The Suckers: Great Lakes’ “best supporting fishes” are important to the food web

The Suckers: Great Lakes’ “best supporting fishes” are important to the food web
July 22, 2021 Sandra Svoboda

As an avid angler, Great Lakes Now Host Ward Detwiler has encountered suckers, a bottom-feeding family of fish that are present in all five Great Lakes and spawn in the rivers of the watershed.

But he’s never been terribly mindful of them.

“It’s never something you’re really out looking for,” Detwiler said.

Suckers, though, are important to the entire food web of the system, according to Karen Murchie, director of freshwater research at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

“What they do is a lot of important stuff,” she said. “They also move nutrients around as they move from habitat to habitat.”

Suckers are also food themselves for osprey, loons, eagles and small mammals.

Check out the full conversation between Detwiler and Murchie here:

Some of Murchie’s research relies on citizen or community scientists who live near lakes Michigan and Superior and do periodic counts of sucker fish during 10-minute observation periods in the spring.

Great Lakes Now compiled a list of citizen science opportunities around the region. Check it out here:

Citizen Science Opportunities: How can you get involved in scientific research?

“If someone is interested in participating in the study, we want to know if there’s a creek or river close to where they live or work that’s going to be convenient that has a known run of suckers,” Murchie said. “We want it to be something they can do easily and every day, basically starting not long after ice off and while snow is still melting, they’re out looking in the creeks and saying, ‘Hey, are the suckers there yet?’ and reporting the information.”

Read more here: Public Resource: Around the Great Lakes, everyday people help make science possible

Great Lakes Now introduced viewers to Murchie in the episode “Best Supporting Fish” from Episode 1026 of the monthly program.

Here is that video:

Here is other Great Lakes Now work on other native fish species:

Featured image: Suckers live in all five of the Great Lakes, and they swim upstream to spawn every spring. (Photo courtesy of Shedd Aquarium and Karen Murchie)


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