Gila cypha

Humpback Chub

FWS Focus

Overview

Characteristics
Overview

The humpback chub is a native species of the Colorado River that evolved around 3.5 million years ago and is only found in warm-water canyons of the Colorado River basin. The humpback chub was first described from a fish caught in 1933 near Bright Angel Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River in Grand Canyon, making it one of the last large fish species to be described in North America. The species was protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1973 because large dams and human water use changed the river flow. Actions to conserve the humpback chub include managing river flows, providing passage around dams, and removing non‐native predators. Monitoring of humpback chub populations indicates that management actions are benefiting the species. In fact, the Little Colorado River population in Grand Canyon is now estimated at more than 11,000 fish, and the Westwater Canyon population in Utah is estimated to exceed 3,300 fish.

Scientific Name

Gila cypha
Common Name
humpback chub
FWS Category
Fishes
Kingdom

Location in Taxonomic Tree

Genus
Species

Identification Numbers

TSN:

Characteristics

Characteristic category

Behavior

Characteristics
Behavior

Typically, humpback chub stay in the same local area for their entire lives, rarely leaving a 10- to 20-mile (16-32 kilometers) stretch of river.

Characteristic category

Physical Characteristics

Characteristics
Size & Shape

The species is a member of the minnow family and attains a total length of 1.5 feet (about 480 millimeters). Adults have enlarged nuchal humps that rise abruptly behind the head and laterally compressed bodies that are fusiform and tapered toward slender tails.

Weight

Adults may attain a weight of 2.6 pounds (about 1.2 kilograms).

Color & Pattern

Juveniles have greenish backs, silvery sides, and whitish bellies. Adults are similar in coloration with grayish-green backs and sides, fading to whitish bellies.

Characteristic category

Food

Characteristics
Food

Humpback chub eat a variety of foods, including insects, crustaceans, plants, seeds, and occasionally small fish and reptiles.

Characteristic category

Lifecycle

Characteristics
Lifecycle

Individuals generally can reproduce at three-to-five years of age. Young fish live along sheltered shorelines, and adults live in deep pools near rapids and boulders.

Lifespan

The humpback chub can live 20-to-40 years.

Reproduction

Adults spawn in the spring, broadcasting eggs on rocky areas when water temperatures are between 59 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit (15-20 degrees Celsius).

Characteristic category

Similar Species

Characteristics
Similar Species

The humpback chub is a member of the genus Gila and is closely related to the bonytail (Gila elegans) and roundtail chub (Gila robusta). The species co-occur in habitats in the Colorado River basin and have substantial evidence of hybridization but maintain species-specific characteristics and populations.

Characteristic category

Habitat

Characteristics
Habitat

Humpback chub live in rocky canyons where swift, turbulent water makes it difficult for other fish to live. Humpback chub are resilient to a variety of physical and chemical habitat conditions and tolerate a wide range of river flows at all life stages.

River or Stream

A natural body of running water.

Geography

Characteristics
Range

The historical range of the species includes portions of the Colorado, Green, and Yampa rivers, but this range has been reduced through the construction of mainstem dams in canyon areas. The species is now found in five populations, including four upstream of Lake Powell (Black Rocks, Westwater Canyon, Desolation/Gray canyons, and Cataract Canyon) and one downstream of Lake Powell (Grand Canyon). In Arizona, they occur in the Little Colorado River, the Colorado River in Grand Canyon, and Havasu Creek. In Utah, they occur in Cataract, Westwater, and Desolation/Gray canyons. In Colorado, they occur in Ruby-Horsethief Canyon (Black Rocks). The humpback chub recently occurred in Dinosaur National Monument but has not been found there since 2006. Two of eight documented populations of Humpback chub were extirpated by construction of Flaming Gorge (Hideout Canyon) and Hoover dams (Black Canyon).

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