The sucker fish family (Catostomids, to us pointy-headed fish nerds) includes some very large and long-lived fish like bigmouth buffalo, which can grow to nearly 80 pounds and live longer than a century.
But not all sucker species are large and long-lived!
The northern hog sucker (Hypentelium nigricans) barely reaches 2 pounds and seldom lives longer than 10 years. Colloquial names for this small species include hognose sucker, bigheaded sucker, hammerhead sucker, crawl-a-bottom, hog mullet, hogmolly, and my personal favorite, pugamoo.
The northern hog sucker is a seldom seen, bottom-dwelling species that prefers clear, fast-flowing water in small streams and rivers.
Aside from a few redhorse species with flame-red fins, most sucker species are plainly colored; however, the northern hog sucker has dark-colored barring across its back that acts as highly effective camouflage as it rests on shallow gravel beds or on rocks. One story in the scientific literature comments that the northern hog sucker “loves to bask in the sun, lying atop some large rock or in a shallow riffle.” Sounds like a pretty good day to me!
The northern hog sucker spawns in the spring like many other fishes. Males clean off an area of gravel, though they don’t build or defend nests like sunfish do. Eggs are broadcast over the cleaned gravel, where they hatch in about 10 days. The eggs and young are not protected by either parent, which potentially makes them easy prey for other nearby fishes.
A young northern hog sucker will typically grow to three inches long by the end of its first year.
Like many other sucker species, the northern hog sucker has small, wart-like bumps called “papillae” on its lips, which it uses to help find food—small organisms including insect larvae, crustaceans (like small freshwater shrimp and scuds), mollusks (like small snails and mussels), and bits of vegetation.
As it feeds, the northern hog sucker aggressively flips over, sucks in, and spits out small pebbles on creek and river bottoms. This behavior gives fish like minnows and small sunfish access to food that they normally would not have, as these fish often position themselves downstream to feed on the free-flowing materials that the northern hog sucker roils up.