Discover nature this week with Missouri fish.
Color is important to fish. It’s used for camouflage, mate selection and defense. While easily seen in tropical aquarium fish, our native fishes also have special colors. For most fish species, spring and summer are the seasons when breeding coloration is at its peak. Missouri is home to more than 200 kinds of fish — more than are found in our neighboring states.
In camouflage, the color of the fish imitates or blends with its surroundings. Most fish use countershading. A counter shaded fish has a light-colored underside and darker topside. Counter shaded fish blend into their surroundings from wherever they’re viewed. The light underside blends with the bright water surface when the fish is viewed from below. The dark backside blends with the stream or pond bottom when the fish is viewed from above. For example, catfish are counter shaded.
Color is also used to attract mates. The redbelly dace and the bleeding shiner are ordinarily nondescript minnows, but spectacular color change takes place in the males during breeding season. Bright red markings appear on the undersides of the dace and in the fins of the bleeding shiner.
Another small fish is the orange-throat darter. Its color intensifies with alternating blue-green bars and brick-red blotches on the sides and bright orange beneath the throat and undersides. Darters generally prefer rocky riffles in clear Ozark streams. The sickle fin chub is found only in the muddy, turbulent waters of the Missouri and lower Mississippi rivers.
Fish are also able to change their colorations based on mood. A threatening coloration or pattern can be used to ward off others from their territory.
More information about fish in Missouri can be found online at MissouriConservation.org.