Want to see suckers? Check out Stokes County

So many women spend countless dollars and time striving to achieve those coveted, beautiful, full, sexy lips, and ironically, suckers are born with them. That’s right – suckers.

This group of freshwater fish has the large, thick, fleshy lips that so many people wish for ... all without using Botox!

Sucker lips can be either plicate, papillose or both. Plicate lips resemble vertical folds; papillose lips have small, round projections. These complex structures and the shape of their lips are very useful features in distinguishing between species. In terms of evolution, suckers are closely related to minnows. The Latin name of the sucker family – Catostomidae – means “under mouth,” referring to the mouth being on the underside of the head. The protruding, sensitive lips and position of the mouth enable it to be used like a vacuum to suction up its prey, usually invertebrates.

Suckers vary in size with the largest measuring more than 3 feet in length and weighing more than 30 pounds. In some freshwater ecosystems, suckers can represent the majority of the biomass. In North America, north of Mexico, there are at least 69 species of suckers. North Carolina has 29 documented species, with at least five of these which have yet to be formally described.

Of special significance is the diversity of suckers in Stokes County. That county boasts of a mountain chain that rises and falls within its borders, and of Hanging Rock State Park. But its real claim to fame should be as “Sucker Central”: Stokes County has more documented sucker species than any other county in the world. Within its borders, comprising 452 square miles of land and 4 square miles of water, can be found: northern and Roanoke hog suckers, notchlip, golden, and V-lip redhorses, bigeye, blacktip, and brassy jumprocks, white and rustyside suckers and quillback.

Unfortunately, almost 50 percent of the sucker species within North Carolina – 13 – are imperiled. Siltation, habitat fragmentation, development, competition from exotic and invasive species, and increased pollution of our streams, rivers, and lakes have resulted in many of these incredible fishes being state-listed as “species of special concern,” threatened or endangered; or listed as “significantly rare” by the N.C. Natural Heritage Program. It is up to us to diligently work to improve the health of our waterways and thus help ensure that this family of fishes – with their distinctive lips – continues to be a vital part of the amazing freshwater biodiversity of the state.