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Which Fish Are in the Prairie Ridge Creek? (What Time is it in Nature)

June 6, 2018

This blog post is brought to you by Richa Patel, Prairie Ridge’s YAIO summer intern.  Richa will complete her degrees at NC State in aerospace engineering and political science this fall.  Thanks Richa!

A few weeks ago, a group of volunteers and staff members went electrofishing at the stream at Prairie Ridge Ecostation (read more about that on the post Electrofishing at Prairie Ridge Ecostation!), and we ended up snagging quite a few fish before letting them go. Below are some of the great fish species that can be found in the stream:

Creek Chub (Semotilus atromaculatus)

Creek chubs found in the stream (male, female, juvenile from top to bottom)

Creek Chub found in the stream (male, female, juvenile from top to bottom).  Photo by Richa Patel.

The stream was bristling with Creek Chub.  The ones pictured above were just some of the Creek Chub that we were able to capture that morning. These fish have a dark spot on the front of the dorsal fin where the fin attaches to their body and a dark stripe that runs across their body. Juvenile Creek Chub have an even darker stripe; this stripe can be very light or absent on large adults. Breeding adult males have an orange-red color down their belly and cheeks, a dark bar behind its gills, and large horn-like bumps, or tubercles, on top of their heads that differentiate them from females (you can see one on the top of the male’s head in the above picture!). The ones found in our stream ranged between 3 to 5 inches, but Creek Chub can reach up to 12 inches.

Bluehead Chub (Nocomis leptocephalus)

The only bluehead chub we were able to find that morning.

The only Bluehead Chub we were able to find that morning.  Photo by Richa Patel.

This chub has a gorgeous blue head, which identifies it as a breeding male of the keenly named Bluehead Chub. Bluehead Chub are olive-colored on their upper side with a dusk yellow stripe down their backs. They, too, have large tubercles on their heads (check them out in the picture above!). This was the only Bluehead Chub we were able to find, but it did signal that there was a nest around. Male Bluehead Chub create nests from pebbles, which can be more than 2 feet long, that not only attract female Bluehead Chub, but also other minnows and chubs. It’s a beautiful, productive fish to have in our stream!

 Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)

Museum volunteer Brynn Tracy showing off a caught bluegill.

Museum volunteer Bryn Tracy showing off a caught bluegill.  Photo by Richa Patel.

Bluegill is a native sunfish here in the stream; Prairie Ridge does have some introduced sunfish, like the Green Sunfish, but we didn’t get our hands on any of those when we sampled. Bluegills are tall and flat with a continuous dorsal fin, the front part of which is spiny and the back part of which is soft. The fish are an olive green with a yellow undertone and blue and purple colors on the cheek and gill cover (thus the name Bluegill!). This Bluegill was around 5 inches (they can get to be up to 16) and one of three Bluegills we were able to identify that morning.

Yellow Bullhead (Ameiurus natalis)

A well-fed yellow bullhead from the Prairie Ridge creek.

A well-fed yellow bullhead from the Prairie Ridge creek.  Photo by Richa Patel.

This catfish was the largest fish we found! It was around 8 inches long and, as seen above, had to be held very carefully so that volunteer Bryn Tracy avoided getting hurt by the Bullhead’s serrated teeth along its pectoral spine. Yellow Bullheads are differentiated from Black or Brown bullheads by the base of their chin barbels (or ‘whiskers’), which are white or yellow, and by their longer anal fins. This fish locates prey by brushing the bottom of the stream with its whiskers.  The one above in particular had a nice, round belly that indicated it had just found a meal. Check out the whiskers on this one!

These are just some of the fish swimming along in our stream, and we’re always excited when we find more.  Head down to the creek to see what you can find!  However, please note that Prairie Ridge has a strict no collecting policy.  You’re welcome to look at the fish (and plants, insect, birds, mushrooms, and other wildlife) that call Prairie Ridge home, but please leave them where you find them before you leave.

Want to participate in other cool citizen science projects and learn more about the wildlife that lives in Prairie Ridge Ecostation? Keep up with our events on the Museum’s event calendar or our Facebook page!

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