Pomoxis nigromaculatus

black crappie



Type Locality

Wabash River, Ohio (LeSueur 1829 in: Cuvier and Valenciennes 1829).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Pomoxis – sharp opercle; as opposed to an extended in a flap as in some other sunfishes; nigromaculatus – black spotted (Pflieger 1975).



Cantharus nigro-mactulatus LeSueur 1829 in: Cuvier and Valenciennes 1829:65

Pomoxys nigromaculatus Hay 1881:500.

Pomoxis nigromaculatus Cook 1959:175.

Pomoxys sparoides Hay 1883:62

Pomoxis sparoides Hildebrand and Towers 1928:127

Pomoxis barberi Hildebrand and Towers 1928:128.



Maximum size: Up to 559 mm TL (Carlander 1977).


Life colors: Body pigmentation in scattered spots (Hubbs et al. 1991). Eyes yellowish brown; dark spot at margin of opercle. Upper head and back green with blueish, greenish, and silvery overtones; sides lighter green with randomly scattered dark splotches; ventral head and abdomen whitish. Dorsal, anal, and caudal fins with yellowish to greenish spots and vermiculations. Breeding male usually darker and more intensely colored than female (Sublette et al.1990). Buchanan and Bryant (1973) note a black predorsal stripe, extending around the snout onto the chin, present in about 30% of specimens in some areas.


Counts: 7or 8 dorsal fin spines; 5-8 anal spines; 6 or 7 branchiostegals (Hubbs et al. 1991); 31-44 lateral line scales; about 29 long, slender gill rakers (Sublette et al. 1990); 14-16 dorsal rays; 17-19 anal rays; 14-15 pectoral rays (Ross 2001).


Body shape: Strongly compressed; greatest body depth about the origin of dorsal fin; back rounded (Sublette et al. 1991).


Mouth position: Terminal, oblique (Goldstein and Simon 1999).


External morphology: Length of dorsal fin base equal to or greater than distance from its origin to posterior margin of eye; lateral line present (complete and arched upward anteriorly; Ross 2001); scales ctenoid (Hubbs et al 1991); pectoral fins elongate, broad, rounded; pelvic fins thoracic, tips rounded; anal fin truncate to rounded; caudal fin slightly forked, lobes rounded (Sublette et al. 1990).


Internal morphology: Intestine well differentiated; peritoneum silvery; pyloric caecae present (Goldstein and Simon 1999); small, sharp teeth on jaws and palantines (Sublette et al. 1991).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Native range originally included eastern Great Plains, north through the Great Lakes region and east to the southern Atlantic coastal drainages of Virginia (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Texas distribution: Native range originally included the central part of the state eastward, exclusive of the Edwards Plateau (Hubbs et al. 1991). Warren et al. (2000) list the following drainage units for distribution of Pomoxis nigromaculatus in the state: Red River (from the mouth upstream to and including the Kiamichi River), Sabine Lake (including minor coastal drainages west to Galveston Bay), Brazos River, Colorado River, San Antonio Bay (including minor coastal drainages west of mouth of Colorado River to mouth of Nueces River), Nueces River.


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, NGO)

Populations in southern drainages are currently stable (Warren et al. 2000).


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Inhabits large ponds and shallow areas of lakes (Lee 1980). Commonly found in slower sections of large streams, oxbow lakes, and reservoirs (Ross 2001).


Mesohabitat: Occurs in quiet warm waters; usually associated with abundant aquatic vegetation and sandy to muddy bottoms (Lee 1980). Occupy middle to upper sections of water column (Ross 2001). In reservoirs, they may be associated with inundated terrestrial vegetation, and as the material deteriorates over time, the black crappie may decline in abundance relative to the white crappie (Ball and Kilambi 1972). In Lake Texoma (Oklahoma-Texas), where the species was stocked shortly after impoundment, white crappie were reported by Riggs and Bonn (1959) to be very rare; only two specimens taken during 1954-1959, from a site along with several thousand white crappie. Fish move mostly at night or in the early morning, and in reservoirs (if not other habitats as well) tend to move from open waters during the day to shore at night (Guy et al. 1992; Keast and Fox 1992). Movement also increases during periods of rising barometric pressure (Guy et al. 1992).



Spawning season: In Texas, late March – early May (Schloemer 1947); in Florida, early spring (Reid 1949; Huish 1958).


Spawning habitat: In shallow water (Reid 1949; Huish 1958); fish prefer nesting areas near cover of some kind, especially emergent or floating vegetation (Reid 1949).


Reproductive Behavior: Guarders; nest spawners; phytophils, plant material nesters that have adhesive eggs and free embryos that hang on plants by cement glands. Species adapted to nesting on or above soft muddy bottoms (Simon 1999). Spawning behavior approximates that of the white crappie (Pomoxis annularis) except that nests are more associated with vegetation where possible and it may have a preference for cleaner substrates (Carlander 1977; Etnier and Starnes 1993). Males guard the nest, usually feeding on a close-by food source such as amphipods associated with vegetation during this time (Reid 1949).


Fecundity: Eggs demersal and adhesive; incubate in 48-68 hours at 18.3 degrees C; water-hardened, ripe eggs are small compared to other members of the family, averaging only 0.93 mm in diameter (Merriner 1971). Fish in the 3-8 year age group produce 3,000-188,000 eggs (Vessel and Eddy 1941).


Age at maturation:


Migration: Fish move into shallow water in early spring for spawning (Reid 1949; Huish 1958).


Growth and Population structure: In Alabama, fish averaged 136 mm TL after one year, 202 mm after two, 257 mm after three, and 299 mm TL after four years (Reed and Davies 1991).


Longevity: Up to 10 years (Huish 1958).


Food habits: Invertivore/carnivore (Goldstein and Simon 1999). Primarily nocturnal foragers, though may feed occasionally during the day (Huish 1958; Keast 1968a; Helfman 1981; Keast and Fox 1992). Pomoxis nigromaculatus are less efficient than white crappie (P. annularis) at taking fishes in turbid water, resulting in increased mortality of individuals larger than 200 mm TL. Feeding activity may shift to late afternoon as a result of high turbidity (Ellison 1984). Very small fish eat mainly microcrustaceans (copepods and cladocerans) and midges (chironomids); fish about 60 - 115 mm TL consume mainly small crustaceans and small insect larvae and pupae, rarely fishes; fish 116 - 160 mm TL include fish regularly in the diet. Due to the fact that fish larger than 160 mm TL cannot ingest enough zooplankton to maintain a positive growth rate, they primarily consume minnows and sunfishes (Reid 1949; Ellison 1984). Keast and Webb (1966), Keast and Welch (1968), and Keast (1968a, 1968b) reported food volume up to 70% Chaoborus larvae, 50% cladocerans, 20% copepods, 25% fishes, 15% flying insects, 25% chironomid pupae and larvae, etc.; food habits of this species likely similar throughout range.


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes

The black crappie is most similar to the white crappie (Pomoxis annularis), but differs in having 7-8 rather than 5-6 dorsal spines, a longer dorsal fin base (the length of fin base is greater than or equal to the distance from dorsal origin to eye), and a somewhat deeper body. The black crappie differs from other centrarchids in having 7-8 dorsal spines versus 10 or more (Ross 2001). Black crappie generally prefer cleaner, deeper and cooler waters than do white crappie (Carlander 1977). Black crappie known to hybridize in nature only with the white crappie (Pomoxis annularis); artificially crossed with other genera (Schwartz 1972; Travnichek et al. 1996).


Host Records

Gyrodactylus goerani host, Gyrodactylus lineadactylus host (Harris et al. 2004). Listed for species throughout entire range: protozoans (14), trematodes (19), cestodes (5), nematodes (9), acanthocephalans (4), leeches (1; Hoffman 1967).


Commercial or Environmental Importance

In Texas, the black crappie has been widely introduced as a game species, although not to the extent of the white crappie (Pomoxis annularis; Hubbs et al. 1991). This species spawns about the same time as largemouth (Micropterus salmoides) or spotted (Micropterus punctulatus) basses, and is therefore less affected by bass predation; this may result in overpopulation and stunting (DeVries and Stein 1990; Reed and Davies 1991).



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Buchanan, J.P., and H.E. Bryant. 1973. The occurrence of a predorsal stripe in the black crappie, Pomoxis nigromaculatus. The Journal of the Alabama Academy of Science 44(4):293-297.

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