I live at the south end of Cayuga Lake in upstate New York. The lake is home to a bottom-feeding fish called the White Sucker (Catostomus commersonii), a freshwater species that may reach twenty inches in length and weigh nearly six pounds. This species is called a “sucker” because of its fleshy papillose lips used to suck up invertebrates and plant matter from the bottom of lakes and streams.
In my area, suckers generally breed during the last half of April, when water temperatures reach about 55 degrees fahrenheit. Spawning adults migrate up our local streams, swimming against considerable current until they reach a waterfall or other barrier that they cannot pass. Males gather around gravid females, rubbing against her body, and then deposit sperm as she releases her eggs (which may number in the thousands).
I’ve gathered video footage for several years now, but a few days ago I got my best views in the clear water of a creek emptying into the inlet of Cayuga Lake. I used a small camcorder placed inside a waterproof case, inserting the setup into shallow water at the base of a manmade dam (at times, you can see the concrete walls on each side of the dam).
It’s difficult to imagine what it’s like to be a sucker. I don’t think it’s an easy life … many individuals have body wounds and some show diseases of the eye or nictitating membrane. Nonetheless, it is incredible to watch their movements as males gather at the base of the falls and await the arrival of receptive females. They no doubt enjoy what they’re doing, because when it comes to mating, nature employs hormones that evoke pleasurable “feeling states” to insure that the job gets done!
Photo by team member Siobhan McClory: tobealive.com