A bantam sunfish collected during seining survey. Credit: USFWS
Fish are cool! I was reminded of that this past fall when we had the opportunity to sample the lowland swamp habitats of southern Illinois. Although many swamps and wetlands have been drained, southern Illinois contains some remnants which still support interesting native lowland fish communities. Many of the species found in swamps are not found in other habitat types and may not frequently turn up in fishery samples or an angler’s creel. For me personally, it had been more than a decade since I had sampled lowland swamp habitats, so I was excited to see some old friends. Species in our samples included: Bantam Sunfish, Pirate Perch, Slough Darter, Central Mudminnow, Flier and Banded Pygmy Sunfish. Some of these species are relatively rare in Illinois. The Bantam Sunfish is listed as Threatened in Illinois and has been extirpated from areas of Illinois as a result of habitat alteration. The Banded Pygmy Sunfish’s range within Illinois is restricted to the southernmost portion of the state and the Pirate Perch, Slough Darter and Central Mudminnow have all experienced extirpations from portions of their ranges within Illinois.
A Grass Pickerel another "Cool Fish" collected during seining survey. Credit: USFWS
Although the main purpose of our sampling was to monitor for invasive species, there was the added benefit of taking a snapshot of the fish community from locations that are not often sampled. These interesting fish species are a testament to the amazing diversity of fish and demonstrate the importance of conserving and restoring swamp ecosystems.