This holiday season, we’re celebrating the incredible diversity that is Oklahoma’s fish community. Swim along for these Fishmas facts!

A long, narrow fish

Fishmas Fact 1: More than 150 species of native fish, including the longnose gar, can be found in Oklahoma. Some have specific habitat needs, while others can tolerate a range of conditions. No matter where they’re found in the state or in the food chain, each native species plays a valuable role in its community.  

A long fish with a spoon-like snout.

Fishmas Fact 2: Feeding a diverse fish community makes for a diverse menu. Some fish, including paddlefish, filter plankton out of the water column; some suction insects and other nutrients from the streambed; some ambush fish; and others live on the full buffet that can be found in Oklahoma’s waterways.  

A silvery fish with a downturned mouth

Fishmas Fact 3: For the first few weeks of life, the white sucker’s horseshoe-shaped mouth is in line with its eyes. The mouth becomes more and more downturned after the fry reach 1/2 -inch in length, and the fish begin feeding on the bottom of the stream.

A dark fish with whiskers.

Fishmas Fact 4: Catfish whiskers aren’t just for looks … the whiskers or “barbels” help the nocturnal fish navigate and even have external taste buds. Thirteen species of catfish, including the black bullhead, can be found in Oklahoma. 

A silver fish

Fishmas Fact 5: Freshwater drum are known and named for the drumming or croaking sounds they make by contracting muscles along the swim bladder. And while the thunderous fish spend most of their time at or near the bottom of the river or lake, drum eggs instead float at the surface for a day or two until they hatch. The oldest known drum, pulled from Minnesota waters, was 71 years old. Unlike many other long-lived fish, drum mature at a relatively young age and will spawn annually after they reach maturity.

A small silver fish with reddish fins

Fishmas Fact 6: Red shiners are one of the most widespread fish species in North America. Their key to success? Adaptability. The minnow can tolerate a range of water conditions and habitats, eats a variety of algae and aquatic invertebrates, and has a spawning season of April to September. Red shiners also mature rapidly; fish hatched earlier in the spring can reproduce later that same summer. Red shiners are found throughout Oklahoma.  

The head of a small fish with small projections on the top of the head and snout

Fishmas Fact 7: Central stonerollers live up to their name each spring when males begin digging shallow pits for the upcoming spawn. Small pebbles are pushed and even carried out of the nest by mouth! The nests are later used by a suite of other small fish for their spawn. Central stonerollers are most often encountered in clear streams in eastern Oklahoma where they graze on algal mats on the bottom of streams.  

A long yellowish fish with reddish fins

Fishmas Fact 8: Like many other sucker fish, the shorthead redhorse has a downturned mouth built for grubbing immature insects like midges, caddisflies, and mayflies from the rocky stream bottom. The shorthead redhorse can be found in clear streams and rivers in northeastern Oklahoma.  

A small fish with a rounded snout

Fishmas Fact 9: The male creek chub digs its first nest of the season by mouth and unloads the small gravel from the pit upstream. Once the eggs have been deposited, the male begins construction on a second nest, dropping the gravel on top of the first. This process continues through the spawning season, resulting in a long ridge of gravel.   

A long fish with a forked tail and a flattened snout

Fishmas Fact 10:  Shovelnose sturgeon are homebodies for much of the year, preferring to stay at the bottom of the river in one general vicinity for several months. But when water temperatures reach 65 to 70 degrees, the fish begin to migrate upstream for their annual spawn. Once eggs hatch, the young sturgeon need to float downstream for seven days as they continue to develop.  

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