Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Buffalo_crop.jpgSpawning Bigmouth Buffalo Found in Local Champaign Drainage Ditch

After receiving a call about numerous, large fish in a small drainage ditch, Fisheries Research Scientist Josh Sherwood of the Illinois Natural History Survey’s Sports Fish Ecology Lab went out to investigate. Greeted by the land owner and the WCIA 3 news crew, Josh found that indeed there were numerous large fish in the stream. With a quick dip, he found that these fish were Bigmouth Buffalo (Ictiobus cyprinellus).The Bigmouth Buffalo is generally found in the larger rivers of Illinois, such as the Kaskaskia, Illinois, Wabash and Mississippi Rivers. Bigmouth Buffalo are an important commercial fish species on many of these large rivers, but they use smaller tributaries such as this one to reproduce.

Flooding the week before and the warm weather had likely triggered these fish to run up the Kaskaskia River to spawn in the small tributaries near Champaign. They spawn in large groups in the spring, and as the water recedes, they will leave their fertilized eggs on the bottom of the stream. The young will hatch in 7 to 10 days and will swim downstream during the summer. Fish population surveys performed in this area during the summer of 2012 for the Fishes of Champaign County project produced no Bigmouth Buffalo. This is likely due to either low water levels or the young already moving downstream.

The abundant vegetation found in this drainage ditch Josh was investigating is likely due to the dryness of the past two summers, creating very good spawning habitat for adult Bigmouth Buffalo. It is in streams like these that the next generation of an important fish species is created and is a perfect example of how small drainage ditches can still provide habitat for many fish species, as well as how land use practices in Champaign County can affect a fisherman’s livelihood further downstream.

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