White Sucker

central mudminnow

What's In a Name?
White sucker: "white'" referring to the white undersides of these fish, especially in the young; "sucker" refers to the type of mouth
Catostomus (Cat-oh-stome´-us) means "sub-terminal mouth" in Greek (the mouth is on the belly side of the fish)
commerson (com-mair-sone´-ee) named after a French naturalist, Philibert Commerson

Where Do They Live?
The white sucker is one of Minnesota's most common fish, and it is the most widely spread distributed sucker in Minnesota. It is most common in the eastern and northern portions of the state. White suckers are benthic (bottom dwellers) and live in all kinds of lakes and streams from clean, stream-fed brooks to slow-moving, turbid (cloudy) rivers.

How Big Do They Get?
How Long Do They Live?

White suckers in Minnesota normally grow to about 300 mm (20 in) and weigh in at about 0.9- 1.4 kg (2-3 lbs). Lunkers can go 2.3 kg (5 lbs). Minnesota's hook and line record for this fish is 4.12 kg (9 lbs 1 oz). It was caught in Big Fish Lake in Stearns County. White suckers typically live for about 10-12 years.

What Do They Eat?
Because white suckers are benthic (bottom dwellers), they typically slurp up things that live on the bottom. Their diet is highly variable and depends on where they've been feeding. Some stomachs have contained only insects, while others have contained only plant matter. Typical food items include a variety of aquatic (water) insect larvae, waterfleas, sideswimmers, snails, clams, algae, other plant matter, detritus (decaying matter), and fish eggs.

What Eats Them?
White suckers are an important forage fish for several of Minnesota's sport fishes. These include walleye, brook trout, muskellunge, northern pike, largemouth and smallmouth bass. Additional predators are burbot and, in Lake Superior, sea lamprey. Small white suckers also fall prey to fish-eating birds such as herons, loons, bald eagles, and osprey. Many smaller white suckers are a much used bait in Minnesota, and many are commercially harvested for that purpose.

How Do They Reproduce?

The spawning season in Minnesota for the white sucker begins in April and goes into early May. The fish move to the shallows of the lakes or up into stream headwaters unless a barrier stops them. Once there they pick spots that have a gravel or coarse sand bottom. There is no nest made and the eggs go without care from the parents. The white suckers pair up, usually two males to one female. The spawning normally takes place at night, starting at dusk. With a male on either side of her, the female begins to lay her eggs while males fertilize them. The eggs are spread out by the current and the movement of the fish. Eventually they sink to the bottom. Depending on her size, a female will lay 20,000-50,000 eggs during the complete spawning period. The embryos develop for 5-10 days before they hatch, depending on water temperature. It takes another 1-2 weeks before they leave the gravel and drift downstream.

Conservation and Management

The white sucker is the most common sucker in Minnesota and one of the most abundant of all species. It had no special conservation status, but is considered an important forage species for many sport fish. It is also a very important bait species and is reared for that purpose, as well as commercially collected

Natural History of Minnesota Fishes

Photograph by Konrad P. Schmidt
Text by Nicole Paulson & Jay T. Hatch in cooperation with
the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' MinnAqua Aquatic Program