Colorado Squawfish, Ptychocheilus lucius

Formally known as the Colorado squawfish, this freshwater species is now called the Colorado pikeminnow. This fish was native to Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, as well as portions of Mexico, but with the natural habitat changed by the damming of rivers and streams, this fish is now restricted to the Colorado Basin. Limited numbers of the Colorado squawfish still remain in the following rivers: Green, Gunnison, White, San Juan and Yampa; additionally it has been introduced into the Salt and Verde Rivers.

Habitat for the young is the shoreline where turbulent water flows, whereas the adult will reside in channels and pools where the water flows with a twirling motion (an eddy). The Colorado squawfish is a bottom dweller with the larger fish staying in deeper water.

The Colorado squawfish is gradient in color, having an olive green back, a pale yellow flank, and a white belly. The head is slightly flattened and cone-shaped making up almost one quarter the total length of the fish. The maximum length for this species has diminished considerably from 6 feet in the early 1900’s to just under 2 feet recently and weighing 4 – 9 lbs. A life span of 12 years for the Colorado squawfish is common.

From the newly hatched fish up to 2 inches in length it will feed on crustaceans, plankton, and water fleas. As they gain in size the diet will switch to insects and smaller fish, while adult species will mainly feed on other fish.

While spawning the Colorado squawfish male will be bronze in color and be covered with small bumps, while the larger female will be lighter in color and have fewer bumps. The fish will migrate to where it hatched to spawn, which begins around the summer solstice, usually in eddies and small pools.

The adhesive eggs will bond to sticks, rocks, and almost anything that is near when the female releases her batch. Upon hatching, the fry (young) will be caught in the current and carried downstream until stopping in pools and eddies as far away as 50 miles or more.

Native Americans along with early settlers considered the Colorado squawfish an important food fish, but today it is neither a food or sport fish. This fish has been noted as vulnerable on the endangered species list and conservation efforts have been implemented to make waterways have a more natural flow where this fish migrates, but recovery of the population is slow.

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Actinopterygii

Order: Cypriniformes

Family: Cyprinidae

Image Credit: J E Johnson/FWS/Wikipedia