(D. S. Jordan, 1877)
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Alabama hogsucker (Hypentelium etowanum), commonly known as the Alabama Hog Sucker, is a species of sucker fish belonging to the Catostomidae family.
This is a description of a monitoring plan for the fish Hypentelium etowanum which belongs to the Catastomidae family of sucker fish. The Alabama Hog Sucker, as it is commonly known, is distributed in the Chattahoochee River and Mobile Bay drainages throughout Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and southeast Tennessee. Hypentelium etowanum inhabits rocky riffle areas, run, and pools of clear freshwater. They can live in small creeks up to large rivers. Hypentelium etowanum can feed on bottom dwelling creatures by turning over rocks with their bony head and long snout. Diet of collected Hypentelium etowanum indicate that 90.6% of the contents in their stomachs were Diptera, with Chironomidae larvae making up 88.8% of all food items. It is a benthic dweller and feeds off the bottom by using its specialized sucker mouth. Sexual maturity occurs as early as 110 mm, and developed tubercules suggests spawning occurs from March until May. A length-frequency distribution suggests a life span of at least 5 years. Its spawning habitat is over gravel in pools and riffles. Hypentelium etowanum is not on any threatened or endangered list; however it is still adversely influenced by factors such as construction of roads or dams, pollution, oversiltation, and agriculture. National and State Parks and Forests are included within the range of “Hypentelium etowanum” which will preserve the habitat. While Hypentelium is not considered a game fish, its ecological role on streams is important in the cycling of nutrients. Hogsuckers are a good indicator species of a waterway's health, as they are intolerant of polluted and dirty water conditions.
Geographic Distribution of Hypentelium etowanum
The genus Hypentelium is distributed throughout the Central Highlands. The Central Highlands are separated into the Interior Highlands, which contain the Ozark and Ouachita highlands, and the Eastern Highlands which consist of the Appalachians. These highland areas are characterized by streams with cool, clear water and a high gradient. The hogsuckers, all described within the genus Hypentelium, is one member of the Central Highland fauna that is widespread and separated by lowland areas caused by glaciation . There are three species within Hypentelium, H. roanokense, H. nigricans, and H. etowanum. The separation between H. roanokense, which inhabits the Atlantic slope and the rest of Hypentelium is pattern that is replicated within other clades of fishes. However there is a historical connection of the Tennessee River with the Mobile Basin (Starnes; Mayden) which indicates a closer sister relationship among H. nigricans and H. etowanum(Berendzen). Hypentelium etowanum is common in streams throughout the Chattahoochee River and Mobile Bay drainages throughout Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and southeast Tennessee. Only headwaters and tributaries of the Mobile Basin are located in southeast Tennessee, making the range of Hypentelium etowanum very narrow in Tennessee. These headwaters include the Conasauga River and its tributaries in Bradley and Polk counties, Tennessee.
“Hypentelium etowanum” prefers a high-gradient stream with rapidly flowing, clear, freshwater. It is characterized by its broad bulky head, slender cylindrical bodies, dark saddles across the back, and bright orange pectoral, pelvic, and anal fins. “Hypentelium etowanum” have distinct fleshy and papillose lips with a protrusible “sucker” mouth. It lives on the bottom of fast moving streams and its unique mouth allows it to feed on the benthic substrate. Feeding occurs at or near the stream floor. They scrape algae from rocks, turn over stones for aquatic insects, and suck up decaying plant material. Other foods include snails, clams, worms, mussels, fish eggs, and crustaceans. O’Kelley completed a one year study on “Hypentelium etowanum”, and when the stomach contents were examined, found that the diet of collected “H. etowanum” consisted of 90.6% Diptera, with Chrinomidae larvae making up 88.8% of all food items. The weight of stomach contents was not uniform during O’Kelley’s study and there was a feeding peak in April. The greatest variety of food items and the highest mean weight of the stomach contents were also in April (O'Kelley).
“Hypentelium etowanum” grow rapidly in April, as indicated by length and weight increases at approximately 12, 24, and 36 months of age. The increased feeding during spring coincides with increased energetic requirements associated with spawning. Its spawning habitat is over gravel in pools and riffles of freshwater streams. Typically when spawning, one female is flanked on each side by two males. Developed tubercles suggest spawning occurs from March until May, and that sexual maturity occurs at around three years of age or at a length around 110 mm. There is no parental care invested in the eggs, which typically hatch 10 days after fertilization. A length-frequency distribution indicates that a life span of five years or more is typical among “Hypentelium etowanum”. O’Kelley also found that the smallest female he collected with mature ova was 24 months, and the smallest male with mature testes was 22 months in age. The smallest specimen collected was a female 34.58 mm SL and 0.942 g TW and the largest specimen was a female 190 mm SL and 132 g TW (O’Kelley)
“Hypentelium etowanum” is not on any current threatened or endangered list; however it is still adversely influenced by factors such as construction of roads or dams, pollution, and agriculture. All of these human activities can change stream morphology and also increase sediments, nutrients, and temperature in a stream. While none of these stressors directly lead to death, the negative impacts combined alter fish communities (Rashleigh). Increased sediment can lead to less feeding, reduced growth, and lower reproductive success in fish. Reproductive success in “Hypentelium etowanum” is also negatively influenced by human impact such as the construction of dams. Fish species take reproductive cues from things such as temperature and flow of a river, yet dams dramatically alter the natural states of these factors. Dams also create limited amounts of suitable spawning area due to oversiltation that frequently occurs below dams (Grabowski). While none of these factors are substantially decreasing populations of “Hypentelium etowanum”, if continued use of poor practices persists, there could be serious threats to this species. While “Hypentelium” is generally not considered a game fish, it is important in the cycling of nutrients in a stream. They also control populations of insects and other fish species. They are a good indicator of a streams health and water quality, as they are intolerant of polluted and dirty water conditions.
“Hypentelium etowanum” is abundant where it is found in its native range. It is a good indicator species, as its presence usually indicates the presence of other species of game fish. Since “Hypentelium etowanum” is not endangered or threatened, there are currently no management plans to control or monitor this fish. There are National and State Parks and Forests that are within the range of the Alabama Hogsucker. These preserve the habitat and will continue to protect this species and many more for years to come. However other management steps should be implemented in the near future to monitor this species. Regular sampling of rivers should be performed with seines and electoshockers to be able to understand the assemblage of fish within rivers that may become threatened due to human activity. Sampling of aquatic insects should also be performed because they too often indicate stream quality, and since the diet of “Hypentelium etowanum” is made up of mainly aquatic larvae then this too could help monitor the Alabama Hogsucker. With human activity encroaching closer and closer to “Hypentelium etowanum” habitat, it is important we take important steps to help maintain this and other vital fish populations.
- O’Kelley, C.T., and S.L. Powers. 2007. Life-history aspects of Hypentelium etowanum (Alabama Hog Sucker) (Actinopterygii:Catostomidae) in northern Georgia. Southeastern Naturalist 6: 479-490.
2. Berendzen, P.B, A.M. Simmons, and R.M. Wood. 2003. Phylogeography of the northern hogsucker, Hypentelium nigricans (Teloeosti: Cypriniformes): genetic evidence for the existence of the ancient Teays River. Journal of Biogeography 30: 1139-1152.
3. Grabowski, T.B., and J.J. Isely. 2007. Spatial and temporal segregation of spawning habitat by catostomids in the Savannah River, Georgia and South Carolina, U.S.A. Journal of Fish Biology 70: 782-798.
4. Mayden, R.L. 1988. Vicariance biogeography, parsimony, and evolution in North-American fresh-water fishes. Systematic Zoology 37: 329-355.
5.O’Kelley, C.T., and S.L. Powers. 2007. Life-history aspects of Hypentelium etowanum (Alabama Hog Sucker) (Actinopterygii:Catostomidae) in northern Georgia. Southeastern Naturalist 6: 479-490.
6. Rashleigh, B., R. Parmar, J.M. Johnston, and M.C. Barber. 2005. Predictive Habitat Models for the Occurrence of Stream Fishes in the Mid-Atlantic Highlands. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 25: 1353-1366.
7. Starnes, W.C., and D.A. Etnier. 1986. Drainage evolution and fish biogeography of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers drainage realm. The zoogeography of North American frewshwater fishes. 325-361.