C. H. Eigenmann & Kirsch, 1889
(C. C. Abbott, 1860)
The razorback sucker (Xyrauchen texanus) is a fresh water sucker fish found in rivers and lakes in the western United States. It can grow to a meter in length and is recognisable by the keel between its head and dorsal fin. It used to inhabit much of the Colorado River basin but commercial fishing, river damming and habitat loss have caused great declines in populations. It is now restricted to the Colorado River upstream of the Grand Canyon, and to three lakes, Lake Mead, Lake Mohave and Lake Havasu.
It usually moves from deep water to suitable spawning grounds to breed, and research into its habits and breeding locations is ongoing. It has been a federally protected fish since 1991 and is rated as "critically endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. There are some signs of recovery, with fish being observed below the Grand Canyon in 2012 and 2013.
The razorback sucker is most notable for the sharp-edged bulge on the anterior part of its back, between the head and dorsal fin, giving rise to its common name, as well as to the alternative name "humpback sucker". The fish can attain sizes of up to 1.0 m (3.3 ft) and weights of 6.0 kg (13.2 lb)  The fish has an olivaceous to brown-black color on top grading to a lighter yellow below. Adult razorbacks are easily distinguished from other suckers by the predorsal keel.
The species originally occurred throughout the medium-sized and large rivers of the Colorado basin, but its range has shrunk to the river above the Grand Canyon, and to Lake Mead, Lake Mohave, and Lake Havasu on the lower part of the river. The reason for the decline is largely due to habitat loss. The state of California designated it as endangered in 1974, followed by the United States government in 1991. A population of over 3,000 fish in Lake Mohave has been created by an augmentation program using fry that were produced naturally in the lake. In addition, reintroduction programs have released hatchery raised fish into Lake Havasu, the Colorado River below Parker Dam, and the Verde River.
In 2012 and again in 2013, razorback suckerfish have been detected in the lower Grand Canyon. These were the first recorded sightings in the Grand Canyon National Park since the 1990s. In March 2014, in an effort to find out more about this wild population, nine tagged adult razorback suckerfish were released into the River Colorado below the Lava Falls. By tracking these fish, biologists hope to be able to detect the whereabouts of other spawning fish and assess their movements and how they use the habitat.
In spring 2014 a new search for reproduction of the fish at Grand Canyon National Park resulted in the first finding of larvae for several decades. On nine of 47 sites, spawning Razorbacks were found.
Razorback suckers are long-lived; older fishes have been estimated at more than 40 years. Both males and females mature at age four. Spawning occurs in late winter or spring, when groups of razorbacks settle to the riverbed and release their gametes. The adhesive eggs become attached to the interstitial spaces in the gravel substrate. A single female is attended by two to twelve males, and the female will spawn repeatedly with several males. Hatching success depends on water temperature, with complete mortality at temperatures less than 10 °C (50 °F).
Razorback suckers inhabit a diversity of areas from mainstream channels to backwaters of medium and large streams or rivers. They prefer to live over sand, mud, or gravel bottoms. Razorbacks feed on algae, insect larvae, plankton, and detritus. The eyes are receptive to parts of the UV spectrum, particularly that portion of the retina that receives light from below. The razorback spends most of its life at depths where UV light cannot penetrate but they move into the shallows for breeding. In the shallows, males stake out a breeding territory and hover near the riverbed. When another male enters the breeding area, the defending male rolls his eyes downward to reveal the upper third of the eye generating a flash of reflected sunlight. The strongest reflected component of the flash lies in the UV spectrum. The intruding male, swimming overhead, can see the flash below and will shy away from it. The eye flashes are not visible from a distance underwater and can thus be used to signal intruding males without alerting predators. Females do not react to the eye flashes.
The razorback sucker was once common throughout the Gila and Pima river watershed regions of Arizona. Commercial fishing together with dam building decimated the fish stock, which were unable to breed due to lower water temperatures in the reservoirs while dams blocked their movement into smaller channels (Nabhan 1988:553). They are now federally listed (USFWS October 23, 1991) as an endangered species with provisions for the protection of its critical habitat. Ongoing conservation efforts are taking place throughout the Upper and Lower Colorado River basins. The largest and most genetically-diverse population is found in Lake Mohave, Arizona-Nevada.
- Smith, K. & Darwall, W.R.T. (2013). "Xyrauchen texanus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved May 9, 2014.
- Minckley, W.L. 1973. Fishes of Arizona. Arizona Game and Fish Department, Phoenix. pp. 145-146, 153-155
- Heather Solee (April 14, 2014). "Tagged Razorback Suckers Released in Grand Canyon". Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Retrieved May 17, 2014.
- Department of the Interior: Once Thought Locally Extinct, Endangered Razorback Suckers Discovered Spawning in Grand Canyon National Park , June 18, 2014
- Sublette, J.E., M.D. Hatch, and M. Sublette. 1990. The fishes of New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque. pp. 191, 227-229
- Flamarique, I. Novales; Mueller, G.A.; Cheng, C.L.; Figiel, C.R. (2006). "Communication using eye roll reflective signalling". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. FirstCite Early Online Publishing (1611): 877–82. doi:10.1098/rspb.2006.0246. PMC . PMID 17251115. Retrieved 2007-01-15.
- Gimenez Dixon (1996). Xyrauchen texanus. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. www.iucnredlist.org. Retrieved on 11 May 2006. Listed as Endangered (EN A1bc v2.3)
- Ira La Rivers, Fishes and Fisheries of Nevada (University of Nevada Press, 1994), pp. 357–362
- Gary Nabhan, "Invisible erosion: The rise and fall of native farming" Journal of the Southwest 30(4):552-572.
- California Department of Fish and Game page on the species
- Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2006). "Xyrauchen texanus" in FishBase. May 2006 version.
- USFWS Environmental Conservation Online System page for Razorback sucker
- USFWS Upper Colorado Endangered Fish Recovery Program
- USFWS List of Fish Listed under Endangered Species Act