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The Fishes of Lake Okeechobee, Florida
LOTHIAN A. AGER
WrITH the exception of descriptions and ranges of the freshwater
fishes of Florida (Carr and Goin, 1959 and Briggs, 1958), fishery
surveys of individual bodies of water or watershed areas of penin-
sular Florida (Bailey, Winn, and Smith, 1954; Hellier, 1967; Hearld
and Strickland, 1949; Kilby and Caldwell, 1955; Hubbs and Allen,
1943) have not been sufficient to document accurate range limits of
many peninsular Florida species.
This survey of Lake Okeechobee was initiated in an attempt to
determine the composition and relative abundance of the fishes
since southern range limits of a number of species were poorly doc-
umented and since exotic species are flourishing in some peninsular
Florida freshwater. Peninsular Florida has a depauperate fresh-
water fish fauna with such dominant families as Cyprinidae, Cato-
stomidae, and Percidae being represented by 5, 1, and 1 species re-
spectively. On the other hand, the Centrarchidae and Cyprinidon-
tidae are unusually well represented in the freshwaters of penin-
sular Florida, a result of the uniformly low gradient streams, the
past geologic history, and the character of the water (Odum, 1953).
METHOD OF COLLECTION
The survey began in October, 1967, and continued through No-
vember, 1969. Collecting was accomplished with trammel nets,
seines, a trawl, a 230-volt electrical shocker, and rotenone. Most
fish were identified immediately upon collection. Those which
could not be identified in the field were preserved in formalin and
taken to laboratory facilities for identification with the works of
Eddy (1957), Carr and Coin (1959), and Sterba (1966). Rarer
specimens were kept while the more common specimens were dis-
carded after identification. Habitat type was noted with the collec-
tion of each species.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Forty-three species of fish were collected from Lake Okeechobee
during the survey. Of these, 36 are freshwater fishes (Table 1),
whereas seven are saltwater forms that invade adjacent freshwater
54 QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF THE FLORIDA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
Freshwater fishes collected from Lake Okeechobee, Florida
areas (Table 2). Although no reproduction of these saltwater spe-
cies occurs, with the possible exception of the Atlantic needlefish,
significant immigration of some saltwater species yields large num-
bers of their kind, even to the point of their being common. Table
3 lists several species of fishes not found during this study but col-
lected by other investigators (Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish
Commission, 1956, Recommended program for northwest shore of
Lake Okeechobee, unpublished report).
1. Amia calva Linnaeus. Bowfin. This species is relatively
abundant throughout the vegetated areas and the canal systems
associated with the lake. Young individuals with the adult male
were collected on January 29, suggesting an early spring spawning
AGER: Lake Okeechobee Fishes
Salt water fishes collected from Lake Okeechobee
Strongylura marina. Atlantic Needlefish
Mugil cephalus. Striped Mullet
Microgobius gulosus. Clown Goby
Irinectes maculatus. Hogchoker
Centropomus undecimalis. Snook
Elops saurus. Ladyfish
Megalops atlantica. Tarpon
2. Lepisosteus platyrhincus DeKay. Florida Gar. This species
was collected from every major habitat within Lake Okeechobee.
No individuals less than eight inches total length were collected.
Greater numbers of these smaller individuals were collected during
April and May as opposed to other months of the year.
3. Lepisosteus osseus (Linnaeus). Longnose Gar. Only one
individual was collected during the study. It was captured in the
open area of the lake.
5. Dorosoma cepedianum (LeSueur). Gizzard Shad. This
species was plentiful in the open area of the lake and was fre-
Fishes reported from Lake Okeechobee by other investigators
Anchoa sp. Anchovy
Notropis chalybaeus. Ironcolor Shiner
Notropis petersoni. Coastal Shiner
Aphredoderus sayanus. Pirate Perch
Elassoma evergladei. Everglades Pigmy Sunfish
56 QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF THE FLORIDA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
quently collected within vegetated areas and canals. Spawning
probably occurs from late spring to early fall.
5. Dorosoma petenense (Giinther). Threadfin Shad. Like the
gizzard shad, this species was abundant throughout the open area
and frequently collected within the vegetated areas and canals.
Spawning evidently takes place during the early fall.
6. Esox niger LeSueur. Chain Pickerel. This species was not
frequently collected within any habitat, but was found on several
occasions in association with pondweed, Potamogeton. Young in-
dividuals were collected during April suggesting that these fish are
early spring spawners.
7. Esox americanus Gmelin. Redfin Pickerel. This species was
relatively abundant within the marginal areas of the lake marsh
during April and May, being associated with spikerush, Eleocharis
obtusa, communities. Few individuals could be found during Oc-
tober and November.
8. Erimyzon sucetta (Lacepede). Lake Chubsucker. Though
abundant, this species occurred most frequently within vegetated
areas of the lake where turbidity was extremely low. From the
collection of young individuals, spawning must occur in early
9. Notemigonus crysoleucas (Mitchill). Golden Shiner. This
species was collected from all areas of the littoral zone of the lake
as well as from the canal systems. However, the golden shiner
seems to prefer areas with a significant cover of water hyacinths,
10. Notropis maculatus (Hay). Taillight Shiner. Through
many individuals were collected in association with pondweed and
bulrush, Soirpus validus, during the early spring, few specimens
could be found during the fall.
11. Opsopoeodus emiliae Hay. Pugnose Minnow. This species
seems to occupy the same areas as the taillight shiner, but is
abundant during the fall months when the taillight shiner is scarce.
ACER: Lake Okeechobee Fishes
12. Ictalurus punctatus (Rafinesque). Channel Catfish. A much
sought after species by commercial fishermen, this species occurs
primarily in open water, but during the spring months can be found
in abundance within the vegetated littoral zone. Large numbers
of 4-5 inch individuals found in the open area during June and July
suggest that spawning takes place in the early spring.
13. Ictalurus catus (Linnaeus). White Catfish. This catfish is
as abundant as the channel catfish and is found in the same areas,
but less frequently within the littoral zone. Spawning takes place
during the late spring.
14. Ictalurus natalis (LeSueur). Yellow Bullhead. This rather
scarce species was collected from all areas of the lake but occurred
most frequently in the canal systems of the lake.
15. Ictalurus nebulosus (LeSueur). Brown Bullhead. A
rather abundant species, this catfish was collected within areas of
dense vegetation (such as eelgrass, Vallisneria americana, and
pondweed) where there was an amount of decaying organic ma-
terial covering the bottom substrate. Young of the year collected
as early as Thanksgiving Day suggest that spawning takes place
during the winter months.
16. Noturus gyrinus (Mitchill). Tadpole Madtom. This scarce
catfish was collected primarily from the open area of the lake. This
species seems to be more abundant during the fall months.
17. Anguilla rostrata (LeSueur). American Eel. This catad-
romous species is frequently encountered in the open area of the
lake, but at no time is abundant enough to be commercially im-
portant. Its numbers do not appear to fluctuate with time of year
probably because water control structures on all outlet tributaries
18. Jordanella floridae Goode and Bean. Flagfish. This species
is common in shallow water along the marginal areas of the lake
and is most abundant during early spring. It can tolerate low dis-
58 QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF THE FLORIDA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
19. Cyprinodon variegatus Lac6pede. Sheepshead Minnow.
This species was collected in small numbers only on two occasions
from one area of the lake. Evidently it inhabits the shallow, mar-
ginal area of the lake and is closely associated with spikerush com-
munities and clear water.
20. Lucania goodei Jordan. Redfin Killifish. This species is one
of the abundant minnows found throughout the littoral zone of the
lake. Large numbers collected during the fall months indicate
that spawning occurs during the summer.
21. Fundulus seminolis Girard. Seminole Killifish. The minnow
seems to be limited to the littoral zone of the lake, but occurs in a
variety of aquatic plant communities. From the numbers collected,
it appears to be commonly associated with spikerush communities
and areas of water hyacinths.
22. Fundulus chrysotus Holbrook. Golden Topminnow. This
species was collected quite frequently during April and May within
spikerush communities in shallow, clear water, but was seldom en-
countered during the fall. Perhaps spawning occurs during the
23. Poecilia latipinna (LeSueur). Sailfin Molly. Small num-
bers of this species were often collected from canals, but it was
more abundant in the very shallow, vegetated portion of the lake
marsh. It can evidently tolerate or even thrive in water containing
very little dissolved oxygen.
24. Gambusia affinis (Baird and Girard). Mosquito Fish. These
small fish are abundant throughout the littoral zone and canal sys-
tems of the lake in practically all types of marginal waters.
25. Heterandria formosa Agassiz. Least Killifish. This tiny
species is found throughout the littoral zone and canal areas of the
lake. Although never found in large numbers, it is common around
all kinds of vegetation growing in or at the edge of the water.
26. Menidia beryllina (Cope). Tidewater Silversides. This
fish is not frequently collected, but is more abundant during the
fall months than during spring. It is associated with communities
of pondweed in the littoral zone.
AGER: Lake Okeechobee Fishes
27. Labidesthes sicculus (Cope). Brook Silversides. Although
found throughout the littoral zone and canals, this species occurs
abundantly during the spring in spikerush communities in shallow,
clear water. This suggests a spring spawning period.
28. Micropterus salmoides (Lac6pBde). Largemouth Bass. This
desired game fish is abundant and found throughout the lake and
canals. The peak spawning period occurs in February and March.
Most adults are found within the littoral zone, occurring most fre-
quently within eelgrass and pondweed communities where turbidi-
ties are low. The greatest numbers of immature individuals are
found in shallow, clear water within the spikerush communities.
29. Pomoxis nigromaculatus (LeSueur). Black Crappie. One
of the most abundant and sought after game fish of the lake, this
species is primarily pelagic. During January, February, March, and
April it can be found throughout the littoral zone of the lake. These
months are the spawning season of this species. Young individuals
evidently move to the open water immediately after reaching a
swim-up fry stage. Sexually immature individuals are rarely found
within the littoral zone.
30. Enneacanthus glorious (Holbrook). Bluespotted Sunfish.
This small sunfish can be found within communities of pondweed
and eelgrass. Although common, these fish are rarely collected in
any significant numbers.
31. Chaenobryttus gulosus (Cuvier). Warmouth. This sunfish
is found throughout the littoral zone of the lake, most abundantly
in association with spikerush communities in shallow, clear water.
Seasonal collections indicate that spawning occurs during early
32. Lepomis marginatus (Holbrook). Dollar Sunfish. This
small member of the sunfish family occurs most frequently in the
marginal areas of the littoral zone. It seems to occur more fre-
quently during the spring months than during fall, indicating a
spring spawning period.
33. Lepomis punctatus (Valenciennes). Spotted Sunfish. This
species occurs throughout the littoral zone and canal systems of the
lake, but is more frequently collected within the canals. Evidently
it can utilize better than other centrarchids the canals and littoral
60 QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF THE FLORIDA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
area with much organic sedimentation. Spawning occurs in late
spring prior to that of the bluegill.
34. Lepomis macrochirus Rafinesque. Bluegill. Found through-
out the entire lake and canal systems, this fish is probably the most
numerous of centrarchids. Adults are most frequently collected
within communities of bulrush, while great numbers of immature
individuals are found within dense pondweed and eelgrass com-
munities. Spawning occurs throughout the summer months.
35. Lepomis microlophus (Giinther). Redear Sunfish. A much
desired game fish, this species occurs throughout the lake and canal
systems. Adults are found primarily within bulrush communities
from late spring to early fall. During the remainder of the year,
it seems to prefer the deeper, pelagic area of the lake. Immature
individuals are most frequently found within dense communities
of pondweed and eelgrass, but occur in eelgrass more frequently
than immature bluegills, which are dominant in pondweed. From
collections it seems these fish can better utilize the marginal areas
of the littoral zone than can the bluegill.
36. Etheostoma barratti (Holbrook). Scalyhead Darter. A
rather common but seldom collected species because of its bottom
dwelling habits and small size, it is most abundant within the mar-
ginal areas of the lake and the canals.
37. Strongylura marina (Walbaum). Atlantic Needlefish. This
species is commonly encountered throughout the open area of the
lake and within the bulrush communities. A number of gravid fe-
males and ripe males have been collected during spring. Indi-
viduals of 1-2 inches in total length were frequently collected during
summer months, indicating that reproduction occurs within the lake
so that this population is not dependent upon their ability to immi-
grate into the lake.
38. Mugil cephalus Linnaeus. Striped Mullet. This common
salt water species is abundant throughout the open area and most
AGER: Lake Okeechobee Fishes
of the littoral zone from early winter to summer. Spawning does
not occur in the lake. During late spring, great numbers can be
found in the tributaries leading from the lake to the ocean. Like-
wise, during late fall this fish can be found migrating into the
lake by way of these same tributaries.
39. Microgobius gulosus (Girard). Clown Goby. This fish was
collected on two different occasions from a community of white
water lily (Nymphea odorata) and bladderwort (Utricularia vul-
garis). It was much more abundant during the fall than during
spring, an indication that spawning occurs during the summer
40. Trinectes maculatus (Lacepede). Hogchoker. Only one
individual was found during the survey. It was captured with a
seine in the open portion of the lake.
41. Centropomus undecimalis (Bloch). Snook. This species
was frequently collected in the Clewiston area where navigation
channels have been dredged into the lake. The population is evi-
dently entirely dependent upon its ability to immigrate into the
42. Elops saurus Linnaeus. Ladyfish. On one occasion a school
of these fish were sighted in the pelagic area of the lake east of the
43. Megalops atlantica Valencinnes. Tarpon. On one occasion
in August a tarpon was seen cruising the surface near Rita Island
in the southern portion of the lake.
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from the Escambia River, Alabama and Florida, with ecological and
distributional notes. Proc. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, vol. 106, pp. 109-164.
62 QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF THE FLORIDA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
BucGGS, JOHN C. 1958. A list of Florida fishes and their distribution. Bull.
Florida State Mus., Biol. Sci., vol. 2, no. 8, pp. 223-318.
CARR, ARCHIE, AND COLEMAN J. COIN. 1959. Guide to the reptiles, amphib-
ians, and freshwater fishes of Florida. Univ. of Florida Press, Gaines-
ville, Florida. 341 pp.
EDDY, SAMUEL. 1957. The freshwater fishes. William C. Brown Co., Du-
buque, Iowa. 253 pp.
HEARLD, EARL S., AND ROY R. STRICKLAND. 1949. An annotated list of the
fishes of Homosassa Springs, Florida. Quart. Jour. Florida Acad. Sci.,
vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 99-109.
HELLIER, THOMAS D., JR. 1967. The fishes of the Santa Fe River system.
Bull. Florida State Mus., Biol. Sci., vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 1-46.
HUBBS, CARL L., AND E. Ross ALLEN. 1943. Fishes of Silver Springs, Florida,
Proc. Florida Acad. Sci., vol. 6, pp. 110-130.
KILBY, JOHN D., AND DAVID K. CALDWELL. 1955. A list of fishes from the
southern tip of the Florida peninsula. Quart. Jour. Florida Acad. Sci.,
vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 195-206.
ODUM, H. T. 1953. Factors controlling marine invasion into Florida fresh
waters. Bull. Mar. Sci. Gulf & Caribbean, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 134-156.
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