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White Sucker, Catostomus commersonii (pictured)
Longnose Sucker, Catostomus catostomus

White sucker

Identifying characteristics: (Native Fish) Single dorsal fin, sucking mouth with no barbels, long cylindrical body. The white sucker has coarser scales, the longnose has fine scales, but visually, with only one in hand, they are difficult to distinguish.

The Catostomidae, or sucker family, is closely allied with the minnow family. Suckers are soft-rayed fishes that possess a toothless, protractile mouth with distinctive thick lips. The longnose and white suckers are two of the most common representatives of this family in Michigan's Great Lakes.

Both the white and the longnose sucker are bottom feeding fish and spend most of their time in shallow, warm waters. In bays, estuaries and tributary rivers, both species make their homes in holes and areas around windfalls or other underwater obstructions. However, longnose suckers have been found as deep as 600 feet in Lake Superior.

Although white and longnose suckers both lay their eggs among pebble and gravel beds in lake and river shallows during the spring, longnose suckers spawn several days before white suckers. Sexual maturity arrives at five to nine years of age for the longnose while the white species matures at three to eight years. In addition, white sucker females grow faster, get larger and live longer than males. Maximum life expectancy for white suckers appears to be 17 years; it can be as long as 22-24 years for the longnose. Whites usually grow to be 12-20 inches long, while the longnoses grow to 15-25 inches.

As youngsters under 12 inches in length, suckers are eaten by northern pike, muskellunge, bass, walleyes and burbot. Sucker fry are preyed on by Atlantic Salmon and fish-eating birds. Sea lampreys damage sucker populations in areas where lake trout are scarce. As bottom feeders, both species dine exclusively on aquatic plants, algae, and small invertebrate animals - especially worms and crustaceans. White suckers have been accused of consuming large quantities of eggs from more desirable fish species, but there is no conclusive evidence to support this contention. The longnose sucker is not a serious predator of fish eggs.

Economically, suckers are at present a potentially valuable by underused sport fish. Their bony flesh has a fine, sweet flavor and is often fried in butter, smoked or used in soups and chowders. Commercially, it is often marketed under the name "freshwater mullet." Commercial "deboning" machines have been developed, so minced mullet products may one day be available in your local store. Also, suckers have great value as bait (usually for pike or muskie), and are often fed to sport fish in hatcheries. Theses versatile fish are commanding increasing respect from commercial and sport fishermen alike.

The white sucker goes by a number of other names, like common sucker, coarse-scaled sucker, brook sucker, gray sucker, mud sucker, sucker, mullet, black mullet, slender sucker, June sucker and white horse.

For more information on how and where to catch suckers see our Michigan Fish and How to Catch Them and Better Fishing Waters.