The 16 freshwater fish families

There are 16 major families of freshwater fish in the United States. Knowing which family a fish is from will help you to identify it easier. It is important to already know the parts of a fish before reading this post, you can find this information here.

  • Lepisosteidae: gar family
    • these fish have a long cylindrical body
    • they have long jaws and snouts with sharp teeth
    • notable species: spotted gar (Lepisosteus oculatus), longnose gar (Lepisosteus osseus), and alligator gar (Lepisosteus spatula)
Kaimanfische (Lepisosteus)
Florida gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus)
  • Clupeidae: herring family
    • thin silvery fish
    • have no lateral line
    • have a saw like pectoral fin
    • notable species: gizzard shad (Dorosoma cepedianum) and the threadfin shad (Dorosoma pentenense)
American Shad (Alosa sapidissima)
  • Cyprinidae: carp and minnow family
    • mouthparts are not sucker-like
    • the largest family of freshwater fish
    • notable species: central stoneroller (Campostoma anomalum), red shiner (Cyprinella lutrensis), blacktail shiner (Cyprinella venusta), common carp (Cyprinus carpio), golden shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas), bullhead minnow (Pimephales vigilax)

Rosyface shiner (Notropis rubellus)
  • Catostomidae: sucker family
    • sucker-like mouth and think lips
    • large body with smooth scales
    • notable species: river carpsucker (Carpiodes carpio), smallmouth buffalo (Ictiobus bubalus), and gray redhorse (Moxostoma congestum)
Northern hogsucker (Hypentelium nigricans)
  • Ictaluridae: North American Catfish Family
    • no scales
    • barbels present around the mouth
    • have an adipose fin
    • notable species: yellow bullhead (Ameiurus natalis), blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus), channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus), flathead catfish (Pylodictis olivaris)
Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)
  • Esocidae: pike family
    • long and cylinder shaped body
    • duckbill-like mouth with long jaws
    • notable species: chain pickerel (Esox niger), redfin pickerel (Esox americanus)
Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy)
  • Aphredoderidae: pirate perch family
    • only has one species in the family: pirate perch (Aphredoderus sayanus)
    • dark olive colored with some speckles
    • anus under throat
    • largemouth


Pirate perch (Aphredoderus sayanus)


  • Atherinopsidae: New World silverside family
    • thin fish with silvery bands on the sides
    • has flat snout
    • lower jaws extend before the upper jaw
    • notable species: brook silverside (Labidesthes sicculus), inland silverside (Menidia beryllina)


Brook silverside (Labidesthes sicculus)


  • Fundulidae: topminnow family
    • flat head and top the of back
    • mouth upturned
    • long body
    • no lateral line
    • notable species: blackstripe topminnow (Fundulus notatus)


Golden topminnow (Fundulus chrysotus)


  • Poeciliidae: livebearer family
    • similar looking to the topminnows
    • notable species: western mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis), sailfin molly (Poecilia latipinna)


Least killifish (Heterandria formosa)


  • Cyprinodontidae: pupfish family
    • very rounded body
    • mouth upturned
    • the head is flat but the back has an arch
    • no lateral line
    • notable species: sheepshead minnow (Cyprinodon variegatus)


Devil’s Hole pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis)


  • Moronidae: temperate bass family
    • has strips
    • opercle has well-developed spines
    • the dorsal fin is almost completely divided into two parts
    • notable species: white bass (Morone chrysops), yellow bass (Morone mississippiensis), striped bass (Morone saxatilis)


White perch (Roccus Americanus)


  • Centrarchidae: sunfish family
    • the dorsal fin is united
    • the anal fin has between 3 to 8 spines
    • has thoracic pelvic fins
    • notable species: green sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus), bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus), longear sunfish (Lepomis megalotis), spotted bass (Micropterus punctulatus), largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), white crappie  (Pomoxis annularis)


Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus)


  • Percidae: perch family
    • dorsal fin completely divided
    • anal fin has 1 or 2 spines
    • notable species: orangethroat darter (Etheostoma spectabile), bigscale logperch (Percina macrolepida), dusky darter (Percina sciera)


Tesselated darter (Etheostoma olmstedi)


  • Sciaenidae: drum and croaker family
    • silvery fish
    • high back a
    • long dorsal fin
    • notable species: freshwater drum (Aplodinotus grunniens)


Freshwater drum (Aplodinotus grunniens)


  • Cichlidae: chilid family
    • lateral line broken under dorsal fin
    • one nostril on each side of the head
    • notable species: Rio Grande cichlid (Cichlasoma cyanoguttatum) blue tilapia (Oreochromis aurea)


Jack Dempsey (Cichlasoma octofasciata)


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