Picture by Chad Thomas, Texas State University-San Marcos



Phenacobius mirabilis

suckermouth minnow



Type Locality

Arkansas River, Fort Smith, Arkansas (Girard 1857).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Phenacobius, Greek, “deceptive life,” in possible reference to its appearing either as a small sucker or as an herbivorous species (which it is not); mirabilis meaning “wonderful” (Ross 2001).



Exoglossum mirabile Girard 1857:191.



Maximum size: 122 mm (4.80 in) TL (Trautman 1981).


Coloration: Back and upper sides silvery green with dark lateral stripe ending in a spot at base of caudal fin; abdomen whitish; peritoneum silvery with black spots. Rays of dorsal, caudal, and pectoral fins lightly outlined with melanophores (Sublette et al. 1990).


Pharyngeal teeth count: 0,4-4,0


Counts: (Hubbs et al., 1991); 44-49 lateral line scales; 5-9 gill rakers (total), 3-4 gill rakers (upper), 1-5 gill rakers (lower); 8 dorsal rays; 7 anal rays; 13-17 pectoral rays; 8 (7-9) pelvic rays (Ross 2001).


Body shape: Elongate, cylindrical; short, broadly rounded head; small mouth and eyes; eye diameter goes into snout length 1.5-2.0 times and into head length 3.6-4.5 times; body depth goes in SL 4.2-5.0 times (Ross 2001).


Mouth position: Inferior (Ross 2001).


Morphology: Lower lip thick with fleshy lobe on each side that is partially separated from mandible by a groove which is best observed from the front; lateral line usually not decurved, either straight or with a broad arch; premaxillaries protractile; upper lip separated from skin of snout by a deep groove continuous across the midline; distance from origin of anal fin to end of caudal peduncle contained two and one-half or fewer times in distance from tip of snout to origin of anal fin (Hubbs et al., 1991); gill rakers short, knoblike; anterior dorsal scales slightly crowded near the occiput; breast and anterior portions of the belly naked; posterior scales of belly naked; lateral line complete (Ross 2001); breeding males have very small tubercles on head, forward part of body, and rays of pectoral fin (Pflieger 1997). Becker (1983) noted sexual dimorphism: In male, pelvic fins reaching or almost reaching anus; in female, a considerable gap between end of pelvic fin and anus. Pectoral fins in male, large, broad, and fan-shaped; in female, small, narrow, and elongate.  Intestine short, S-shaped; ratio of digestive tract (DT) to total length (TL) is 0.6-0.7 (Becker 1983).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Throughout central United States (Hubbs et al. 1991). Rare in Gulf Slope drainages of New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana; north in Mississippi River basin to WY, SD, and WI, and east in Ohio and Tennessee river valleys to eastern KY, western WV and eastern OH; also in western drainage of Lake Erie (Rohde 1980). Pecos River drainage in the New Mexico reaches (Linam and Kleinsasser 1996).


Texas distribution: In limited numbers in Texas Coastal plain streams including Red, Sabine, Trinity and Colorado drainages (Hubbs et al.1991). Canadian River (Wilde and Bonner 2000).


[Additional literature noting collection of this species from Texas locations includes, but is not limited to the following: Village Creek, a blackwater tributary of the Neches River (Hardin Co.; Moriarty and Winemiller 1997); Hubbs (1957); Hubbs and Herzog (1955).]


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, Non-governmental organizations):

Not listed as threatened or endangered by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (2006). Populations in southern drainages in the United States are currently stable (Warren et al. 2000).


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Occurs in streams ranging in size from small creeks to large rivers (Pflieger 1997; Cross and Collins 1995; Trautman 1981; Sewell and Knight 1986).


Mesohabitat: Tolerant of moderate turbidity Minckley 1959; Cross and Collins 1995) as long as current flow is sufficient to keep gravel riffles free of silt (Trautman 1981); preferring riffles with a sand or gravel bottom (Rohde 1980); will inhabit substrate with large boulders (Sublette et al. 1990). Predominates in riffles and shallow race ways (Burr and Warren1986), and may move into shallow gravel riffles at night (Starrett 1950b; Deacon 1961). Young-of-year found in backwater habitats (Minckley 1959). Apparent eastward range extension of the species in response to increased siltation in streams (Trautman 1981; Zahuranec 1962).



Spawning season: Late spring or early summer (Hubbs and Ortenburger 1929; Starrett 1951; Pflieger 1997); late May to mid-July depending on area (Carlander 1969). Cross and Collins (1995) note protracted spawning period, April-August; probably an adaptation to the erratic flow of rivers in the plains region. In Wisconsin, early July to end of August; males with breeding tubercles have been taken from June into mid-September (Becker 1983). In Oklahoma, individuals in spawning condition collected at water temperatures of 14-25°C (57-77°F) (Cross 1950).


Spawning habitat: Thought to spawn in gravelly riffles (Becker 1983).


Reproductive strategy: No information at this time.


Fecundity: In Wisconsin, fecundity moderately high, with an estimate of between 830-1640 mature (1.25 mm diameter) to ripe (1.3 mm diameter) eggs in two fish of 90-91 mm TL (Becker 1983).


Age at maturation: Mature as yearlings (Starrett 1951; Carlander 1969). In Wisconsin, Becker (1983) noted sexual maturity is reached by age 2 when the fish exceeds 60 mm SL.


Migration: No information at this time.


Growth and population structure: In Ohio, young of year in Oct., 38-71 mm (1.50-2.78 in); around 1 year, 51-74 mm (2.01-2.91 in); adults, usually 64-100 mm (2.52-3.94 in) (Trautman 1981). In Wisconsin, reaching 42-50 mm TL after first year of growth, 73-87 mm (2.87-3.43 in) TL after second year, and 79-104 mm (3.11-4.10 in) TL after third year (Becker 1983).


Longevity: 4-5 years (Becker 1983).


Food habits: Invertivore; benthic; grazer (Goldstein and Simon 1999). Feeds by probing the substrate with its sensitive snout and lips (Starrett 1950a). Feed on insect larvae, principally Diptera; Chironomidae, immature caddisflies (Trichoptera) and mayflies (Ephemeroptera) important part of diet; organic detritus (Stegman 1969; Starrett 1950a; Hass 1977; Carlander 1969, Whitaker 1977).


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes:

Differs from chubs (Macrhybopsis) in always lacking barbels and from the bullhead minnow (Pimephales vigilax) in mouth position which is inferior versus nearly terminal (Ross 2001). Phenacobius mirabilis can be distinguished from any small minnow or sucker by the fleshy posterior lower lip characteristic of the genus (Boschung and Mayden 2004). In describing larvae, Fuiman et al. (1983) noted that the flattened eye and high myomere count separate Phenocobius larvae from many other species of cyprinids.


Host Records:

Dactylgyrus seamsteri (Mizzle and McDougal 1970).


Commercial or Environmental Importance:

In Iowa, widely used by anglers as bait (Harlan and Speaker 1956).



Becker, G.C. 1983. Fishes of Wisconsin. The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1052 pp.

Boschung, H.T., Jr. and R.L. Mayden. 2004. Fishes of Alabama. Smithsonian Books, Washington. 736 pp.

Burr, B.M. and and M.L. Warren. 1986. A distributional atlas of Kentucky fishes. Sci. Tech. ser. No. 4. Kentucky Nature Preserves Commission.

Carlander, K.D. 1969. Handbook of Freshwater Fishery Biology. The Iowa State University Press, Ames, Vol. 1:752.

Cross, F.B. 1950. Effects of sewage and of a headwaters impoundment on the fishes of Stillwater Creek in Payne County, Oklahoma. American Midland Naturalist 43(1):128-145.

Cross, F. B. and J. T. Collins. 1995. Fishes in Kansas. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, 315 pp.

Deacon, J.E. 1961. Fish populations, following a drought, in the Neosho and Marais des Cygnes Rivers of Kansas. Mus. Nat. Hist. Univ. Kans. 13(9):359-427.

Fuiman, L.A., J.V. Conner, B.F. Lathrop, G.L. Buynak, D.E. Snyder, and J.J. Loos. 1983. State of the art of identification for cyprinid fish larvae from eastern North America. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 112:319-332.

Girard, C. 1857. Researches upon the cyprinid fishes in habiting the fresh waters of the United States of America, west of the Mississippi Valley from specimens in the Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phil. (1856) 8(5):165-213.

Goldstein, R.M., and T.P. Simon. 1999. Toward a united definition of guild structure for feeding ecology of North American freshwater fishes. pp. 123-202 in T.P. Simon, editor. Assessing the sustainability and biological integrity of water resources using fish communities. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.

Haas, M. A. 1977. Some aspects of the life history of the suckermouth minnow, Phenacobius mirabilis (Girard). M. S. Thesis, Univ. Mo., Columbia, 100 pp.

Harlan, J. R. and E. B. Speaker. 1956. Iowa Fish and Fishing. Iowa Conserv. Comm. 377 pp.

Hubbs, C. 1957. Distributional patterns of Texas fresh-water fishes. The Southwestern Naturalist 2(2/3):89-104.

Hubbs, C., R.J. Edwards and G.P. Garret. 1991. An annotated checklist of freshwater fishes of Texas, with key to identification of species. Texas Journal of Science, Supplement 43(4):1-56.

Hubbs, C., and W.F. Herzog. 1955. The distribution of the suckermouth minnow, Phenacobius mirabilis, in Texas. Texas Journal of Science 7:69-71.

Hubbs, C.L., and A.I. Ortenburger. 1929. Further notes on the fishes of Oklahoma, with descriptions of new species of Cyprinidae. Publ. Univ. Okla. Biol. Surv. 1(2):15-43.

Linam, G.W. and L.J. Kleinsasser. 1996. Relationship between fishes and water in the Pecos River, Texas. River studies report No. 9. Resource Protection Division Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Austin, Texas. 3 p.

Minkley, W.L. 1959. Fishes of the Big Blue River Basin, Kansas Mus. Nat. Hist. Univ. Kans. 11(7):401-442.

Mizelle, J.D. and H.D. McDougal. 1970 Studies on Monogenetic Trematodes. XLV. The genus Dactylogyrus in North America. Key to Species, Host Parasite and Parasite host lists, Localities, emendations, and description of D. Kritskyi sp.n. Amer. Midl. Nat. 84(2):444-462.

Moriarty, L.J., and K.O. Winemiller. 1997. Spatial and temporal variation in fish assemblage structure in Village Creek, Hardin County, Texas. Texas Journal of Science, Supplement 49(3):85-110.

Pflieger, W.L. 1997. The Fishes of Missouri. Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, 372 pp.

Rohde F.C. 1980. Phenacobius mirabilis (Girard), Suckermouth minnow. pp. 332 in D.S. Lee et al. Atlas of North American Freshwater Fishes. N.C. State Mus. Nat. Hist., Raleigh, i-r+854 pp.

Ross, S.T. 2001. Inland fishes of Mississippi. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson. 624 pp.

Starrett, W.C. 1950a. Food relationships of the minnows of the Des Moines River, Iowa. Ecology 31(2):216-233.

Starrett, W.C. 1950b. Distribution of the fishes of Boone County, Iowa, with special reference to the minnows and darters. American Midland Naturalist 43:112-127.

Starrett, W.C. 1951. Some factors affecting the abundance of minnows in the Des Moines River, Iowa. Ecology 32:13-27.

Stegman, J.L. 1969. Fishes of Kincaid Creek, Illinois. Trans. Ill. Acad. Sci. 52(1/2):25-32.

Sublette, J. E., M. D. Hatch, M. Sublette. 1990. The Fishes of New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque. 393 pp.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Wildlife Division, Diversity and Habitat Assessment Programs. County Lists of Texas' Special Species. [30 May 2006]. http://gis.tpwd.state.tx.us/TpwEndangeredSpecies/DesktopModules/AcountyCodeKeyForWebESDatabases.pdf

Trautman, M.B. 1981. The Fishes of Ohio. The Ohio State University Press, 782 pp.

Warren, L. W., Jr., B. M. Burr, S. J. Walsh, H. L. Bart, Jr., R. C. Cashner, D. A. Etnier, B. J. Freeman, B. R. Kuhajda, R. L. Mayden, H. W. Robison, S. T. Ross, and W. C. Starnes. 2000. Diversity, Distribution, and Conservation status of the native freshwater fishes of the southern United States. Fisheries 25(10):7-29.

Whitaker, J.O., Jr. 1977. Seasonal changes in food habits of some cyprinid fishes from the White River at Petersburg, Indiana. American Midland Naturalist 97(2):411-418.

Wilde, G.R., and T.H. Bonner. 2000. First records of the suckermouth minnow Phenacobius mirabilis in Canadian River, Texas. Texas Journal of Science 52:71-74.

Zahuranec, B.J. 1962. Range extensions of some cyprinid fishes in southeastern Ohio. Copeia 1962(4):842-843.