Monday, November 24, 2014

Episode 241 (11/24/14): Classifying Fish is Largely a Family Affair

Click to listen to episode (3:24)


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of November 24, 2014.


If you think there’s something fishy about the “drumstick” just mentioned, you’re exactly right.  That was a description of a Northern Hogsucker, a fish found widely in Virginia’s streams and rivers.  The speaker was Jamie Roberts, a fisheries scientist formerly at Virginia Tech and now at Georgia Southern University, during a May 2013 fish-diversity lesson for the Virginia Master Naturalists’ New River Valley chapter.  This week, as Virginia families gather and focus on turkey drumsticks and other favorite Thanksgiving traditions, we focus on families of a different kind—the ones used to categorize Virginia’s freshwater fish.  Have a listen to Dr. Roberts for about 35 more seconds.

VOICE – 35 sec [listing five main families of freshwater fish in Virginia: minnows, catfish, sunfish and basses, perches and darters, and suckers].

A family is one level of organization used in taxonomy, the science of classifying living things based on their physical characteristics, genetic traits, and evidence of shared evolutionary history.  Fish in 25 families overall inhabit Virginia’s fresh waters.  Those families range from the well-known, such as the catfish family or the family of salmon and trout; to the relatively obscure, such as the Pirate Perch family, which contains only one species.  But as Dr. Roberts noted, most of the over 200 freshwater fish species in Virginia are categorized into just five families.  Let’s close with a quick review of those families, courtesy of several friends of Virginia Water Radio, and accompanied by part of “Bass Fisherman’s Reel,” courtesy of Williamsburg musician Timothy Seaman.


Happy Thanksgiving!

For other water sounds and music, and for more Virginia water information, visit our Web site at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  From the Virginia Water Resources Research Center in Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water. 

[All Internet addresses mentioned were functional as of 11/24/14]

Gravel fish nest attracting several kinds of Minnow-family species in Toms Creek (New River watershed), Blacksburg, Va., May 8, 2010.
The comments by Jamie Roberts were recorded May 13, 2013, along Toms Creek in Montgomery County, Virginia, at a class of the New River Valley Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists Program.  Thanks to Dr. Roberts, of the Department of Biology at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, and to this Master Naturalists class for permission to record the session.  At the time of this recording, Dr. Roberts was a research scientist in the Virginia Tech Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation.

Information about the Virginia Master Naturalists Program is available online at, or by contacting 60 Stagecoach Road, Charlottesville, VA 22902; phone (434) 872-4580; e-mail:

Information about the Virginia Tech Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation is available online at, or by contacting 100 Cheatham Hall, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061-0321; phone (540) 231-5573; e-mail:

Thanks to Eli Archer and several of his friends for their Nov. 19, 2014, recording of the names of Virginia’s main freshwater fish families.

“Bass Fisherman’s Reel” is on the 2004 CD “Virginia Wildlife,” copyright Timothy Seaman and Pine Wind Music, used with permission.  More information about Timothy Seaman is available online at

Sources for this Episode and For More Information:

“Classification of Animals,” University of Georgia Museum of Natural History, online at

“EFish—The Virtual Aquarium,” Virginia Tech Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences, online at; this site is organized by fish families, with each family link providing access to information on species numbers, distribution, uses, photos, etc.

“Fish and Wildlife Information Service,” Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, online at

Freshwater Fishes of Virginia
, by Robert E. Jenkins and Noel M. Burkhead (Bethesda, Md.: American Fisheries Society), 1994.

“Selected Freshwater Fish Families,” by John J. Ney and Louis A. Helfrich, Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication 420-526, 2009; online at

“Virginia Fishes” [freshwater game species], Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, online at

“Virginia Saltwater Angler’s Guide/Fish Identification Guide,” Virginia Marine Resources Commission (2006), online at; this site includes links to different publications (as PDFs) on Virginia marine fish species, boat ramps, resource management, law enforcement, etc.

Selected News, Events, and Resources Relevant to Fish and Shellfish in Virginia
Virginia Water Central News Grouper posts, available online at

Related Virginia Water Radio Episodes
Episode 73, 8/1/11 – Bass Fisherman’s Reel, by Timothy Seaman (on bass species in Virginia).

Episode 128, 9/17/12 – Northern Neck Chantey Singers (Atlantic Menhaden fishing tradition).
Episode 77, 8/29/11 – A Medley of Fish Sounds.
Episode 172, 7/29/13 – Fish Sampling (this includes other audio from Jamie Roberts’ session on May 13, 2013, with the New River Valley chapter of Virginia Master Naturalists).
Episode 211, 4/28/14 – Going Underwater to Explore Fish Migration.

SOLs Information for Virginia Teachers
This episode may help with Science Standards of Learning (SOLs) for Earth Resources in grade 4, for Living Systems in grades 5 and 6, in Life Sciences (especially LS.4), and in Biology (especially BIO.6 and BIO.8).