Sucker Fish: Species Info, Pictures & Care Guide

Sucker fish resting in a wood aquarium accessory

Sucker fish, a fascinating species, have been swimming in our freshwater bodies for approximately 50 million years. With over 79 identified species, these fish are spread globally, primarily in freshwater environments. 

Historically, they’ve been a significant food source, especially in regions like America and China. Despite their importance in many aspects of our lives, suckerfish are often overshadowed by more popular fish types.

In this comprehensive guide, we will examine everything there is to know about these fish. We’ll touch on the different species of sucker fish, their appearance, size, distribution, habitat, health, and more. Let’s begin!

Sucker Fish Overview

Family:Catostomidae
Habitat:Freshwater streams and lakes
Evolution:Middle Eocene to Recent
Lifespan:Usually 5 to 20 years, but some can live up to hundreds of years
Number of species:Over 79 species
Notable species:Bigmouth Buffalo, White Sucker, Black Redhorse
Size range:1–3 feet (30–91 cm)
Weight range:2–79 pounds (1–36 kg)
Diet:Omnivorous (Feeds on algae, zooplankton, insects, small invertebrates, crustaceans, and plants)
Predators:Trout, bass, catfish, and walleye
Gestation period:Average of 10 days to eggs hatching

What Is a Sucker Fish?

Sucker fish in a home aquarium

A sucker fish, often seen in home aquariums, is a unique member of the freshwater fish community, specifically belonging to the Catostomidae family. Recognized for their thick lips, these fish utilize this feature to cling to the bottoms of streams, rivers, and other freshwater habitats firmly. 

This adaptation allows them to feed efficiently, often acting as algae eaters. Sucker fish consume enough algae and plant matter, aiding in keeping a balanced ecosystem in their environment.

The sucker fish’s lineage traces back approximately 50 million years, indicating their longstanding presence in aquatic ecosystems.

It’s crucial to differentiate between sucker fish and other species like the ‘suckermouth catfish’ or remoras, as they each have distinct characteristics and roles in the aquatic world.

With over 79 identified suckerfish species, their diversity is evident across various regions worldwide. 

Historically, many cultures have relied on these fish as a significant food source. Beyond their dietary importance, sucker fish are celebrated in the hobby of fishkeeping for their unique appearance and behavior. 

When considering fish for aquariums, especially for those new to the hobby, sucker fish are a popular choice due to their peaceful nature and the benefits they bring to a fish tank environment.

Different Types of Sucker Fish

The realm of sucker fish is vast and diverse, boasting a myriad of species, each exhibiting its own set of unique characteristics. 

For those considering adding these peaceful fish to their home aquarium, understanding the different types of sucker fish is crucial. 

Here’s a closer look at some of the most sought-after species:

  • White Sucker (Catostomus commersoni): Predominantly found in the Mississippi watershed, the White Sucker is sometimes dubbed the ‘common sucker.’ This species is a favorite among fish for aquarium enthusiasts due to its adaptability and peaceful nature.
  • Black Redhorse (Moxostoma duquesni): Once a common sight in the Mississippi watershed, the Black Redhorse‘s population has unfortunately witnessed a decline in recent times. This decline underscores the importance of maintaining a balanced ecosystem for these unique sucker species.
  • Blue Suckers (Cycleptus elongatus): Currently on the list of least concern species, the Blue Suckers face challenges due to environmental shifts. Their preference for specific habitats makes them more vulnerable to changes, emphasizing the need for conservation efforts.
  • Smallmouth Buffalo (Ictiobus bubalus): Primarily spotted near the Mississippi River, the Smallmouth Buffalo fish are closely related to other buffalo fish. Their resemblance to buffalo fish makes them a topic of interest for many aquatic enthusiasts.
  • Northern Hogsucker (Hypentelium nigricans): With a preference for warmer waters that offer a steady downstream, the Northern Hogsucker is a testament to the adaptability of the sucker fish species. Their behavior and habitat preferences make them a captivating addition to any aquarium.

For those venturing into the hobby of fishkeeping, understanding the needs and characteristics of these sucker fish can ensure a harmonious tank environment. 

Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned aquarist, these different types of sucker fish offer a blend of beauty and functionality, making them a valuable addition to any aquatic setup.

Watch this video to see other types of sucker fish:

Top 10 Sucker Fish For Aquariums

Sucker Fish Appearance and Size

Sucker fish swimming in the bottom

Sucker fish are known for their distinctive appearance. Their name, “suckers,” is derived from their thick lips that allow them to cling to the bottoms of streams and lakes. 

Size-wise, these fish can grow up to 3 feet in length, with most ranging between 1 and 2 feet, depending on the species. In terms of weight, though, sucker fish have quite a large range, ranging from approximately 2 to 79 pounds. 

The bigmouth buffalo holds the record as the largest sucker fish, weighing a staggering 79 pounds. Meanwhile, other larger sucker species only range from 30 to 60 pounds.

On the smaller end of the spectrum, the blue sucker is a sucker species weighing an average of just 5.5 pounds. 

Sucker Fish Distribution and Habitat

Understanding the distribution and habitat of sucker fish is essential, especially for those in the hobby, as it helps ensure the right environment for these aquatic wonders. 

Sucker fish, primarily belonging to the Catostomidae family, predominantly inhabit freshwater streams and lakes. 

The vast majority of these species are found across the United States and North America, particularly thriving in the slower-moving channels of rivers and the calm waters of reservoirs. 

These environments are ideal as they offer the sucker fish ample food sources and safety from larger fish predators.

Beyond the confines of North America, the reach of the Catostomidae family extends to Russia. In fact, there’s even a unique species that has made China its home — Myxocyprinus asiaticus.

These fish are usually bottom-dwellers, a trait that plays a significant role in their feeding habits. 

As bottom feeders, their diet is diverse and includes algae, zooplankton, insects, small invertebrates, and crustaceans. It’s also common for sucker fish to eat algae wafers, which are often provided in aquarium settings. 

Additionally, plants found in their natural habitats also form a crucial part of their diet.

All in all, whether in the wild or an aquarium, these fish play a vital role in maintaining ecological balance, making them a fascinating species to study and care for.

Sucker Fish Temperament and Behavior

Sucker fish in a tank

For those in the hobby, understanding the temperament and behavior of sucker fish is crucial to provide them with an environment where they can thrive. 

For starters, the temperament and behavior of sucker fish is tied closely to its nature.

Sucker fish are known for their distinctive thick lips. They use these lips to cling to surfaces and scrape off essential nutrients. Interestingly, this behavior greatly affects the temperament of the sucker fish.

Because they are bottom-dwelling fish, sucker fish have a preference for slower-moving waters, where they can easily access the food they need.

As a result of their need for calm water, these fish also tend to adopt a calm and peaceful demeanor. In fact, you’ll often see this kind of fish still and calm near the bottom of a tank.

It’s also worth noting that while they are peaceful, their interactions with tank mates should be monitored to ensure harmony in the aquarium.

While they are not aggressive by nature, they are efficient feeders. Their primary goal is to ensure they get the nutrients essential for their survival, even if it means eating their tank mates, especially small fish, if necessary.

Sucker Fish Lifespan and Health

Sucker fish exhibit a diverse range of lifespans. Usually, these fish live between 5 and 20 years. That said, though, there are some sucker fish that live to an impressive 112 to 127 years. 

These fish are generally robust and resilient, a testament to their hardy nature. However, like many tropical freshwater fish, they are not immune to health issues.

Here are some common health problems in sucker fish:

  • Parasitic Infections: Being freshwater inhabitants, sucker fish, like many other fish species, are susceptible to various parasites. Regular checks and treatments are essential to prevent these infections.
  • Environmental Stress: Sucker fish thrive in specific water conditions. Any abrupt changes in water quality or temperature for your tropical freshwater setup can induce stress, potentially leading to health complications. It’s crucial to monitor and maintain stable water parameters consistently to keep stressors at bay.
  • Dietary Imbalances: Ensuring a balanced diet is vital. Sucker fish eat a variety of foods, and a lack of dietary diversity can result in nutritional deficiencies. It’s essential to understand the dietary needs of different sucker fish species, as fish species have different diets.

To ensure the well-being of these aquatic gems, one must be attentive to their health requirements. 

This includes providing a clean environment, understanding what sucker fish eat, and offering a nutritionally balanced diet. Likewise, ensuring the optimal tank conditions is also necessary.

Sucker Fish Care Guide

Sucker fish resting on the pebbles

Embarking on the journey of caring for sucker fish as a hobby is both a rewarding and enlightening experience. 

These distinct fish demand specialized care to ensure they flourish when kept in captivity. In this part of the guide, we aim to provide insights into their care.

Tank Setup

Given the size of most sucker fish species, a spacious tank is important. When I added a couple of sucker fish to my aquarium, I tried to closely resemble their natural habitat by incorporating a blend of sand and gravel for their substrate.

To further emulate their native environment, I also added elements like rocks and driftwood, which not only served as hiding spots but also provided a sense of familiarity for the fish. 

Plants play a dual role: they offer shelter and act as a supplementary food source. Moreover, it’s crucial to ensure your sucker fish’s home is equipped with an efficient filtration system. 

This not only keeps the water pristine but also ensures a consistent flow, mirroring the conditions of their natural habitat.

Water Parameters

The environment in which sucker fish live is defined by specific water parameters. Maintaining these parameters is essential for their well-being. 

The water temperature should ideally range between 65°F and 75°F. Meanwhile, a pH level ranging from 6.5 to 7.5 is optimal for these fish. 

To ensure the water remains fresh and free from toxins, regular water changes, preferably once a week, are recommended. 

It is also recommended to use a water conditioner or dechlorinator as a proactive step to neutralize any potentially harmful chemicals. 

Additionally, it is advisable to periodically test the water, ensuring the parameters remain stable and conducive for the fish.

Diet and Feeding

Being omnivores, sucker fish have a diverse palate. It’s essential to provide them with a balanced diet comprising high-quality pellets, flakes, live foods such as worms, and plant matter. 

When feeding, make sure your fish receive food that’s appropriately sized for them. Typically, feeding them once or twice a day is sufficient. 

However, it’s vital to ensure they consume the food within a few minutes, preventing overfeeding and potential water contamination.

Remember, while these guidelines provide a foundation, each sucker fish species has different needs. 

It’s always beneficial to research the specific species of fish you want to keep. This way, you can ensure that the needs of your fish are met. 

Recommended Tankmates for Sucker Fish

Sucker fish belong to a category of peaceful aquatic creatures that can harmoniously coexist with a variety of other species in the aquarium. 

When considering tank mates for sucker fish, some of the most compatible companions include the following:

  • Trout (Salmo)
  • Bass (Micropterus)
  • Catfish (Siluriformes)

It’s essential to ensure that the chosen tank mates are compatible not just in terms of species but also in size, temperament, and habitat needs. This ensures that the sucker fish and its companions thrive together without stress. 

While sucker fish are peaceful and can adapt to various tank environments, it’s crucial to monitor interactions, especially when introducing new members to the aquarium. 

Remember, the key to a harmonious aquarium is understanding the unique needs and behaviors of each species you introduce.

Predators of Sucker Fish

Sucker fish with vibrant colors

Sucker fish, particularly the larger species, generally have a limited number of natural predators due to their substantial size. However, small sucker fish species are more vulnerable to predation. 

Notably, these little sucker fish can become prey for the following fish:

  • Trout (Salmo)
  • Bass (Micropterus)
  • Catfish (Siluriformes)
  • Walleye (Sander vitreus)

It can be confusing that some fish, which can be threats to sucker fish, are also recommended as tankmates. The key is understanding the conditions. 

For instance, an adult sucker fish can live peacefully with juvenile bass. This is because the size of the adult sucker fish doesn’t allow predation for the bass. 

This is also the case for other tank mates that are considered predators of the sucker fish. Simply put, you have to consider your fish’s tank mates, especially if you are opting for smaller species of sucker fish.

Regular monitoring and understanding of each type of fish are crucial. Likewise, ensuring the fish are in a big enough environment with a good filter and sufficient food reduces competition and chances of predation. 

Breeding Sucker Fish

Breeding sucker fish is an intricate process that requires keen attention to detail. These fish typically embark on their spawning journey in the spring. 

During this period, female sucker fish seek out shallow waters, laying their eggs with precision. Following this, the males play a crucial role by fertilizing these eggs.

To facilitate successful breeding, it’s important to create an optimal environment. 

This involves maintaining suitable water parameters, ensuring the fish are in a big enough space, and providing ample hiding spots to mimic their natural habitats.

Such conditions not only help the fish feel secure but also increase the chances of successful fertilization. Once the conditions are met and the eggs are laid, the waiting game begins.

In approximately a week, if all goes well, these little fish eggs hatch, marking the beginning of a new generation of sucker fish. 

From my years of hands-on experience studying fish, I’ve observed that the mating rituals of sucker fish are quite distinct.

For starters, the dance between males and females, characterized by gentle nudges and synchronized swimming, should be observed in great detail. 

I’ve meticulously documented these behaviors over time, and by replicating specific conditions in controlled environments, I’ve been able to foster successful breeding outcomes multiple times.


Do you have anything to share about these unique aquatic creatures? Let us know your thoughts on sucker fish by leaving a comment below!

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