the Golden Redhorse Moxostoma erythrurum Source USGS|
Moxostoma fishes are widespread primarily east of the western continental divide. The distribution of the Golden Redhorse Moxostoma erythrurum is shown here. It overlaps with many other species of Moxostoma. The poster (below) developed by Olaf Nelson should assist in identifying the more common species of Moxostoma.
|Identification aids for species of Moxostoma, Poster by Olaf Nelson.|
The Golden Redhorse is aptly named for the golden scales on its body. Other characteristics include a slate gray tail, a concave dorsal fin, and plicate lips.
|Golden Redhorse Source: Fishes of Georgia Gallery, Flickr.com|
The mouth of the Golden Redhorse can protrude far from the snout during feeding. Plicate lips of the Golden Redhorse are folded lengthwise (see photo). Other redhorse suckes have lip textures that are a mix of plicae and papillae (individual bumps). The lips are covered with taste buds that allow the Golden Redhorse to taste their food before sucking it in.
|Lips of the Golden Redhorse. Photo by Jim Negus|
|Pharyngeal teeth from Golden Redhorse (A) and River Redhorse Moxostoma carinatum (B) Source: Bailey (1951)|
Golden Redhorse live in streams and rivers and orient their bodies to the current and the stream bottom. When observed they may be cruising together in large schools in pools or, if strong currents are present, they are at the stream bottom with their pectoral fins used to increase friction and reduce lift.
Golden Redhorse spawn in April and May (water temperatures ~ 10 C, or 50 F) and often migrate upstream and into smaller tributaries to locate suitable spawning grounds. Spawning habitats selected tend to have moderate-to-fast current velocity over gravel-size substrates. Spawning depths are variable; however, the Golden Redhorse are most visible on shallow spawning habitats.
|Map of a spawning area showing locations of territorial males (Kwak and Skelly 1992).|
In shallow riffles the spawning males are territorial and females may cruise over spawning areas from a nearby deeper holding area. Males use tubercles to touch and prod females to release eggs. Rapid body movements disturb the gravel substrate so that the adhesive, demersal eggs are buried. Repeated disturbances of gravel leave behind pits. Spawning may occur during day and night and typically two males spawn with one female. Watch this video of River Redhorse Moxostoma carinatum spawning. Females produce between 5,000 and 25,000 eggs, depending on body size; many newly deposited eggs are quickly eaten by predators.
|Boldly striped breeding male Golden Redhorse Source Page and Johnston (1990)|
Breeding male Golden Redhorse develop tubercles. Breeding tubercles are keratinized epidermal structures that play a role during contact between spawning individuals. The tubercles on Golden Redhorse develop about the head, body and fins and are formed by many cells that have been keratinized.
|Breeding tubercles on Golden Redhorse. Source: Fishes of Georgia gallery, Flickr.com|
The common name, redhorse, comes from a old method of capture called snaring; snaring is now outlawed by many states. Snaring of redhorse occurred during the spawning season when the males were holding on territories in shallow water. Snaring involved “using a twelve- or fourteen-foot cane pole tipped with a loop made of a guitar string, with a little piece of lead on the bottom of the wire loop, to catch big river sucker by the tail” (Brown 2006, p. 12). Brown further explains that “The sliding lead weight was to drag along the bottom and so keep the plane of the wire loop at right angles to the current. The overall aim was not to catch the Redhorse by the tail with the noose, or snare, but just behind the gills and in front of the pectoral fins. Too big a loop and it would go completely over the fish without snaring it. When you got the noose positioned just right, you had hold of a strong fish of from three to six or more pounds with head and tail free, and no give in the wire: “They’ll horse, too, they’ll pull. They’re a lot of fun.” "
Redhorse spawning in the shallows are also easy targets for sharpshooters with rifles. Scott County, Virginia, is the only remaining locality that permits the shooting of suckers. A proposal to disallow it for safety concerns and effects on non-target fish and mussels was rejected by the Board of the VDGIF in 2014. Although the rationale appeared to be sound, a Board member said “It is the DGIF’s task to preserve as many outdoor pastimes as possible, even the quirky ones, while doing so with an eye toward safety, ethics and sound biology. As for shooting fish, the staff needs to do more homework.”
Golden Redhorse are bona fide “roughfish” that are caught by many anglers by hook and line. This video demonstrates one technique. Redhorse are also caught as bycatch by catfish anglers.
|A Golden Redhorse landed by a young angler.|
The Golden Redhorse and all members of the genus Moxostoma deserve our respect. Fortunately, there is a nascent movement to “Respect the Redhorse.” A website maintained by Olaf Nelson (follow on twitter @moxostoma) promotes fishing for redhorse and other roughfish. The Roughfish.com website has a special section for the redhorses. Roughfish gives a Redhorse Master Award to individuals who have caught six or more species of redhorse. Now that is a newfound respect for the redhorse and the redhorse angler.
Bailey, R.M. 1951. A check-list of the fishes of Iowa, with keys for identification. Pages 187-238 in J.R. Harlan and E.B. Speaker, Editors. Iowa Fish and Fishing. State Conservation Commission Of Iowa, Des Moines.
Brown, J. 2006. River redhorse and the seasonal snaring thereof in Alabama. Tributaries 9:9-26.
Curry, K.D., and A. Spacie. 1984. Differential use of stream habitat by spawning catostomids. American Midland Naturalist 111:267-279.
Kwak, T.J., and T.M. Skelly. 1992. Spawning habitat, behavior, and morphology as isolating mechanisms of the golden redhorse, Moxostoma erythrurum, and the black redhorse, M. duquesnei, two syntopic fishes. Environmental Biology of Fishes 34:127-137.
Meyer, W.H. 1962. Life history of three species of redhorse (Moxostoma) in the Des Moines River, Iowa. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 91:412-419.
Page, L.M., and C.E. Johnston. 1990. Spawning in the creek chubsucker, Erimyzon oblongus, with a review of spawning behavior in suckers (Catostomidae). Environmental Biology of Fishes 27:265-272.