August is here and in the northern hemisphere that means the last full month of summer. I didn’t think I’d ever write a post about this month’s featured creature, but it does make sense. I’m talking about fish. Here in the Great Lakes our fishery is valued anywhere from $1.5 billion (yes, that’s with a B) to as high as $7 billion annually. Of course, that number is only taking into account the economic value of sport and commercial fishing. What’s usually missing from numbers like that is the ecosystem services that nature provides freely.
I’m supposing that most of you don’t have fish in your backyards (koi and the like excluded), probably slightly more of you do have them in your neighborhoods. We all live in watersheds, so it is highly probable that you do have fish in your neighborhood, if you’ve got something more than a vernal pond.
There are over 180 species of fish in the Great Lakes and I certainly can’t identify more than a handful of them. What I’ll lead you to then is a family of fish that more than likely live near you, if you happen to reside in the Midwest. The family is cyprinidae (Latin for carp) which includes, amazingly enough, carp! The family is the minnow family, which has become a catch-all term—at least in Michigan—for small fish. Quite often, if a small fish is in a school, then they are labeled minnows, whether accurately or not. They tend to be used as bait fish, carp excepting, because most don’t grow to be more than twelve inches, and most are well under that in adulthood.
What you are likely to see in some body of water in the Great Lakes watershed is one of these five kinds of fish (there are a few more members in this family, but unless you’re excited about sorting fish, these won’t matter): dace (7 species), chub (6 species), carp (the biggest of the minnows (2 naturalized species), 10 kinds of minnows, and 23(!) species of shiners.
Let me make this easy. The fish in the minnow family have an elongated body shape as opposed to pan-fish which are rounder. Their caudal, or tail fins, tend to be forked and their mouths tend to be terminal, or found at the end of their snout. Daces, however, have superior facing mouths, meaning they face upward to help feed on prey found at the surface of the water. This chart does a better job than me for sort through all these “icthy” creatures, click on the link.
Fish are probably going to be the most difficult creatures to identify in your neighborhood. After all, you’ll probably need a net to catch them to be able to observe them up close; they hide well, and they are commonly found in water, which you are, probably, commonly not.
If you do have some of these fish in your neighborhood, then there’s a good chance that your water quality is high. Several of these species possess low-tolerance of “dirty” water.
So, if you have a body of water bigger than a puddle in your yard or neighborhood, take some time to explore it. If you notice fish, try to catch a few simply for the sake of identification. Or perhaps you’ve been blessed with a free supply of baitfish.