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Colorado Squawfish Ptychocheilus lucius


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Colorado Squawfish
credit: J. E. Johnson

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Alternate name: Colorado Pikeminnow

Family: Cyprinidae, Carps and Minnows view all from this family

Description Ptychocheilus lucius is the largest cyprinid fish of North America and one of the largest in the world, with reports of individuals up to 6 ft (1.8 m) long and weighing over 100 pounds (45 kg). Elongated body reminiscent of the pike. The cone-shaped and somewhat flattened head is elongated, forming nearly a quarter of the body length. Color grades from bright olive green on the back to a paler yellowish shade on the flanks, to white underneath. Young fish also have a dark spot on the caudal fin. Both the dorsal and anal fins typically have nine rays. The pharyngeal teeth are long and hooked.

Dimensions Up to 5' (1.5 cm) long.

Endangered Status The Colorado Squawfish is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. It is classified as endangered in Arizona, California, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. Like many river fish, this species has suffered from the introduction of exotic fishes into its environment and from water-management practices in the West. It has declined in both number and size; whereas it once reached 6 feet long, it now rarely surpasses 3 feet. Dams, impoundments, and the diversion of waterways have altered the species' ecosystem, causing changes in water temperature and volume of waterflow and blocking migration routes. The Colorado River Fish Recovery Team and other groups are working to help this and other native species recover.

Habitat Rivers & streams.

Range Rocky Mountains, Southwest, California.

Discussion Native to the Colorado River basin of the southwestern United States, it was formerly an important food fish for both Native Americans and European settlers. Once abundant and widespread in the basin, its numbers and range have declined to the point where it has been listed as endangered (1967), a fate shared by the three other large Colorado basin endemic fish species: Bonytail chub, Humpback chub, and Razorback sucker.