Rare minnows restored to Arkansas River

Plains minnow photo credit Texas State University

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Michael D. Seraphin):

Two rare minnows are once again swimming in the Arkansas River thanks to pioneering research efforts at the John Mumma Native Aquatic Species Restoration Facility.

Plains minnows (Hybognathus placitus) and suckermouth minnows (Phenacobius mirabilis) are native species on the Colorado threatened and endangered list. The small minnows were stocked into the Arkansas River above John Martin Reservoir in the vicinity of the Rocky Ford and Oxbow State Wildlife Areas in November. The fish will be monitored annually to determine the success of the stocking effort.

“We’ve been working on getting them re-established in portions of their native habitat for over a decade but were unable to reproduce them successfully until recently,” said Paul Foutz, Southeast Region Native Aquatic Species Biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Because plains minnows and suckermouth minnows are exceedingly rare, efforts to aid in their recovery were hampered by the fact that very little research was available about the optimal conditions for them to reproduce in a hatchery. Since 2000, the staff at the Native Aquatic Species Restoration Facility near Alamosa has worked meticulously and persistently to produce viable offspring. Several times they were able to achieve successful reproduction, only to encounter difficulties raising the young fish to maturity.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife hatchery technicians worked in conjunction with fish culturists at Colorado State University and the Albuquerque Aquarium investigating spawning and rearing techniques using methods similar to those that were successful for another small fish, the silvery minnow.

After a breakthrough in 2010, hatchery staff was able to create the proper conditions and reared approximately 38,000 plains minnow and 4,000 suckermouth minnows in 2011. The fish ranged in size from one to two inches.

As State listed endangered species, re-establishing populations of plains minnow and suckermouth minnow will have no impact on normal agricultural operations.

The original bloodstock of plains minnows came from collections in Kansas on the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River in Barber County. The suckermouth minnows are offspring of fish that were collected from the wild in Colorado in areas where small populations existed in the Arkansas River.

Species summaries:

Suckermouth minnow (Phenacobius mirabilis)
Suckermouth minnows are native to the eastern plains of Colorado in the South Platte, Arkansas, and Arikaree Rivers. Its range extends to most of the Mississippi River basin from Ohio west to Wyoming, and south to Louisiana and Texas. This species has spotty and rare distribution and is currently a state listed endangered species. This small (2-5 inch) fish is slender with a conspicuous dark spot at the base of the tail fin. It inhabits shallow riffles with sand/gravel substrate, but utilizes deeper pools during low flow periods.

Plains Minnow (Hybognathus placitus)
This plains fish is native to the Arkansas, Republican and South Platte basins in Colorado. Its range includes the Missouri River and western Mississippi River systems from Montana south to Texas. A few specimens were collected on the eastern plains in the South Platte in the early 1980’s and mid-1990’s. It has not been seen in the Arkansas River since the 1960’s. It is olive or yellow-green with brassy reflection and grows to about five-inches. It is currently a Colorado state endangered species.

For additional information and pictures of the plains minnow and suckermouth minnow along with some of Colorado’s other native aquatic species please visit the following web sites: http://wildlife.state.co.us/Education/TeacherResources/ColoradoWildlifeCompany/Pages/FishCWCF03.aspx


More coverage from the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Plains minnows (Hybognathus placitus) and suckermouth minnows (Phenacobius mirabilis) are on the Colorado threatened and endangered list.The plains minnow hasn’t been seen in the Arkansas River since the 1960s.

The two species have different requirements for habitat, food and reproduction. Plains minnow primarily feed on algae as well as other microscopic plants and animals, while suckermouth minnows typically feed on larval insects and other microscopic organisms which they glean from the riverbed with their sucker-like mouth, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists.

Both species declined due changes that have taken place on the Arkansas River during many decades due to water and land development.

More endangered species coverage here.

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