Freshwater Fishes Page
Welcome to the Nongame Conservation Section’s Freshwater Fish Conservation page. Here you will find information on fish ecology and diversity, threats to fish populations, conservation efforts, and fish identification. We have also embedded links to other useful webpages where you can learn more about Georgia’s freshwater fishes. You can also move directly to our Protected Species Account Page, The Fishes of Georgia Atlas, or Georgia Fishes in the Spotlight by clicking on the icons below.
Georgia has an amazing fish fauna
Georgia ranks third in the nation for the number of native freshwater fishes; only Alabama and Tennessee have more species. About 265 species are considered native to the state, which includes 245 described species and 20 species that have not yet been formally described by ichthyologists. An additional 19 species are not native to the state but have been introduced through intentional stockings or accidental releases. Georgia’s freshwater fishes are arranged in 27 different families of fishes, which are groups of closely related species. In order of decreasing diversity, the most diverse Georgia freshwater fish families are the minnows (Cyprinidae), darters (Percidae), sunfishes (Centrarchidae), suckers (Catostomidae), and Catfishes (Ictaluridae). Five described species are endemic to the state of Georgia and occur nowhere else in the world: Ocmulgee shiner (Cyprinella callisema), Altamaha shiner (Cyprinella xaenura), Chattahoochee sculpin (Cottus chattahoochae), Etowah darter (Etheostoma etowahae) and Cherokee darter (Etheostoma scotti). Dozens more are nearly endemic and have the majority of their range within the boundaries of our state.
Georgia’s fishes are amazing not just for their taxonomic diversity, but also for their fascinating variety of sizes, color patterns, life histories, and behaviors. On the puny side are the least killifish (Leptolucania ommata) and pygmy killifish (Heterandria formosa), both which max out around an inch in length and several species of pygmy sunfishes (Elassoma spp.) which grow only slightly longer. At the opposite end of the extreme is Georgia’s longest fish, the Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus), which may exceed 8 feet and is sometimes observed leaping out of the water in large coastal rivers. Atlantic sturgeon are representative of a group of highly migratory species that migrate hundreds or perhaps thousands of miles between feeding and breeding areas; other highly migratory species include American eels, striped bass, several species of shad, and mountain mullet. While most of our fishes do not make these epic journeys to complete their life cycle, movement between feeding, breeding, and refuge habitats has been shown to be important for even small species like minnows and darters. For example, the trispot darter (Etheostoma trisella) is known to migrate from large river feeding habitats into the tiniest headwater streams for spawning in late winter and early spring.
Male trispot darter (Etheostoma trisella). This species is known to migrate from larger creeks and rivers into tributary streams for spawning. Conserving the trispot darter requires the protection of small creeks, larger rivers, and the movement corridor between these habitats. (Photo by David Neely)
The diversity of breeding habitats and behaviors exhibited by Georgia fishes is amazing, but also important to know for management and conservation efforts. Most fishes are broadcast spawners that lay large numbers of eggs and invest no-parental care in their offspring, but there are many interesting variations and exceptions to this pattern. For example, male bluehead chubs and river chubs are known to construct a spawning nest by moving gravel and small pebbles into a mound. While this nest-building behavior is fascinating in its own right, these nests also provide spawning habitat for a variety of other minnow species. These nest-associating minnows are some of the most colorful fishes in our streams and are easily observed from stream banks in late spring to early summer throughout central and North Georgia. Another interesting example is catfishes (family Ictaluridae), which nest under cavities formed by rocks and logs. Male and female catfishes may contribute to parental care, which includes nest site preparation, fanning of the eggs with their fins, and guarding of the eggs and larvae.
This video shows a group of Alabama shiners (Cyprinella callistia) exhibiting spawning behavior around a rock crevice. The males are the brightly colored animals with bluish-white patches on their heads and red tails. The white patches are formed by tubercles (tiny horns or bumps composed of Keratin), which may function in combat between rival males and in signaling reproductive status to females. A few females (with a gold lateral stripe but without tubercles or distinctive coloration) can be seen darting into the crevice. The male and female will swim along the crevice and deposit eggs and sperm (you cannot see this in the video, but it is probably going on). Other males may also make solo runs along the crevice in an attempt to fertilize some of the eggs. Crevice spawning, which is characteristic of minnows in the genus Cyprinella, is considered an adaption to reduce predation on eggs.
There are many other ways in which Georgia’s fishes are amazing. Learn more by checking out our Georgia Fishes in the Spotlight page.
Male bluehead chub (Nocomis leptocephalus), a minnow species that constructs a gravel mound for spawning. Several other minnow species, known as nest associates, will also use the chub's nest for spawning.
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