Monday, August 5, 2019

What's New In the World of Freshwater Fishes of Virginia? by Don Orth

The Field Guide to the Freshwater Fishes of Virginia will be released by September 24th. I promise that even those familiar with our local fish fauna will learn something new.  I’ve received many questions about the forthcoming Field Guide and answer a few of them here. 

How many freshwater fish species are there in Virginia?  There are more species (226) and more families (28) of freshwater fishes than appeared in Jenkins and Burkhead (1994) treatise.  How’d that happen?  It’s a combination of discoveries of cryptic diversity, introductions, and elevation of subspecies to species status. 

Families                                  Species in Virginia
Lampreys - Petromyzontidae              5
Sturgeons - Acipenseridae                  2
Paddlefish – Polyodontidae                1
Gars – Lepisosteidae                          1
Bowfins – Amiidae                            1
Eels – Anguillidae                              1
Herrings – Clupeidae                          6
Carps and allies - Cyprinidae             1
Carps - Xenocyprididae – Carps        1
Minnows – Leuciscidae                      71
Suckers – Catostomidae                     19
Catfishes – Ictaluridae                        15
Trouts – Salmonidae                           3
Pikes – Esocidae1                                4
Mudminnows – Umbridae1                1   
Pirate Perch – Aphredoderidae           1
Cavefishes – Amblyopsidae               1
Silversides – Atherinopsidae              1
Killifishes – Fundulidae                     5
Livebearers – Poeciliidae                   1
Sticklebacks – Gasterosteidae            1
Sculpins – Cottidae                             10
Temperate Basses – Moronidae          3
Sunfishes – Centrarchidae                  20
Perches – Percidae                              48
Drums – Sciaenidae                            1
Snakeheads – Channidae                    1
1Note: some call for merger of Esocidae and Umbridae
Outline sketch of members of the Leuciscidae, formerly Leuciscinae, Cyprinidae
What the most species rich group?  The order Cypriniformes is the most diverse order of freshwater fishes in the world, numbering over 4,602 currently recognized species (Fricke et al. 2019).  This is more than 200 new Cypriniformes species since we first began working on the Field Guide. 

What major taxonomic revision has occurred recently? The former subfamily Leuciscinae was elevated to family level (Tan and Armbruster 2018). Leuciscidae has 680 species and this now includes what we used to consider the native North American Cyprinidae as well as some European and Asian minnows.  In Virginia, we find 71 species in the newly defined Leuciscidae, making this the most species-rich family in freshwaters of Virginia. Xenocyprididae encompases the introduced fish we know as Ctenopharyngodon idella – Grass Carp. Cyprinidae includes 1,722 valid species, such as the Common Carp, as well as other carps, barbs and barbels, and tor.    

What about the darters? There are 238 valid species of Percidae in the world and most of these are darters.   Virginia has 48 species of Percidae, 45 are darters in Ammocrypta, Percina, and Etheostoma. 

How come Virginia has such high number of freshwater fishes?
Virginia has a humid, temperate climate with about 43 inches of rainfall annually. In this relatively wet environment, differences in geology and topography provide diverse aquatic habitats and thermal regimes enabling a wide diversity of fish species to evolve and thrive. Historical factors, such as the lack of Pleistocene glaciers, interconnections between river systems, and species dispersal patterns, all contribute to Virginia’s rich fish fauna.  Virginia has five landforms, each with distinct geologic histories and freshwater habitats.  These are depicted on the map below -- Appalachian Plateau, Ridge and Valley, Blue Ridge, Piedmont, and Coastal Plain. Virginia’s highest peak is Mount Rogers at 5,729 feet above sea level.
Map of Virginia color coded by elevation (blue is low, red is high) and physiographic provinces. Map produced by coauthor Corbin Hilling.   If you don't know physiographic provinces, get the Field Guide.
Which drainage has the most nonnative fishes?   The New drainage has only 40 native fishes and an additional 46 species are introduced.

What species are extirpated from Virginia?
Cyprinella labrosaThicklip Chub
Moxostoma lacerumHarelip Sucker
Percopsis omiscomaycusTrout-perch Percopsidae
Percina bimaculataChesapeake Logperch

What is the rarest fish species of Virginia?
Erimystax cahni – Slender Chub

What is species is the newest introduction to Virginia? 
Channa argus – Northern Snakehead

What family has the most cryptic diversity?  Cottidae

What species still need of formal species descriptions?
Chrosomus sp. cf. saylori – Clinch Dace
Notropis sp. cf. spectrunculus – Sawfin Shiner
Moxostoma sp. cf. lachneri – Brassy Jumprock
Cottus n. sp.  Bluestone Sculpin
Cottus n. sp. Clinch Sculpin
Cottus n. sp. Holston Sculpin
Probably other Cottus
What colloquial fish name is unique to Virginia?   Shenandoah Tarpon is used by anglers who have caught the Fallfish Semotilus corporalis via flyfishing.
            Acipenser oxyrinchus Atlantic Sturgeon
            Acipenser brevirostrum Shortnose Sturgeon
            Etheostoma osburni Candy Darter
            Etheostoma percnurum Duskytail Darter
            Percina rex Roanoke Logperch

What species are Threatened?
Chrosomus cumberlandensis Blackside Dace
Erimystax cahni Slender Chub
Erimonax monachus syn: Cyprinella monacha Spotfin Chub
Noturus flavipinnis Yellowfin Madtom

What’s the most colorful fish in Virginia?  That’s a toss up between the
            Chrosomus oreas Mountain Redbelly Dace and
            Etheostoma osburni Candy Darter
You’ll have judge for yourself. Each of these colorful species was illustrated by Val Kells

Michael J. Pinder, coauthor, and Yellowfin Madtom Recovery t-shirt at the release in the North Fork Holston River.  Photos by David Crigger, Bristol Herald Courier

What rare fish has high promise for recovery?  The Yellowfin Madtom has been cultured in captivity and can be introduced into streams of its historic range. 

What is the most cultured species in Virginia?   More than 1.5 million trout are produced in Virginia's 5 trout hatcheries each year.  Most of these are Rainbow Trout Oncorhynchus mykiss. 

Most underappreciated cool fish in Virginia?   Swampfish Chologaster cornuta

What species has the smallest range?
Etheostoma percnurumDuskytail Darter occurs only in Copper Creek

Duskytail Darter Etheostoma percnurum.  Illustration by J. Sipiorski (Blanton et al. 2008)

What’s the best fish story? That would have to be the sturgeons (Acipenseridae).  These ancient bony fishes lived during the Cretaceous period during the age of dinosaurs (145.5 and 65.5 million years ago). Sturgeons are one of the largest and longest-lived anadromous fish in North America and two species occur in Virginia waters.  The Atlantic Sturgeon may reach a maximum size of 14 feet and 811 pounds based on a Canadian specimen.  The population has been depleted coast wide for a long time.  During the late 1800s, fishing for sturgeon eggs (to sell as caviar) attracted so many people, the trend was referred to as the “Black Gold Rush.” Atlantic Sturgeon were thought to be gone from Maryland waters of the Chesapeake Bay, but recent good news indicates they are still there. Also, Atlantic Sturgeon are reproducing in the James River.

Albert Spells, Virginia Fisheries coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service, didn’t believe Atlantic sturgeon were gone from the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Photo by USFWS

How many field guides do you plan to sell?  Based on US Census figures, there are 8.57 million people in Virginia, 78% are over 18, and 8% fish.  If all anglers in Virginia buy a Field Guide, we will sell 534,768 copies.  😉  Pre-order now and receive a 20% discount from the publisher.  

Blanton, R.E., and R.E. Jenkins. 2008. Three new darter species of the Etheostoma percnurum species complex (Percidae, subgenus Catonotus) from the Tennessee and Cumberland river drainages.  Zootaxa 1963:1-24.
Fricke, R., W.N. Eschmeyer, and R. van der Laan, editors.  2019.  CATALOG OF FISHES: GENERA, SPECIES, REFERENCES.  Accessed August 2, 2019 (
Jenkins, R.E., and N.M. Burkhead. 1994.  Freshwater Fishes of Virginia.  American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, Maryland.  1080 pp.
Tan, M., and J.W. Armbruster. 2018. Phylogenetic classification of extant genera of fishes of the order Cypriniformes (Teleostei: Ostariophysi).  Zootaxa 4476(1):6-39.


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  7. Well i never knew that there are so many fish species are there in virginia butt really thank you for telling and composed this information in such a great way

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