Sonora Sucker - Illustration by George Maleski

Sonora Sucker
Catostomus insignis


The Sonora sucker is native to Arizona. Depending on habitat, suckers can be from 8 to 31 inches in length and can weigh up to a little over four pounds. The body is sharply bi-colored: yellow-brown on the top and a deep-yellow below. Scales on the upper half have dark spots which form faint, dashed lines. The sucker's most distinct feature is the lower lip which is about 3 times as thick as the upper lip. Large individuals can be confused with carp because of similar coloration. Primitive man along streams of the Gila basin used the sucker extensively as food. Presently, it provides sport for bow-and-arrow and snagging enthusiasts. It will take a baited hook and gives a slow, determined struggle when taken on light tackle.1

Habitat: The Sonora sucker can be found in a variety of habitats from warm water rivers to trout streams. It prefers rivers or streams that have deep and quiet, rocky or gravely pools. This species is intolerant of lake conditions created by dams.

Range: The Sonora sucker is widespread in the Gila and Bill Williams river basins of Arizona. The "historic range" included Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico.

Reproduction: The Sonora sucker begins spawning in riffles during the late winter and continues through midsummer. The female is usually attended by two males. After hatching, juveniles gather in quiet pools near the banks and move to swifter waters as they mature. Hybrids have been reported between Sonora and Desert suckers.2

Diet: Catostomus insignis is an omnivore, feeding on aquatic insects and plants found in shallow pools. This species will occasionally ingest sand to obtain plant and animal particles for food. Seeds of cottonwood trees are taken seasonally, with large fish lifting their heads clear of the water to clumsily "suck" at seeds that accumulate behind obstructions. Juveniles will feed along the margins of streams upon tiny crustaceans and plant materials.1

Status: In 1994, the Sonora sucker was listed in the Federal Register as a Category 2 species for consideration to be listed as threatened or endangered.3 In 1996, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) changed the listing of "Federal Candidate" species. The "Category" designation was eliminated and species listed under Categories 2 and 3 were no longer considered candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Currently, this species is now classified by the USFWS as a "Species of Concern."2

Sonora Suckers in Pima County: The Sonora sucker once occurred throughout Arizona, including the Santa Cruz River watershed. This species was eliminated from the area near Tucson by 1937.4 The Sonora sucker no longer exists in Pima County, but may still exist along the Santa Cruz River upstream of the county line.


1. Minckley, W. L. 1973. Fishes of Arizona. Arizona Game and Fish Department, Phoenix. Pp. 186-192

2. New Mexico Department of Game and Fish et al. 1998. BISON-M: New Mexico Species List/Species Accounts

3. Federal Register. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Animal Candidate Review for Listing as Endangered or Threatened Species, Proposed Rule. Department of the Interior. Tuesday, November 15, 1994. 50 CFR Part 17.

4. Zander, M. and Jennings M. 1986. Site Specific Water Quality Criteria Study for the Santa Cruz River. Harding Lawson Associates. Job No. 17,144,010.01. p. 73

back to Priority Vulnerable Species Fact Sheets