Fish Fry Day Embarks on “Fishes of Wisconsin” Poster Challenge

It’s Fish Fry Day – the day when Wisconsin puts fish on the menu and we serve up a fish o’ the day on our blog. But  today, we’re launching an epic challenge – a quest to bring you tidbits of knowledge for each and every species of fish in Wisconsin.

Panorama is a must for a poster this epic. Kandis Elliot's "Fishes of Wisconsin" poster.
Panorama is a must for a poster this epic. Kandis Elliot’s “Fishes of Wisconsin” poster in our hallway.

Perhaps you missed the news (or our incessant social media bragging on the subject) but there is an AMAZING new poster hanging in our halls ( you, too, can buy a copy and support the UW-Madison Zoological Museum) featuring 183 species of Wisconsin fishes. Even more amazing is that they’re all drawn to scale (sorry) – their average adult size, to be exact.
In an article posted on the UW-Madison website, artist emeritus, Kandis Elliot, from the Department of Botany, explains why she chose to switch from things with leaves to creatures with fins:

“The idea behind the posters is to create a splash,” Elliot deadpans. “There is a wow factor. We want people, especially kids, to have an awareness of all our fishes, not just hook-and-line species.”

We couldn’t agree more, Mrs. Elliot!

The humble suckermouth minnow launches our "Fishes of Wisconsin" crusade.
The humble suckermouth minnow launches our “Fishes of Wisconsin” crusade.

So, in honor of your fine achievement, we are embarking upon our own crusade. Each Friday, working from the top left corner of the Fishes of Wisconsin poster, down to the bottom right (which is more than 13 feet away!), we’ll bring you a morsel or two of information regarding a fish. On the poster in our hallway, at least, that means the humble suckermouth minnow is first up – sitting in pole position at the top left corner, barely longer than the head of the bass lurking below it.

Suckermouth MinnowPhenacobius mirabilis

First let’s get something important out of the way – “minnow” does NOT mean “small fish.” While minnows are most often small, not all small fish are minnows and not all minnows are small.
In fact, minnows make up a family of fish called Cyprinidae which is the largest family of fish, boasting some 2,000 different members, including  everything from tiny two-inch shiners to a 3-foot long carp. Even the iconic pet goldfish is a member of the family.

Suckermouth minnow. Courtesy Wisconsin DNR, UW Seagrant
Suckermouth minnow. Courtesy Wisconsin DNR, UW Seagrant

All that said, the suckermouth minnow pretty much looks exactly like what you’d expect – a small, long, silvery body, spineless fins and a toothless mouth. Giving it it’s name, this particular minnow’s mouth is downward facing although, like many minnows, it’s used for gobbling up aquatic insects, not algae.
Suckermouth minnows are found mostly in the swift-flowing riffles and gravel runs of mid-to-large sized rivers.
Native to the U.S., the historic range of suckermouth minnows was a large swatch of the Mississippi River Basin. That range increased in the late 1800s and early 1900s as early settlers cleared the nation’s forests and prairies and converted them to farmland. That land-use change led to runoff from freshly ploughed fields and led to muddier, murkier waters – a condition the suckermouths apparently favored.
Suckermouth minnow
Suckermouth minnows (like many smaller minnows) are an important food, or forage fish, for all sorts of predators (think blue herons, bass, etc). As a result, they’re also popular bait fish for anglers. AND, as a result of that, they haven’t only moved into new habitats on their own volition. Most likely carried in by bait buckets, populations of suckermouth minnows have been recorded as far afield as Lake Erie and the Pecos River.
And that, dear reader, is all of the things we (or your trusty blogger, at least) know about suckermouth minnows.
We’ll be back next week as we continue our Fishes of Wisconsin quest and offer up some info on the next species on our gigantic poster – the largemouth bass. Stay tuned!
For lots more awesome info on suckermouth minnows, check out this page from the U.S. Geological Survey. Special thanks also to the Ohio and Wisconsin DNRs and the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute.
NOTE: Any and all tidbits of info on Wisconsin fishes is MUCH appreciated! Send videos, pics, details to and watch as you magically become the guest blogger for the day!