Common Fish Families of Michigan

For a wider variety of photographs from these families and more detailed identification tips, try Solomon David's excellent NRE 423 Biology of Fishes webpage (family list appears on left bar of page).


Phylum Chordata, Subphylum Vertebrata

    Class "Agnatha" - jawless fish (lampreys, hagfishes)

         *Family Petromyzontidae - lampreys

        - anadromous or fresh water, eel-shaped jawless fishes
        - large, circular surrounding mouth, adapted for sucking, and by their single "nostril" on the top of their head. Parasitic species
            use sucker to attach themselves on fish
        - lacks scales, jaws, gill covers and paired fins
        - seven gill clefts openings extend behind eyes
        -.always spawn and lay eggs in brooks and rivers
        - ammocoete (larval stage) most of their lives (3-7 years), undergo a metamorphose to become an adult
        - adults either carnivorous (usually invertebrates) and/or parasitic (suck blood of other fishes), or nonfeeding
        - some species are anadromous, move to sea for 1-2 years until mature, then return to rivers to reproduce and generally die
        - many species sensitive to water pollution

    Class Osteichthyes - bony fishes

        Order Lepisosteiformes (gars)

         Family Lepisosteidae - gars

        - long cigar-shaped fishes, olive above, gray below
        - thick, ganoid (diamond-shaped) scales
        - beak-like jaws with sharp, pointed teeth
        - can use atmospheric oxygen, and may bask on the surface
        - habitat: large streams and rivers, backwaters, also shallow, weedy lakes;         usually near vegetation
        - food: predators

         Order Amiiformes (bowfins)

         Family Amiidae - bowfins

        - primitive fish, retains rounded heterocercal tail
        - lunglike gas bladder
        - underside of head with large, bony gular plate
        - one living species (Amia calva) of formerly diverse group
        - habitat: sluggish waters, such as lakes, swamps, sloughs, pools, and backwaters of lowland streams, usually near vegetation
        - reproduction: in spring, male builds circular nests among weeds, guards eggs and young
        - food: fishes, crayfish

         Order Clupeiformes (herring-like fishes)

         *Family Salmonidae - trouts and salmon

        - fishes with long body with many small cycloid scales
        - with adipose fin
        - large fishes, important sport and commercial fishes
        - many species migratory (anadromous), often spawning in same streams where they were hatched
        - habitat: cool to cold, well-oxygenated streams and lakes (often cooler than 21C)
        - food: insects, plankton, and bottom organisms

         Family Umbridae - mudminnows

        - small, red-brown fishes with oblong body, with faint vertical bars
        - blunt snout, scaled head, and rounded tail with dark bar at its base
        - no lateral line, no adipose fin
        - burrow into mud when alarmed, resistant to adverse conditions (even freezing)
        - habitat: soft-bottomed sluggish or stagnant water
        - food: insects, crustaceans, some vegetation

         *Family Esocidae - pikes

        - large, distinctive long cylindrical body, with forked caudal fin
        - duck-billed snout, sharp teeth
        - many cycloid scales
        - dorsal and anal fins located far back on body, opposite each other
        - no adipose fin
        - habitat: vegetated waters of pools or sluggish sections of streams, also lakes and swamps
        - food: fish and frogs, voracious predators and fighting behavior make them popular sport fishes

         Order Cypriniformes - minnows, suckers, catfishes

           *Family Cyprinidae - minnows and carps

        - largest family of freshwater fishes
        - usually small in size
        - no adipose fin
        - generally have thin lips (stonerollers (Campostoma) has horny edge extending to edge of lower lip, used to scrape algae, but different in shape from that of suckers (Catostomatidae))
        - lack teeth in mouth, but have 1-3 rows of teeth on comb-like row in throat
        - habitat: widespread in lentic and lotic waters
        - food: usually carnivores on small crustaceans and insects; some are herbivores

            *Family Catostomatidae - suckers

        - suckers in mouth, usually behind point of the snout
        - thick and large lips, protrusible premaxillae, used to “vacuum” and ingest invertebrates
        - no adipose fin
        - teeth located in throat in single comb-like row
        - spawn in spring
        - individuals often move in large schools
        - habitat: rivers, lake beds; because of large size and abundance, suckers often account for a large amount of biomass in streams and lakes
        - food: insects and other invertebrates on bottom

            *Family Ictaluridae - catfishes, madtoms

        - small to large fishes
        - 4 pairs of barbels (“whiskers”) around the mouth
        - no scales
        - adipose fin
        - stout spines at dorsal and pectoral fin origins; glandular cells in skin surrounding fin spines of madtoms are venomous, resulting in painful reaction
        - usually bottom feeders and active at night
        - some species of commercial food and aquaculture value
        - spawning usually in spring and summer

        Order Perciformes - perches, sunfishes, sculpins

            *Family Percidae - perches and darters

        - second most diverse family (after Cyprinidae) of North American freshwater fishes
        - all but several species are darters, which are some of our most colorful fishes
        - small in size (about 10 cm), several (walleye, yellow perch) are large (over 0.5 m) and are popular sport fishes
        - 2 dorsal fins, separate or slightly joined
        - ctenoid scales
        - most have lost gas bladder, dart about bottoms of streams and lakes
        - habitats: most darters found in clean sand and gravel runs of streams and small rivers; others in rivers and lakes
        - food: small crustaceans and insects

            *Family Centrarchidae - sunfishes and bass

        - thin, oblong or circular bodies
        - dorsal fins are completely joined
        - no adipose fin
        - males make shallow depression for nest, guard eggs and fry
        - food: macroinvertebrates and fish
        - habitat: lentic and lotic waters, usually of warmer temperatures
        - colorful and popular game fishes

            *Family Cottidae - sculpin

        - largely a marine group, a few freshwater species, dark and drab color
        - small fish with large mouth, wide body that tapers to slender, compressed caudal peduncle
        - large fanlike pectoral fins
        - 1-4 preopercular spines (at front of gill cover)
        - thoracic pelvic fins with 1 hidden spine and 3-4 rays
        - no or few (ctenoid) scales
        - 2 dorsal fins, 1 long spineless anal fin
        - habitat: streams and lakes, often rocky substrates

            Family Gasterosteidae - sticklebacks

        - unique for their separate dorsal spines followed by normal dorsal fin
        - scaleless
        - extremely narrow caudal peduncle
        - males build elaborate nests of plants and sticks held together by kidney secretion, guard eggs and young
        - habitat: shallow vegetated areas of lakes, ponds, and mud-bottomed substrates of sluggish streams, also creeks and small rivers over sand or mud
        - food: small insects and crustaceans