List of Chub Species in North America 2023 [ID Guide]
“Chub” is a common name given to many species of fish in the family Cyprinidae. This family includes thousands of distinct species of carp and minnows, and over 50 could be considered “true chubs.” Some traits unite these fish. They have bony bodies, which makes them poor fish for eating. Most species are small and silver-colored, sometimes with spots or speckles. Many groups have barbels in the corners of their mouths which help them sense potential food items in the water.
Most chubs are river fish that occupy a diverse array of freshwater habitats, from hot springs to cold rivers and everything in between. Some species have a small home range and can only be found in a single river system, whereas others have substantial home ranges spanning half of the United States. Their diets vary between species, too, consisting of insects, plant materials, mollusks, and fish. Due to their small size and generally high abundance, they are an essential prey item for many fish-eating animals and fish.
Chubs breed in the spring and summer; some species can reproduce multiple times a year. In some species, males develop pronounced tubercles and a more intense coloration during the breeding season.
1) Bigeye chub (Hybopsis amblops)
Compared to other members of the Hybopsis genus, the bigeye chub occupies an expansive range from Oklahoma to New York. This species is reportedly secure throughout most of its range, but some population declines have been documented in the northern part of its range. This species has not been evaluated by the IUCN, although populations are supposedly stable. Illinois has locally listed this species as one of conservation concern.
Like the other members of the Hybopsis genus, bigeye chubs are small, silver minnows with a single, horizontal stripe from their eye to the base of their caudal fin. On average, they are between 2.5 and 3 inches (6.4 and 7.6 cm) in length. They possess conical barbels in the corners of their mouths, teeth in their throats, and eight rays on their anal fins. Their eyes are pointed upward, and their jaw points downward.
This species prefers large streams and rivers with clean gravel substrates and an abundance of aquatic insects, their preferred food. Bigeye chubs do not tolerate pollution or silty water. The spawning season for bigeye chub lasts from May to June. During this period, breeding males develop tubercles on the top of the head.
2) Rosyface chub (Hybopsis rubrifrons)
The rosyface chub is found in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina and is considered critically imperiled in North Carolina. This species is restricted to the Savannah River Basin, a drainage system that runs through the three states and feeds into the Savannah River. Its range overlaps with the bigeye chub but can be distinguished by the breeding male’s coloration. During their springtime breeding season, male rosyface chubs develop a red color on their heads; no such coloration is present in the bigeye chub.
This species is of little concern to anglers but is likely an essential prey item for predatory fish, birds, and mammals. Rosyface chubs stay small, and the maximum reported size is around 3.3 inches (8.4 cm) in length, making them an ideal prey item for those types of predators.
3) Highback chub (Hybopsis hypsinotus)
Highback chubs are narrowly distributed in a few states of the southeast United States and are restricted to the Carolinas. They resemble a slightly rosy-colored bigeye chub, with some individuals possessing the same vertical stripe described in the previous species. Others are slate-grey with rosy bellies and pectoral fins. The highback chub has a slight hump along their backs before the dorsal fin, whereas other Hybopsis species are more streamlined. Adult highback chubs are typically only 2 inches (5 cm) long.
The perfect habitat for highback chubs includes pools in medium streams and rivers with sandy or gravelly bottoms. Unlike the bigeye chub, highback chubs can tolerate some turbidity. Highback chub are not of conservation concern throughout their range.
Their breeding season is during the spring and summer. Breeding males will develop red fins. Notably, they are nest parasites and will spawn in nests constructed by the bluehead chub (Nocomis leptocephalus).
4) Lined chub (Hybopsis lineapunctata)
Lined chubs have a small distribution and are native only to the Tallapoosa and Coosa rivers in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee. They inhabit similar rivers as other Hybopsis chubs: pools of medium streams and rivers with sandy or gravelly bottoms. Lined chubs co-occur with shiners that look similar, but they can be distinguished from shiners by the presence of barbels in the corner of their mouths.
Their spawning season occurs from May to June. Adult males develop many tiny tubercles on their heads during the breeding season. Lined chubs are not of conservation concern, but reports in Georgia have noted its decline in some areas. In general, they are intolerant of high turbidity. Therefore, potential threats for this species include habitat alteration and the introduction of excess silt from logging.
The lined chub’s closest relative is H. amblops, and scientists suspect this species originated from isolated populations of H. amblops.
5) Clear chub (Hybopsis winchelli)
Like all other Hybopsis species, the clear chub is a small cyprinid. On average, they are only around 3.3 inches (8.4 cm) in length. Clear chubs are silver with a black stripe running horizontally down their body.
Clear chub can be found in states along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida. Their preferred habitat includes streams, creeks, and small rivers, and they occur almost exclusively over sandy or silty-bottomed rivers. Delicate substrates are an essential characteristic of the clear chub habitat. Their diet includes primarily aquatic insects that they find in the substrate. Very little is known of the clear chub’s reproductive habits or other aspects of their biology not listed here.
Clear chub is not of conservation concern throughout their range.
6) Pallid shiner (Hybopsis amnis)
This final Hybopsis species is known as the pallid shiner, not as a chub. Despite this, it shares a nearly identical appearance with the other Hybopsis species. It has no markings besides a thick stripe down its body. This fish has a maximum length of 2.6 inches (6.6 cm).
Pallid shiners can be found in Texas and northward into Minnesota. This fish enjoys slow-moving pools and riffles in medium or large rivers. They prefer clear streams and do not tolerate excessive turbidity. Pallid shiners are insectivorous and consume tiny midges and other larvae of aquatic insects. Very little is known about their reproductive habits or other aspects of their biology, but it is assumed that they are like other Hybopsis species.
7) Creek chub (Semotilus atromaculatus)
The genus Semotilus, also known as the creek chub, is known for its most widespread species, the common creek chub. Semotilus atromaculatus is found throughout the eastern half of the United States, from as far west as Montana to the eastern coastlines of Nova Scotia, Canada. Creek chubs are plain, gray fish with blunt heads and upturned mouths. Typically, they will reach lengths between 2 and 6 inches (5 and 15 cm).
Creek chubs are generally abundant in the headwaters of creeks and small to medium rivers where they occur. Creek chubs prefer areas where water flow is weak but will migrate to faster-flowing waters to spawn in the spring.
Creek chub is used in research to understand the effects of habitat fragmentation on genetic diversity in stream fish and how impasses like waterfalls and impoundments affect fish dispersal. Overall, it seems that the creek chub is well-studied and serves as a model organism in the study of the movement of fish through streams. Therefore, creek chubs are not endangered or of any conservation concern.
8) Flame chub (Hemitremia flammea)
The flame chub gets its name from the reddish-orange stripe that runs horizontally along its sides from the gill cover to the base of the caudal fin. The common name “flame” and the species epithet “flammea” refer to their striking stripe. This pattern is particularly vibrant on breeding males who don breeding colors for their springtime spawning season. Sometimes spawning begins as early as January and ends in June. On average, adults are between 1.6 and 2.4 inches (4 and 6 cm) in length.
This species can be found in springs and streams with gravelly bottoms. They predate upon all aquatic invertebrates, including insect larvae, snails, and worms. They will also eat algae if it is present. Flame chubs are native to a small region around the Cumberland Plateau and Tennessee River drainages. As a result, most of their range is in Tennessee, but small parts branch out into neighboring states.
This species relies on cool, clean springs to feed fresh water into their streams. When these springs are altered or destroyed, it reduces the quality of habitat for the flame chub. This species is also short-lived, with adults rarely surpassing two years. These two factors make the flame chub vulnerable to extinction, and decreasing populations have led to the flame chub’s designation as near threatened, according to the IUCN.
9) Flathead chub (Platygobio gracilis)
Flathead chubs are common throughout most of eastern Montana and can be found in isolated water bodies on the state’s western side. They are distinguished from the Utah chub by the presence of barbels in the corners of its mouth. The flathead chub is usually around 9 inches (23 cm) in length.
The flathead chub is well adapted to life in more turbid or murky water with its small eyes and well-developed sensory organs. Interestingly, this species of chub primarily predates upon unfortunate terrestrial insects that find themselves in the water. However, they also consume plants and other small invertebrates.
This species is commonly caught by anglers looking for larger trout or sunfish. While it is common throughout most of its range, it is threatened or endangered in some states like Missouri or North Dakota due to the construction of reservoirs altering how water flows through their habitat.
10) Hornyhead chub (Nocomis biguttatus)
Male chubs in the Nocomis genus develop tubercles on their faces during breeding. In most species, the color of the male’s head also changes. Male hornyhead chubs develop tubercles, and their scales have dark edges, which create a hashed appearance. Adult hornyhead chubs are usually between 5 and 7 inches (12.7 to 17.8 cm) in length.
This species can be found in clean, flowing streams with gravel substrates throughout the northeastern part of the United States and into Canada. They can be located as far west as Wyoming in the United States and as east as Ottawa in Canada. The hornyhead chub diet is composed mainly of insects and some plant material.
During the spring, males develop tubercles on their heads and begin to construct nests. They maintain these nests throughout the breeding season and gradually bury eggs as females lay them. Interestingly, these nests are often used by other species that take advantage of the protective males.
11) Bluehead chub (Nocomis leptocephalus)
Bluehead chubs are found from Louisiana to Virginia. They prefer warm waters in streams and rivers with rocky or sandy bottoms. Interestingly, this species prefers somewhat turbid water. Bluehead chubs are smaller than hornyhead chubs, with an average adult length between 2.7 and 6.3 inches (7 and 16 cm).
Male bluehead chubs develop a striking appearance during their breeding season, and the head of mature males develops tubercles above their noses. As with hornyhead chubs, bluehead chubs construct a nest and defend it aggressively. In addition, these nests are also used by other fish species.
Bluehead chubs are not of conservation concern.
12) Lake chub (Couesius plumbeus)
The lake chub, or chub minnow, sports a dark green or olive coloration on its dorsal surface and a light underbelly. These two colors are separated by a thick, dark stripe that runs from the lake chub’s nose to the base of its caudal fin. An average adult is around 5 inches (12.7 cm) long.
Lake chubs are prolific throughout their range and are the only minnow species found in Alaska. They can be found in rivers but prefer lake or creek habitats. In any habitat, lake chubs stay close to shallow water. This species does not tolerate warm temperatures and may seek refuge in deeper water if surface temperatures become too warm. Their small size and abundance make them everyday prey items for fish-eating birds, mammals, and fish.
Spawning is temperature dependent and occurs when water temperatures reach at least 50°F (10°C). Therefore, their spawning season varies drastically throughout their range. Adults spawn in groups, leaving their eggs in the substrate and providing no parental care. Male lake chubs do not construct nests.
Lake chubs are not of conservation concern and are common throughout their range.
13) Leatherside chubs (Lepidomeda spp.)
There are six species in the genus Lepidomeda but only two with “chub” in their common name: the northern leatherside chub (L. copei) and the southern leatherside chub (L. aliciae). Northern leatherside chub are narrowly distributed. Sparse populations can be found in Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, and Utah. Southern leatherside chubs are only native to Utah south of Reids Peak in Wasatch National Forest. Both species are small, silver minnows with a brown hue. Some individuals have an orange tint to their fins. Both species are usually 3.3 inches (8.4 cm) in length.
Leatherside chubs require cool-water habitats and prefer areas with some degree of cover. They utilize the vertical space of these habitats well and tend to congregate in selected areas of a stream rather than disperse throughout a stream. As a result, habitat fragmentation puts these species at risk of extirpation.
14) Oregon chubs (Oregonichthys spp.)
Oregon is home to many cyprinids, but only two are in a genus named after the state. The genus Oregonichthys contains two species: the Oregon chub (O. crameri) and the Umpqua chub (O. kalawatseti). Before 1991, these two belonged to a single species, O. crameri, but a scientific paper released in 1991 split the species.
The two species are nearly identical, with small, silver bodies and some black patterning. On average, Oregon chubs are around 1.5 inches (4 cm) in length. While they are similar in appearance, they differ in spawning substrate and habitat. Umpqua chubs lay their eggs on rocks and tolerate more water flow than Oregon chubs. By comparison, Oregon chubs lay their eggs on plants and do not tolerate as much water flow as Umpqua chubs.
In 1993, the Oregon chub became endangered when its population dipped below one thousand individuals. This species recovered and was removed from the endangered species list in 2014. It is the first fish to recover under the Endangered Species Act.
15) Shoal chub (Macrhybopsis hyostoma)
Shoal chubs are distributed throughout most of the central United States in low-gradient streams and rivers. This species prefers habitats with moderate currents and pea-sized gravel. All species in the Macrhybopsis genus require long stretches of uninterrupted rivers and streams to complete their lives. While M. hyostoma remains of the least concern, the same cannot be said of other Macrhybopsis species. This is because the fragmentation of current river systems through human development or habitat degradation has impacted this species. As a result, shoal chubs have been extirpated from the fringes of their range due to the construction of reservoirs.
As with most chubs, they are small fish with a mostly silver coloration with golden hues. Additionally, this species often has many tiny spots along its body. In addition, they have a pair of barbels in the corners of their mouth. The shoal chub has the most variation in its appearance of any Macrhybopsis chub. This is particularly true for individuals in the western part of its range.
This species consumes aquatic invertebrates but specializes in midge pupae.
16) Prairie chub (Macrhybopsis australis)
The prairie chub’s mouth is downturned, and prominent barbels are in the corners of its mouth. This fish is silver with brown hues on its dorsal surface and very light underbellies. Generally, adults have spots along their sides. They rarely exceed 2.7 inches (7 cm) in length.
Prairie chubs are only native to a limited range in Texas and Oklahoma. However, this fish is notoriously tolerant of adverse water conditions. From high salinity to drought conditions, these fish are resilient. This species can be found in ephemeral streams or pools that dry up seasonally. Their preferred habitat includes clean, shallow rivers or pools. Other aspects of this species’ ecology are not well understood, but efforts are being made to increase awareness of vulnerable stream species and encourage research that explores their life history and possible conservation actions.
This species is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. As of this page’s publication, the prairie chub’s status as an endangered species is under review due to recent population crashes or disappearances and habitat loss.
17) Sturgeon chub (Macrhybopsis gelida)
The sturgeon chub is darker, usually grey, with a light underbelly compared to other blacktail chubs. In addition, it has a longer snout and a downturned mouth. Sturgeon chubs somewhat resemble the much, much larger sturgeon (Acipenseridae) but are distantly related to this group.
Sturgeon chub almost exclusively occur in the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and tributaries. This species loves murky, interconnected aquatic habitats with high flow. As a result, their favored water velocity is lower than that of the sicklefin chub (M. meeki). Still, their preference for fast currents has led to various adaptations that make them well-suited for this type of habitat. Firstly, they are strong swimmers and can fight against the current. Their streamlined bodies help make this task easier. Their swimming skills also help them evade predators.
The breeding season for this species occurs in the summer. Sturgeon chubs will form schools, scatter their eggs over gravel substrates, and do not provide parental care for their young.
Sturgeon chubs are not endangered.
18) Slender chubs (Erimystax spp.)
The slender chub (E. cahni) is the type species for the Erimystax genus. There are five species in this genus, all of which are small, slender, sliver-colored North American minnows with pointed noses. The blotched chub (E. insignis), the Ozark chub (E. harryi), and the streamline chub (E. dissimilis) have spots in one horizontal line along the sides of the fish. The intensity of this spotting varies by species. E. cahni is comparatively plain.
The gravel chub (E. x-punctatus) also has faint spots, as described above. This species is around 3.9 inches (10 cm) in length, which is typical for fishes in this group. These chub species eat minute plant material, small invertebrates, and microscopic organisms.
All Erimystax chubs are of least concern except for the type species (E. cahni). E. cahni is native to a stretch of 3,108 mi (5,000 km) in the upper Tennessee River drainage system. It is uncommon throughout its range, and conservationists have noted declining populations since the 1980s. This species spawns over clean gravel and requires shallow, pristine rivers. Unfortunately for this species, dredging, pollution, and destruction of suitable habitats prevent populations from recovering.
Western chubs (Gila spp.)
The western chubs are a genus of 12 fish species, many of which are endangered or have gone extinct over the past century. As their common name suggests, this group of chubs is found in the North American west, whereas most other species are native to the east. In addition, several species have extremely restricted ranges. For example, take the shorttail chub (G. brevicauda), which has a narrow ridge along the Mayo River in Chihuahua, Mexico.
Most species in this genus are endangered to varying degrees. The Gila chub (G. intermedia) is one such species. Invasive species, habitat fragmentation, reduced habitat quality, narrow home ranges, and drought are just a few factors that can drastically reduce western chub populations. In addition, smallmouth and largemouth basses are frequently and intentionally introduced to waters of the western United States, where they are not native. These intensely predatory fish consume the smaller and defenseless western chub species that did not evolve behavioral adaptations to avoid these predators. As a result, introduced sunfish can decimate populations of native fish.
19) Utah chub (Gila atraria)
The Utah chub is an unassuming olive-colored fish introduced to Montana as a bait fish. Ironically, this species does so well in introduced areas that it often grows too large to be an effective baitfish for sport fishing.
They do not have strict habitat requirements and will happily live anywhere with slow-moving water and abundant aquatic vegetation. Smaller individuals are planktivorous and can be an abundant food source for larger fish. Adults consume a wider variety of food, including plants and invertebrates. However, adult Utah chubs are not the best food for wildlife. Birds, in particular, prefer trout to Utah chub. They are warm water spawners and spawn in late spring and summer when water temperatures are above 54°F (12°C).
20) Humpback chub (Gila cypha)
Historically common throughout the Grand Canyon, the humpback chub can now be found on the endangered species list. This chub has a unique appearance, a distinctive hump behind its head, and red and white fins. It is illegal to kill or possess humpback chubs in many areas.
Population declines are attributed to habitat fragmentation, resulting from dam construction and an invasive tapeworm species, Schyzocotyle acheilognathi, which infects and kills humpback chubs. Predation by non-native species also contributes to population declines.
Humpback chub feed on arthropods, small fish, and phytoplankton. Spawning occurs from spring to summer when they scatter their eggs above the substrate.
21) Bonytail (Gila elegans)
While similar in appearance to the humpback chub, the bonytail has a thin caudal peduncle (the region of the fish’s tail before the caudal fin begins). They are so rare in the wild that they are considered functionally extinct. This species is adversely affected by predation pressure from introduced species, pollution, and habitat fragmentation. They require continuous, swift, deep river habitat that is disrupted or destroyed when impoundments are created by damming a river. It is illegal to kill or possess bonytails in many areas.
Bonytails are omnivorous, consuming a variety of invertebrates and plant matter. Their ecology and biology are not well understood, but they are considered spring spawners. They can reach an average length of 14 inches (36 cm). For such small fish, they are surprisingly long-lived, with a maximum lifespan of 50 years.
Bonytails are incredibly rare and anglers should immediately return any individuals to the water. Additionally, anglers should report the instance to the local parks and wildlife authorities.
22) Gila chub (Gila intermedia)
Gila chubs are medium-sized chubs with chubby bodies about 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) in length. They are silver in color without any distinguishing markings. Females are larger than males, and breeding adults may have an orange tint to their fins.
This species is native to the Colorado River Basin and is found in deep regions of rivers. They tend to aggregate in pools and are associated with cover. Interestingly, this species historically took advantage of the sluggish waters around beaver dams, but beaver hunting has reduced the population of beavers throughout the Gila chub’s range and, therefore, the frequency of dams. Young and adult Gila chubs occupy slightly different niches, with adults found more frequently in deeper water, and young Gila chubs found in the faster shallows. Adults are also crepuscular or active during the morning and evening, whereas young Gila chubs are primarily active during the day.
23) Arroyo chub (Gila orcutti)
The arroyo chub is a thick fish species with rounded bodies and fins. Very little is known about their average size or other aspects of their biology and life history. They are native to a small region along the Pacific Coast of southern California and are well-adapted to fast-flowing streams. They are somewhat tolerant to higher temperatures and low oxygen conditions.
This species is considered vulnerable to extinction. Arroyo chubs have been introduced to other areas, which might have saved the species from a more severe designation. However, this is not the perfect solution as the introduced arroyo chubs ultimately compete with other fish like the tui chub (Siphateles bicolor). Factors influencing the decline of the arroyo chub are similar. For the arroyo chub, introduced red shiners (Cyprinella lutrensis) are better competitors and displace arroyo chubs in their native range. Changes to the arroyo chub’s native river system have also led to fragmented populations, making it more difficult for them to recover.
24) Tui chubs (Siphateles spp.)
The genus Siphateles once belonged to the genus Gila but was separated from that genus in the 1800s. Commonly referred to as tui chubs, there are three species within this genus: the tui chub (S. bicolor), the Borax Lake chub (S. boraxobius), and the Alvord chub (S. alvordensis). The latter two species were described most recently than the tui chub, in 1980 and 1972, respectively.
Like the western chubs, the tui chubs are native to the western half of the United States, particularly in California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. The Borax Lake chub and the Alvord chub are native to parts of Nevada and Oregon, whereas the tui chub can be found in select water systems in all four states. All three species enjoy clean, freshwater habitats, with the tui chub preferring habitats with ample aquatic vegetation and the Borax Lake chub specializing in warm (29 – 30 °C or 84 – 86 °F) alkaline spring water.
While the tui chub is not of conservation concern, the same cannot be said about the other two Siphateles species. Alvord chubs are near threatened, and Borax Lake chubs are considered vulnerable due to their narrow habitat requirements.