Breeding colors of freshwater fishes

You don’t have to fly to Cozumel to see pretty fishes.

Freshwater fishes are amazingly colorful, but are underrated. Fish enthusiasts and divers often flock to tropical latitudes and coral reefs to see exotic, specimens. However, some of the most eye-catching specimens are swimming in North American streams at this very moment. It’s spawning season for stream fishes, and males of many fish species are displaying their breeding colors to attract females and intimidate their rivals.

This week, our artist-in-residence, Hannah Dean, gives her take on a few of my favorite examples of freshwater fish that put on showy breeding colors–painted on wood…because paintings on wood are awesome.

redfin darterRedfin Darter Etheostoma whippleiThis darter (family Percidae) is endemic to the Ozark highlands of the central US (AR, OK, MO, & KS), and puts on incredible breeding colors of red, white, and blue. A lithophil (gravel spawner), this species is particularly sensitive to landscape disturbance.

rainbow shiner

Rainbow Shiner Notropis chrosomusThis minnow (family Cyprinidae) is probably one of the most outlandish looking stream fishes you’ll find. Donning hot-pink bodies and electric blue heads, these fishes swarm nests of Bluehead Chubs to spawn in mid-spring. Native to Gulf Slope drainages in Georgia and Alabama, this fish is highly sought-after in the European aquarium trade.

Speckled darter


Speckled Darter Etheostoma stigmaeumWith its bright blue vertical bars, Specked Darter is up there among the numerous showy darters. This species was thought to be pretty widely distributed throughout the southern US, until ichthyologists realized that it was actually five separate species.

Sailfin mollie

Crescent Shiner Luxilus cerasinus. Native to the Roanoke and New Rivers of North Carolina and Virginia, this is a pretty stout minnow and one of my favorites. Male crescent shiners develop breeding tubercles and turn a rich shade of pink during breeding season. It looks like they’re missing scales, but that’s just color patterns (crescents).

It’s an exciting time of the year to be a fish enthusiast. Go pick up a cheap snorkel set and stick your head in the creek–who knows what you’re likely to find!

Illustrated by Hannah Dean, written by Brandon Peoples




One Comment Add yours

  1. Frank Beres says:

    Cool! I love seeing the spawning colors of sunfish here in CT.

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