Identification Key to Native Freshwater Fishes of Peninsular Florida

Fish ID Guide montage

How to Use this Key:

 

1a) No pelvic fins; dorsal, anal, and caudal fins continuous; body snake-like in appearance Anguilla rostrata - American eel
1b) Pelvic fins present; dorsal, anal, and caudal fins not continuous; body not snake-like in appearance Question 2

 

2a) A gular plate present on underside of head; dorsal fin length about one-half the total length of the fish, with more than 45 rays; snout short Bowfin (Amia calva) Photo © George Burgess
2b) No gular plate on underside of head; dorsal fins short, length always less than one-half total length and with less than 45 rays Question 3

 

3a) Hard, armor-like scales cover an elongate body; snout very long Question 4
3b) Scales do not form an armor-like covering over the body; snout moderately elongated to short Question 5

 

4a) Snout length (measured from tip of snout to angle of jaws) more than twice the length of the remainder of the head (angle of jaws to back of operculum); body without prominent spots Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus) Top photo © Noel Burkhead, bottom photo: © George Burgess
4b) Snout length less than twice the length of the remainder of the head; body prominently spotted Florida Gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus) Photo © George Burgess

 

5a) Snout moderately long, shaped like a duck bill; body elongate, scales very small, body feels soft and smooth; caudal fin forked Question 6
5b) Snout not shaped like a duck bill Question 7

 

6a) Branchiostegal rays 11-14; lateral line scales about 105; adult’s body usually marked with irregular vertical bars Redfin Pickerel (Esox americanus) Top photo © Lawrence Page, bottom photo © George Burgess
6b) Branchiostegal rays 14-16; lateral line scales about 125; adult’s body usually marked with a reticulate, chain-like pattern Chain Pickerel (Esox niger) Top and center photo © Noel Burkhead, bottom photo © George Burgess

 

7a) Both eyes located on right side of the head; body extremely flattened dorso-ventrally Hog Choker (Trinectes maculatus) Top photo © George Burgess, bottom photo courtesy Virginia Institute of Marine Science
7b) One eye on each side of head; body not flattened dorso-ventrally Question 8

 

8a) Anus placed far forward, located between pelvic fins or closer to head, except in young; chocolate brown to gray in color Pirate Perch (Aphredoderus sayanus) Top photo © Noel Burkhead, bottom photo © George Burgess
8b) Anus situated farther towards tail Question 9

 

9a) Body greatly compressed laterally with keeled (often saw-edged) belly; coloration metallic silver or gold (see 10b for exception) Question 10
9b) Body round in cross section, or if laterally compressed, without keeled belly Question 12

 

10a) Last dorsal fin ray elongated, threadlike; lateral line straight; anal rays 17-35; color silvery Question 11
10b) Last dorsal fin ray not elongated; lateral line strongly decurved; anal rays 13-19; adults silvery or golden with a reddish tint (juveniles silvery with a dark lateral stripe) Golden Shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas) Photo © Noel Burkhead

 

11a) Anal rays 17-25; lower jaw projecting beyond tip of snout Threadfin Shad (Dorosoma petenense) Photo © George Burgess
11b) Anal rays 29-35; lower jaw not projecting beyond tip of snout Gizzard Shad (Dorosoma cepedianum) Photo © George Burgess

 

12a) Front of head depressed, with 8 long barbels; pectoral fins with strong serrated spines; body without scales Question 13
12b) Front of head not depressed, without 8 long barbels; pectoral fins lack strong, serrated spines, body scaled Question 17

 

13a) Posterior end of adipose fin connected to caudal fin Question 14
13b) Posterior end of adipose fin not connected to caudal fin Question 15

 

14a) Dorsal, anal, and caudal fins heavily speckled; upper jaw overhangs lower jaw Speckled Madtom (Noturus leptacanthus) Top photo © Lawrence Page, bottom photo © Noel Burkhead
14b) Dorsal, anal, and caudal fins not speckled, upper and lower jaws about equal in length Tadpole Madtom (Noturus gyrinus) Photo © Noel Burkhead

 

15a) Chin barbels at least partially white (no melanophores); anal rays 24-28; color generally uniform, without mottling Yellow Bullhead (Ameiurus natalis) Photos © George Burgess
15b) Chin barbels dark (at least some sprinkling of melanophores); anal rays 18-24; color usually mottled or spotted Question 16

 

16a) Upper and lower jaws about equal in length; color usually darkly mottled on lighter background; dorsal fin lacks dark basal blotch Brown Bullhead (Ameiurus nebulosus) Photos © Noel Burkhead
16b) Upper jaw projects beyond lower jaw; color usually light speckles on darker background (but may be uniformly dark); dorsal fin with dark basal blotch Snail Bullhead (Ameiurus brunneus) Phot © Lawrence Page

 

17a) Spines absent in dorsal and anal fins Question 18
17b) Spines present in dorsal and anal fins Question 38

 

18a) Mouth upturned and protractile Question 19
18b) Mouth terminal or downturned, never protractile Question 29

 

19a) Third anal ray branched; anal fins of adult males and females rounded Question 20
19b) Third anal ray unbranched; anal fin of males slender with long rays (forming a gonopodium) Question 27

 

20a) Deep bodied: standard length less than three times maximum body depth; coloration red, white, and blue Flagfish (Jordanella floridae) Photo © Ronald Watson
20b) Less deep bodied: standard length more than three times body depth Question 21

 

21a) An isolated, round, ocellated spot (dark spot surrounded by light ring) on caudal peduncle; body color greenish Pygmy Killifish (Leptolucania ommata) Photo © Larry Page
21b) No isolated, round ocellated spot on caudal peduncle (may have a caudal spot connected to a lateral stripe) Question 22

 

22a) A single broad, dark lateral stripe present along side of body, often ending in a spot on caudal peduncle Bluefin Killifish (Lucania goodei) Photo © Noel Burkhead
22b) A single broad, dark lateral stripe absent (several longitudinal streaks present in one species) Question 23

 

23a) Scales along side of body 50 or more; 17 rays in dorsal fin; body peppered with small, black spots Seminole Killifish (Fundulus seminolis) Photo © Larry Page
23b) Scales along side of body less than 40; less than 14 dorsal rays Question 24

 

24a) A dark, tear-drop marking under each eye; several longitudinal streaks or vertical bars present on side of body Lined Topminnow (Fundulus lineolatus) A. male specimen, B. female specimen Top photo © Lawrence Page, middle photo © Noel Burkhead, bottom photo © George Burgess
24b) Tear-drop markings absent under eyes; body with spots or vertical bars Question 25

 

25a) 7 pores lining inner edge of preopercle, origin of dorsal fin posterior to that of the anal fin; usually less than 12 vertical bars (in males) on side of body; gold or red spots or flecks on body Golden Topminnow (Fundulus chrysotus) Photos © Noel Burkhead
25b) 5 or 6 pores lining inner edge of preopercle Question 26

 

26a) 5 pores lining inner edge of preopercle, breeding males with red pigment on jaws and sides of head Red-Face Topminnow (Fundulus rubrifrons)
26b) 6 pores lining inner edge of preopercle, never with red pigment on jaws or head, absent from peninsular Florida, southern most populations occupying the Santa Fe River (Suwannee River drainage) Banded Topminnow (Fundulus cingulatus) Photo © Noel Burkhead

 

27a) A single dark spot present on the dorsal fin (also on the anal fin of females); caudal fin clear Least Killifish (Heterandria formosa) Top photo © Noel Burkhead, bottom photo © George Burgess
27b) Dorsal and caudal fins with numerous black flecks Question 28

 

28a) Body with numerous longitudinal streaks; dorsal rays 14-16; dorsal fin of certain males enlarged, sail-like Sailfin Molly (Poecilia latipinna) Photo © Noel Burkhead
28b) Body without numerous longitudinal streaks; dorsal rays 7-9; dorsal fin never enlarged Mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) Top photo courtesy US Geological Survey, bottom photo © George Burgess

 

29a) Caudal fin rounded; a small vertical bar present at base of caudal fin Eastern Mudminnow (Umbra pygmaea) Top photo © Noel Burkhead, bottom photo © George Burgess
29b) Caudal fin forked; a spot (but no vertical bar) may be present at base of caudal fin Question 30

 

30a) Mouth underslung with thickened, fleshy lips; 10-13 dorsal rays Lake Chubsucker (Erimyzon sucetta) Top and center photos © Noel Burkhead, © George Burgess
30b) Mouth terminal, never underslung or with thickened, fleshy lips, 8-9 dorsal rays Question 31

 

31a) Dorsal rays 9; mouth extremely oblique, situated at an angle of 35-45 degrees to the horizontal; scales along side of body thinly outlined with dark pigment to produce a cross hatch effect Pugnose Minnow (Opsopoeodus emiliae) Top photo male specimen © Lawrence Page, bottom photo © Noel Burkhead
31b) Dorsal rays 8; mouth more or less horizontal (always less than 35 degrees to horizontal); no cross hatch effect on sides Question 32

 

32a) Anal rays usually 10 Question 33
32b) Anal rays 9 or less Question 34

 

33a) Lateral stripe on body relatively narrow (its width about one third of body depth at level of dorsal fin), dusky black and sharply delineated; dorsal fin without definite pigmentation pattern Dusky Shiner (Notropis cummingsae) Photo © Lawrence Page
33b) Lateral stripe on body wide (its width about one half of body depth at level of dorsal fin), steel blue and less sharply defined; dorsal fin with dark pigment on membranes in middle and back of fin Sailfin Shiner (Pteronotropis metallicus) Photo © Noel Burkhead

 

34a) Anal rays usually 7; a small, oblong spot (continuous with the dark lateral stripe) present on caudal peduncle Coastal Shiner (Notropis petersoni) Photo © Noel Burkhead
34b) Anal rays usually 8; caudal spot variously developed or absent Question 35

 

35a) A distinct round, dark caudal spot present on caudal peduncle and (mostly) caudal fin, not (or barely) connected to much less intense, thin lateral stripe; scales along middle and upper side of body thinly outlined by pigment giving a chained effect Taillight Shiner (Notropis maculatus) Top photo © Lawrence Page, bottom photo © Noel Burkhead
35b) Caudal spot, if present, not round, always obviously joined to dark lateral stripe; no chained effect on sides Question 36

 

36a) Dorsal and anal fins in adults (especially males) notably enlarged and rounded, often with heavy concentrations of black pigment in membranes; light area on snout of adults (especially males), often brilliant blue in life; horizontally oblong, intensely black spot (intensification of lateral stripe) present on caudal peduncle and caudal fin; origin of dorsal fin distinctly posterior to insertion of pelvic fins, situated at least one fourth of distance back along length of depressed pelvic fins Bluenose Shiner (Pteronotropis welaka) Photo © Lawrence Page
36b) Dorsal and anal fins in adults not notably enlarged and rounded; snouts of adults not blue in life; caudal spot, if present, not distinctly oblong, no intensely dark or extending onto caudal fin; origin of dorsal fin only slightly posterior to insertion of pelvic fins Question 37

 

37a) Chin essentially devoid of pigment, dorso-lateral scales less sharply outlined with dark pigment; area around anus and bordering anal fin base without concentrations of black pigment; “V”-shaped light area on end of snout (above dark lateral stripe); a small barbel usually present at posterior end of maxillary bone Redeye Chub (Notropis harperi) Photo © Lawrence Page
37b) Chin with considerable black pigment; dorso-lateral scales more sharply outlined with dark pigment, although scales as a whole may be rather dark; “V”-shaped light area on end of snout usually absent; no barbel present at posterior end of maxillary bone Ironcolor Shiner (Notropis chalybaeus) Photo © Lawrence Page

 

38a) The two dorsal fins widely separated; very elongate and slender body; dorsal surface greenish, sides silvery Brook Silverside (Labidesthes sicculus) A. female specimen, B. male specimen Top photo © Lawrence Page, bottom photo © Noel Burkhead
38b) A single dorsal fin present, or two dorsal fins with a short separation Question 39

 

39a) Two dorsal fins, with a short separation present between Question 40
39b) A single dorsal fin present Question 44

 

40a) Anal fin with three strong, graduated spines; several narrow stripes along sides Sunshine Bass (Morone saxatilis x Morone chrysops) Photo courtesy USDA
40b) Anal fin with two spines Question 41

 

41a) Sides with 9 or more blotches, narrow and vertically elongate under dorsal fins; three evenly spaced dark spots at top, middle, and bottom of caudal fin base; snout sharp; midline of belly naked or with a single row of large scales Blackbanded Darter (Percina nigrofasciata) Top photo © Lawrence Page, bottom photo © Noel Burkhead
41b) Coloration not as above; snout more blunt than sharp; midline of belly without single row of large scales Question 42

 

42a) “W” or “X”-shaped markings present along side of body, lateral line complete and straight Tessellated Darter (Etheostoma olmstedi) Top photo © Lawrence Page, bottom photo © George Burgess
42b) Coloration not as shown above; lateral line sharply or moderately arched Question 43

 

43a) Lateral line scales whitish, causing lateral line to be clearly delineated; four small spots present on caudal fin base, one each at top and bottom and two closely situated medially; lateral line strongly arched above pectoral fin; irregular dark blotches on body Swamp Darter (Etheostoma fusiforme) Photo © Noel Burkhead
43b) Lateral line scales not depigmented, causing lateral line to blend in with adjacent scales; four small peduncle spots absent; lateral line moderately arched above pectoral fin; sides uniformly brownish, males with red spots on body and fins Brown Darter (Etheostoma edwini) Top and center photos © Noel Burkhead, bottom photo © George Burgess

 

44a) Lateral line absent; adult length not exceeding 50 mm Question 45
44b) Lateral line present; adult length exceeds 50 mm Question 47

 

45a) Dorsal spines 5; dark spot on body near tip of pectoral fin; seven or more dark, vertical bars on side; males not blue in life Banded Pygmy Sunfish (Elassoma zonatum) Top photo courtesy Lawrence Page, bottom photo courtesy George Burgess
45b) Dorsal spines 3-4; no dark spot on body near tip of pectoral fin; five or less (often none) dark, vertical bars on side; males blue in life Question 46

 

46a) Top of head without scales, caudal fin unspotted (but with light or dark background color); tip of mouth lighter than sides of mouth Okefenokee Pygmy Sunfish (Elassoma okefenokee) Photo © Noel Burkhead
46b) Tip of head scaled (scales often imbedded); caudal fin spotted (sometimes only faintly); mouth evenly colored Everglade Pygmy Sunfish (Elassoma evergladei) Top photo © Lawrence Page, bottom photo © Noel Burkhead

 

47a) Five or more anal spines Question 48
47b) Three anal spines Question 50

 

48a) Caudal fin rounded; 12 dorsal spines; four longitudinal dark stripes on head Mud Sunfish (Acantharchus pomotis) Photo © Noel Burkhead
48b) Caudal fin notched; 7-11 dorsal spines; longitudinal head stripes absent Question 49

 

49a) Eleven dorsal spines; sides striped or with longitudinal rows of spots; young with distinctive orange or black spot on rear portion of dorsal fin Flier (Centrarchus macropterus) Photo © Noel Burkhead
49b) Seven or eight dorsal spines; sides with horizontal rows of dark spots (larger than those of the Flier) Black Crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus) Photo © Lawrence Page

 

50a) Caudal fin rounded; a dark, vertical bar below each eye Question 51
50b) Caudal fin notched; no dark, vertical bar below each eye Question 53

 

51a) Middle dorsal fin spines noticeably longer than rear ones; front of dorsal fin dark; dark well defined, vertical bars on a gold to silver background Blackbanded Sunfish (Enneacanthus chaetodon) Top and center photos © Noel Burkhead, bottom photo © George Burgess
51b) Middle and rear dorsal spines about equally long; front of dorsal fin not darker than rest of fin; dark vertical bars, if present, less well defined, most often on a greenish or brownish background Question 52

 

52a) 18 or less scale rows around caudal peduncle; light spots on sides (blue to white in life); vertical bars generally lacking, but if present, indistinct and numbering five or less Blue Spotted Sunfish (Enneacanthus gloriosus) Top and middle photo © Noel Burkhead, bottom photo © George Burgess
52b) 19 or more scale rows around caudal peduncle; sides usually marked with more than five dark, vertical bars; in life, gold spots often present on sides Banded Sunfish (Enneacanthus obesus) Photo © Noel Burkhead

 

53a) Standard length more than three times the body depth; a deep notch between spiny and soft portions of dorsal fin Florida Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides) Photo © Noel Burkhead
53b) Standard length less than three times the body depth; no deep notch between spiny and soft portions of dorsal fin Question 54

 

54a) Mouth large, extending below the eye; color dark olive-brown with faint, darker blotches and several alternating light and dark stripes on operculum; an orange spot often present at tip of operculum Warmouth (Lepomis gulosus) Photo © Lawrence Page
54b) Mouth smaller, not extending back to eye; color variable, but never as above Question 55

 

55a) Pectoral fins long and pointed, when appressed almost reaching dorsal fin origin; if not, then a dark spot present at rear of dorsal fin Question 56
55b) Pectoral fins long and pointed, when appressed falls short of dorsal fin origin; dark spot never present on rear portion of dorsal fin Question 57

 

56a) Tip of operculum with posterior extension, this flap a dark spot bordered with orange-red (in-life); no dark spot at rear of dorsal fin; gill rakers much shorter than longest gill filaments Redear Sunfish (Lepomis microlophus) Photo © Noel Burkhead
56b) Tip of operculum with a dark spot, but not extending backwards as a flap and without orange-red (in-life) margin; a dark spot (sometimes indistinct, especially if fin is dark) present at rear of dorsal fin; gill rakers as long as longest gill filaments Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus) Photo © Noel Burkhead

 

57a) Opercular spot with pale green margin; cheeks and belly orange with blue streaks Dollar Sunfish (Lepomis marginatus) Top photo © Noel Burkhead, bottom photo (male specimen) © Lawrence Page
57b) Opercular spot black without orange-red margin; body spotted (black) or unspotted Question 58

 

58a) Body coloration a series of small black spots on an olivaceous background; black opercular flap not particularly elongated Spotted Sunfish (Lepomis punctatus) Photo © Noel Burkhead
58b) Belly reddish or yellowish in life, sometimes with small dark spots on sides (much less numerous than the spotted sunfish); black opercular flap is stiff, long, and narrow Redbreast Sunfish (Lepomis auritus) Photos © Noel Burkhead