Fun Desert Sucker Facts For Kids

Deepthi Reddy
Aug 29, 2023 By Deepthi Reddy
Originally Published on Aug 05, 2021
Edited by Luca Demetriou
Fact-checked by Yashvee Patel
Desert sucker are also known as Gila mountain sucker.

Have you ever seen a fish where the mouth is not on the end tip of the nose but further down? This feature is mainly seen in a sucker or Catostomidae family.

They belong to demersal species which live in deep water, close to gravel bottoms. These fish have a small head with a thick-lipped ventral mouth.

The cartilage ridge below the lower lip is used to scrape food from stream cobbles and boulders. The upper body has dark spots that form faint dashed lines. Barbells are absent.

The fish body is bi-colored with olive-brown to dark green on the upper side and silvery tan or yellow-tan on the lower side. Sexual dimorphism is seen in this species; the male body has dark spots which form faint lateral lines and striped patterns developed during breeding.

The desert sucker is a native fish to the Colorado river basin in Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and Northern Sonora. In New Mexico, this fish is called Matalote del desierto.

The Desert sucker (Catostomus clarkii) is abundant from a conservation point of view. Currently, the total population exceeds 10000 individuals.

There is a saying for this fish, that every minute, a desert sucker is born. However, desert suckers are pretty vulnerable to decline as human developments dewater natural stream rivers into dams, reservoirs, agriculture pesticides, water pollution, intense large fishes harvest, and fishing pressure.

If you want to know more about unique marine fishes, check our articles on codfish facts and milfish facts.

Desert Sucker Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a desert sucker?

Gila mountain suckers are freshwater fishes that fall in demersal species. Desert suckers have cylindrical heads and a blunt snout with a ventral mouth. Their lips are particularly thick, where the lower lip is three times thicker than the cartilage lobe.

What class of animal does a desert sucker belong to?

Desert sucker (Catostomus clarkii) belongs to the ray-finned fish class of Actinopterygii.

How many desert sucker are there in the world?

Catostomus clarki's population size is unknown. However, in the Colorado River basin, five different native species, including the sucker desert, are present abundantly where it is estimated the adult desert sucker population exceeds 10000.

Where does a desert sucker live?

The desert sucker lives in freshwater or water pools with riffles and gravelly bottoms. Desert suckers move to cobble gravel riffles to feed on tiny aquatic insects and algae that grow on cobbles. Desert suckers like to live in rapids, ripply waters, and flowing streams.

What is a desert sucker's habitat?

A desert sucker's (Catostomus clarkii) preferred and suitable habitat is only in freshwater river basins with cobble gravel deposits riffles.

They live in various habitats with sandy interfaces at elevations in the range of 2460-5100 ft. Desert suckers are omnivores that can feed on algae and diatoms that grow on cobbles and boulders, and at night they can move in ripply water to feed on aquatic insects within their habitat.

They are found in Nevada, Utah rivers.

Who do desert sucker live with?

The gila mountain sucker cohabits with other freshwater aquatic fishes and algae, mosses, and planktonic organisms. In Arizona, New Mexico, desert suckers co-exist with Sonoran suckers, and hybridization of these two species can be seen in Aravaipa and Bonita creeks.

How long does a desert sucker live?

The average life span of a desert sucker (Catostomus clarkii) is 8-10 years.

How do they reproduce?

Like many aquatic fishes, desert suckers are oviparous with multiple partners at a time (polygamous). The breeding season starts from February to early July. On gravel bars, one female spawns with two or more males. Then female deposits its fertilized eggs in gravel depression. The eggs are, then, buried in the loose gravel and hatch after few days.

What is their conservation status?

As per the International Union for Conversation of Nature and Natural Resources, the population is abundant, with 10000 individuals in the total estimated adult population, so they are considered to be of Least Concern. However, suckers are vulnerable and sensitive to habitual and ecological changes. Humans often disrupt these natural conditions to fulfill their needs.

Desert Sucker Fun Facts

What do desert sucker look like?

Desert suckers are freshwater fishes with heavy elongated fish. Gila suckers are bicolored, olive-brown to dark green along the dorsal fin, and deep yellow or silvery tan.

They have blunt face tapered cylindrical heads with thick lips on the ventral side. The upper half body scales have dark spots which form faint dashed lines.

They exhibit sexual dimorphism, where males develop one or two light lateral stripes patterns before spawning occurs. The upper sides have 10-11 rays, and the caudal fin is deeply forked. The upper lip is thickened, where the cartilaginous lobe is present on the lower lip.

Barbells are not present. This species' length range is between 4-16 in, and in Arizona, it grows up to 31 in and weighs 4-65 oz.

*Please note, there are limited images of the desert sucker. If you have an image of the desert sucker, let us know at

How cute are they?

Gila mountain suckers looks cute with beautiful colors like olive-brown on the upper half and deep yellows and silvery tan.

How do they communicate?

The method of communication of Catostomus clarki is unknown. However, it is assumed it communicates like other fishes through sounds and body gestures or movements.

How big is a desert sucker ?

Desert sucker (Catostomus clarkii) has an elongated heavy body, and it is twice the size and bigger than Rock bass (Ambloplites rupestris).

How fast can a desert sucker swim?

Their exact speed is not recorded. However, these fish live in rapid fast-flowing waters.

How much does a desert sucker weigh?

This Arizona native species' weighs around 4 -65 oz.

What are their male and female names of the species?

Desert suckers (Catostomus clarki) do not have sex-specific names. They are commonly referred to as male and female desert suckers. They are sexually dimorphic, where males are different, with faint light striped pattern lines that develop at maturity.

What would you call a baby desert sucker ?

Baby desert suckers do not have a specific name. However, they are commonly referred to as young ones or fry.

What do they eat?

Catostomus clarki feeds on a diet that can range from algae and diatoms present on cobbles or boulders and detritus. Young ones feed on small aquatic insects such as worms or crickets, and other invertebrates.

Are they dangerous?

Gila fish are harmless and easily found in the river basin, and do not pose any threats.

Would they make a good pet?

These colorful species can be kept as a pet. However, they need ripply rapid flowing freshwater to survive, challenging to set up in the home aquarium.

Did you know...

Mountain sucker has excellent good vision, taste, and smell, using these heightened senses to seek food.

It attains sexual maturity as early as the second year.

Adult suckers species are found in pools during the daytime and riffles at night.

The National Park Service is conducting studies to determine the status of the sucker species in the Grand Canyon.

Suckerfish from Hypostomus plecostomus species also called as Suckermouth catfish. These aquarium species are frequently referred to as Janitor fish as they clean up the algae.

Bigmouth buffalo (Ictiobus cyprinellus) is the long-living suckerfish on earth. It lives for 112 years which is estimated by carbon dating.

Do desert sucker feed on algae?

Gila fish feed on aquatic insect larvae, algae, mosses, and other invertebrates, worms, and small crickets.

What are other subspecies of desert sucker?

In North America, along the Colorado river basin, Grand Canyon, and New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, a total of three sub-species can be identified.

Some of the sub-species are white river desert sucker (Catostomus clarkii intermedius), also known as white river mountain sucker (Pantosteus intermedius), meadow valley wash desert sucker (Catostomus clarkii), and the virgin river desert sucker (Catostomus clarkii utahensis).

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other fishes our horn shark facts and eel facts.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our desert sucker coloring pages.

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Written by Deepthi Reddy

Master of Business Administration

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Deepthi ReddyMaster of Business Administration

With an MBA under her belt, Deepthi has discovered her true calling in content writing. Her writing repertoire is diverse, covering travel, movies, pet care, parenting, animals and birds, and more. Her joy of learning and creating has helped her craft well-written and engaging articles. When she isn't writing, Deepthi enjoys exploring new cultures, trying different foods, and spending quality time with her two children aged 7 and 12.

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Fact-checked by Yashvee Patel

Bachelor of Business Management

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Yashvee PatelBachelor of Business Management

Yashvee has won awards for both her writing and badminton skills. She holds a business administration honors degree and has previously interned with social media clients and worked on content for an international student festival. Yashvee has excelled in academic competitions, ranking in the top 100 in the Unified International English Olympiad and placing second in an essay-writing competition. Additionally, she has won the inter-school singles badminton title for two consecutive years.

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