it from being eaten by predators.

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Like others in its family, it is nocturnal and relies on its sensory “whiskers” (called barbels) to find its favorite foods. The Tadpole Madtom feeds on insects and other invertebrates, as well as occasionally consuming algae and aquatic plants.

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It was a really neat experience to meet this very cool fish while visiting the “Land of Lincoln.”

Third Eye Herp
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Bantam Sunfish

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While exploring waterways in southern Illinois this month, I caught a few examples of the smallest of all sunfish species that can be found in North America.

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This 3-inch fish occurs in swamps and mud-bottomed, heavily vegetated ponds, lakes and sloughs. It is perhaps the least colorful member of its genus.

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Like all sunfish, its body is deep and compressed. The symmetrical shape of its body gives the Bantam Sunfish the scientific species name symmetricus.

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Scattered populations of this fish exist in the southcentral United States. Adults have vertical bands of irregular brown spots often with scattered spots between the bars.

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The Bantam Sunfish feeds on a variety of freshwater invertebrates. It is considered to be the least studied sunfish in the United States and is also listed as “Threatened” in Illinois.

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Central Mudminnow

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While catching tadpoles in roadside ditches this Summer, I came across this really neat fish that I have never encountered before.

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When the oxygen in the water insufficient, the Central Mudminnow can gulp air at the surface and use atmospheric oxygen to breathe; as a result, it is sometimes the only, or one of a very few, fish species present in waters susceptible to Winter or Summer kill.

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It burrows tail-first in mud and its ability to tolerate low oxygen levels allows it to live in waterways unavailable to other fish. Its coloration matches its habitat, being brownish above with mottled sides and a pale belly.

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This 2-to-4 inch fish eats both aquatic invertebrates and land insects that fall into the water. In Winter, Central Mudminnows can remain surprisingly active, even under ice, and turn their attention to other small fishes, which become more sluggish and vulnerable as the temperature drops.

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Smallmouth Bass

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While exploring a creek and looking for cool creatures, I managed to capture a couple examples of this fine fish.

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As far as game fishing goes, Smallmouth Bass are sometimes overshadowed by their Largemouth counterparts, but they are still easily one of the most popular sportfish species in North America.

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Smallmouth Bass have a slender, but muscular body, making them very powerful swimmers. They are found in clearer water than the Largemouth Bass, especially in streams, rivers and the rocky areas and stumps and also sandy bottoms of lakes and reservoirs.

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This fish typically ranges in length from 12 to 15 inches and weight from 1 to 2 pounds. However, it can reach 24 inches and 10 pounds. Female Smallmouth Bass are usually larger than males.

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The Smallmouth Bass primarily eats crayfish and other large aquatic invertebrates, but it will also feed on a small fish and flying insects that fall on the water’s surface. They often hang out near underwater structures, such as fallen trees, waiting for food to come by.

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In terms of fish identification, the main difference between Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass is just that, their mouths. The mouth of the Smallmouth Bass is large, but only extends to approximately the middle of the eye. The mouth of the Largemouth Bass extends easily past the eye.

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This was my first time ever catching this neat species and it made for an awesome time while out and about.

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River Chub

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While looking for cool creatures in a creek in Columbiana County, Ohio, I managed to catch a couple of these large minnows.

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The River Chub is robust, olive in color above and dusky yellow below. It has orange-red fins and large scales. During the breeding season, mature males develop pinkish-purple coloration and swollen heads with tubercles between the eyes and snout tip – they are sometimes called “Hornyheads.”

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This fish is found in clear, medium-to-large creeks and rivers with moderate-to-swift current over rock and gravel substrate. Its range extends primarily through most of the Great Lakes and Appalachian regions.

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The River Chub’s presence in a stream is a good indicator of water quality. It is intolerant of pollution, turbidity and siltation and requires a minimum pH 6.0. This fish lives up to 5 years in age and can grow to be a foot long,

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It spawns in April and May. The males select sites with gravel substrate in riffles often adjacent to or just behind a large boulder. At these sites, males build a mound by stacking up a pile of pebbles with their mouths. They spawn above the pile of pebbles and continue to add to the mound between spawning events.

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As spawning continues, this activity creates a round pile of pebbles that can be 2-3 feet across and 8-12 inches high. Many other smaller species of fish will sneak in and spawn in the nest of the River Chub, taking advantage of the way the male aggressively defends the nest, which insures their eggs are protected as well.

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Finescale Stoneroller

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I came across a couple of examples of this fine fish while on my outing to southern Illinois this year. This minnow is characterized by having a rounded snout overhanging a crescent-shaped mouth.

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The Finescale Stoneroller’s preferred habitat is pools or riffles with gravel or rubble substrate in small to medium-sized streams. It prefers cool, clear water with moderate to fast currents.

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This fish is generally herbivorous, feeding primarily on algae scraped from rocks and logs with the cartilaginous ridge on its lower jaw. It is classified as a grazing minnow and large schools of these fish often feed together.

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During breeding season, males begin building nests starting in late Winter and continuing throughout Midsummer, creating large, bowl-shaped depressions in calm waters by rolling stones along the bottom with their noses, giving them their common name.

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This small fish is prey to many larger fish as well as many birds and reptiles. To avoid them, they move fast, travel in schools and hide when they perceive danger.

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Striped Shiner

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While exploring southern Illinois this month, I caught this rather deep-bodied minnow with large, silvery scales that are are generally much higher than they are wide. Its common name refers to the occasional gold iridescence along its back.

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This fish occurs in clear, permanent-flowing streams with clean gravelly or rocky bottoms. It prefers relatively warm and quiet water. As far as minnows go, it is reasonably sizeable, at a total length of 3 to 5 inches and a maximum of about 7 inches.

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The Striped Shiner is an omnivore, feeding on both plants and animals. Minnows like this are high in ecological importance, because they are a great food source for other fish, birds and species that eat fish.

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It was neat to come across this cool creature which I have never encountered before.

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White Crappie

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While fishing in the Ohio & Erie Canal this Summer I caught a few of these fish. They are of a silvery color with green or brown shades along their back and dark lateral bars along their sides.

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White Crappies can be found in large rivers, reservoirs and lakes. They are more tolerant of murky waters than their relatives, Black Crappies. As adults, this species is generally about 9–10 inches in length.

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These fish are neither cruise- nor ambush-feeding strategists. Instead, they swim intermittently and only search for prey when stationary. This strategy is energetically favored to reduce search time for this species.

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As juveniles, they feed primarily on small invertebrates during their first year of life. As adults, they are largely minnow feeders, though their diet can vary based on location and food availability.

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White Crappies are native to the Great Lakes, Hudson Bay, and the Mississippi River basins expanding from New York and southern Ontario westward to South Dakota and southward to Texas.

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These fish were a fun summertime encounter in Northeast Ohio.

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Round Goby

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While fishing in the Ohio & Erie Canal, I caught something that I’ve never seen before. This fish is native to Eurasia where it is often found in brackish water. It was unintentionally introduced into Lake Superior from the Black Sea via freighter ballast.

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Since that time, it has spread to all of the Great Lakes, where it is undergoing a dramatic population explosion (densities of several dozen per square meter of lakebed have been reported).

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Round Gobies are small, soft-bodied fish characterized by a distinctive black spot on the first dorsal fin (which this example is seems to be missing). Their eyes are large and protrude slightly from the top of their head and, like most gobies, the pelvic fins are fused to form a single disc (shaped like a suction cup) on the belly.

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These fish feed both nocturnally and diurnally and are believed to detect prey only while stationary. Their primary diet includes mollusks, crustaceans, worms, fish eggs, zebra mussels, small fish, insect larvae and other small invertebrates living on the bottom of lakes and streams.

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The consequences of its accidental introduction are quite complex, as this fish both competes with native species and provides an abundant source of food for them, while consuming other invasive species (particularly Zebra Mussels).

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The Round Goby’s robust ability to survive in degraded environmental conditions has helped to increase its competitive advantage over other fish. Although it is a controversial invasive species, it was neat to come across this unexpected find while fishing.

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Greenside Darter

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While exploring a creek near Youngstown, Ohio, I came across one of these neat little fish for the first time. Greenside Darters have an elongated body with a long and rounded snout. Their body typically has U- or W-shaped blotches along the side. They typically grow to be about four inches long.

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This fish is an insectivore, mainly feeding on insect larvae, crustaceans and other invertebrates found on the bottom of the waterways that it resides in. The name “darter” refers to the way this fish moves. Rather than swimming like most fish, the darter darts forward then sinks to the bottom.

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It does this because its air bladder is greatly reduced, interfering with the darter’s ability to stay afloat. This allows it to live in riffle areas where fish with air bladders would have the disadvantage of floating and being swept away by the water current. When a darter comes to rest, its fins and tail fin prop up its body in sort of a tripod position with its head angled upward.

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Greenside Darters primarily live in larger streams with cobble, pebble, and gravel on the streambed. In order to survive, they need waterways with high water quality. Due to this attribute, they are often viewed as an indicator of good water quality.

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This was a great and unexpected creature to come across while out and about.

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