White Sucker

Catostomus commersoni


Image of a white sucker
Joseph R. Tomelleri. Used with permission.

Catostomidae (suckers) in the order Cypriniformes (carps, minnows, and loaches)


A slender, fine-scaled sucker with a short dorsal fin. The scales are largest near the tail fin, becoming smaller toward the head. The lips are covered with small bumps. The back and sides are greenish with a brassy or silvery luster; the belly is white. This coloration makes it almost invisible when resting on a gravel stream bed. The dorsal and tail fins are dusky or clear; the lower fins are white, often tinged with yellow or orange.


Total length: 9 to 15 inches; maximum about 23 inches.

Habitat and conservation

Decidedly a small-creek fish, occurring only rarely in major rivers. In prairie regions, it is abundant in deep, sparsely vegetated pools of high-gradient, often intermittent headwater streams with gravelly or rocky bottoms. In the Ozarks, it occurs in rather densely vegetated spring branches, spring-fed streams, and cool overflow pools with groundwater seepage. Also found in Lake Taneycomo.


Feeding habits and diet vary with age. For the first ten days of life, the young suckers have terminal mouths and feed near the surface on bloodworms, small crustaceans, protozoa, and similar. They soon develop the lower, horizontal mouth of the adults, and from then on they feed almost entirely on the bottom, starting with organic-rich bottom ooze, then moving on to a generalized diet of immature aquatic insects.

image of White Sucker distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Nearly statewide, but absent from the Bootheel lowlands and the southeastern Ozarks. Abundant and generally distributed in prairie streams of central and northeastern Missouri. Locally common but spotty westward in the prairie region and over the parts of the Ozarks where it occurs.


This nongame fish is also called "black sucker."

Life cycle

Individuals can live 17 years.