sucker fish

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Suckerfish belong to the family Catotomidae and live in freshwater environments around the world. Sticklebacks are believed to have first evolved around 50 million years ago, and today more than 79 species have been identified.

Although suckerfish are bony fish, they have historically been an important food source and can be found in streams and rivers not only in the United States but also in other countries such as China.

Suckerfish are distinct from the species Hypostomus plecostomus , which is often referred to as the "sucker catfish". Commonly used in aquariums, this species is often referred to as the "watchdog fish" because of its ability to remove algae buildup.

Remoras are another family of fish, often colloquially known as "sucker fish" because of their sucker-like organs that allow them to cling to large marine animals such as sharks.



Suckerfish Facts

  • Long-lived fish: A sucker fish called the buffalo ( Ictiobus cyprinellus ) is believed to be the longest-lived freshwater fish on Earth! A study using carbon dating estimated the lifespan of a largemouth buffalo fish to be 112 years old!

taxonomic name

Suckerfish belong to Cypriniformes and Family Catotomidae. As of November 2020, a total of 79 species in 13 genera have been described.

Examples of scientific names for specific suckerfish species include:

  • Black and red horse: Moxostoma duquesni
  • White suction cup: Catostomus comm

Specific attributes include:

  • Cyprinidae
  • kato storms
  • chamisters
  • Cycleptus
  • delta
  • Eremizon
  • Hypentelium
  • Figure 8 bus
  • Pearl
  • anthrax
  • sticky carp
  • Juniper
  • Xiaochen
white sucker fish
Suckerfish belong to Cypriniformes and Family Catotomidae.

© RLS Photo/

Types of Suckerfish

River red horse sucker fish
The red horse river is another sucker fish that was once common in the Mississippi watershed.

©M Huston/

With 79 identified species, there are a large number of different stickleback species. Some of the most famous include:

  • White Suckers – White suckers are found in streams and lakes in the Mississippi watershed. Usually a smaller sucker species, weighing just over 2 pounds, the white sucker occasionally reaches the size of 8 pounds. Due to its wide distribution, white suckers are sometimes called "common suckers".
  • Red Horse River – The Red Horse River is another sucker fish that was once common in the Mississippi watershed. However, their range has declined in recent decades. Although "red horse" is often locally synonymous with sucker, there are many different species with "red horse" in their names. Other examples include gold and red, silver and red, brachycephalic and scarlet.
  • Blue Sucker – Considered Near Threatened by the IUCN. Like other sticklebacks, their numbers appear to be dwindling as pollution and dam construction affect their preferred environments.
  • Smallmouth Buffalo – These suckers can be found in other areas, but mostly around the Mississippi River and its tributaries. They are similar to carp and generally prefer faster moving water, but can also be found in lakes. They are closely related to other buffalo suckers.
  • Northern Hogsucker – These suckers are usually found in warmer waters with good downstream providing them with rocks, pebbles and other particles to scrape off nutrients. While they are not a threatened species, they do share relationships with other species, and this sympathetic relationship can cause problems for their survival in some places.
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History and Evolution

While there are many different types of Suckerfish that live in many different parts of the world and have their own specific adaptations, they have all evolved to find ways to obtain food that other fish and animals do not. This is a great testament to nature that life found a way or was pushed aside!

These different kinds of suckers evolved because individual members had physical traits that allowed them to outlive other members, and these more fit examples passed on their particular genes to their offspring, and so on.


What Plecos (Sucker Fish) Eat - Pleco in the Aquarium
For sucker fish, the name "sucker" comes from their thick lips, which help the fish cling to the bottom of streams and other freshwater habitats.

©MM Stock/

Suckerfish can grow to about 3 feet (1 meter) long. Most species are between 1 and 2 feet. The largest sucker fish is the largemouth buffalo, which can reach a maximum of 79 pounds (36 kilograms). An example of a smaller sucker species is the blue sucker, which has an average mass of 5.5 pounds.

The name "suction cups" comes from their lips, thick lips that help fish cling to the bottom of streams and other freshwater habitats.

Distribution, Habitat and Prey

The vast majority of sucker fish live in freshwater streams and lakes in the United States and North America. They are especially common in slower-flowing rivers or reservoirs. Outside of North America, fish in the family Catostomidae can be found in Russia, and there is one species in China.

Suckers are bottom eaters and subsist on an omnivorous diet. They eat algae, zooplankton, insects, small invertebrates, crustaceans and plants.


Smaller sucker fish are preyed upon by larger fish such as trout, bass, catfish, and walleye. Species such as the larger buffalo fish are usually immune to predation once they are fully grown.

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What do Plecos (sucker fish) eat?
Suckerfish have thick lips that help the fish cling to the bottom of streams and other freshwater habitats.

© slowmotiongli/

fishing and cooking

Suckerfish were a staple of early civilizations, especially throughout the Americas where Native Americans fished this widespread and abundant species.

Today, consumption of sticklebacks varies. Smaller species like white suckers are often used as bait. Larger sucker species require careful cleaning to remove bones. After cleaning, the suckers are usually fried. The meat is often described as sweet and savory.

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Sucker Fish are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and other animals.

Sucker Fish belongs to Kingdom Animalia.

The biggest threats to Sucker Fish are pollution and dams.