“Little Tacony” Office Fishtank Holds Lessons About Local Fish

Emilie Wetzel
Sep 23, 2019

Little Tacony

Guest Blog by Interns Rut Hormann, Kerry Banford, Malcolm Bundy, and Allison Wray

Some of the fish that live in the Tookany-Tacony-Frankford Creek system, mostly fish in the carp and minnow family, have moved into our office in a fish tank that we call “Little Tacony.”* Thanks to our partner, the Fairmount Water Works, for lending us this spectacular tank! It means we’re able to monitor fish behavior and share information with you about these local species.

You can also see these fish first-hand by visiting our office…or by looking out for them as you explore the creeks in our watershed, from Jenkintown Creek and other headwater tributaries to the Tookany in Montgomery County and Tacony in Philadelphia !

Mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus)

Our tank is home to two mummichogs, a Narragansett word that means ‘going in the crowds,’ which perfectly fits their behavior. In their native habitat along the Atlantic Coast, these stout fish may travel in schools of up to several hundred. Mummichogs tend to be around 3-4 inches long and are also commonly called ‘mud minnows’ because they burrow into mud in order to avoid freezing over the winter. They resurface again when it becomes warm enough in the Spring. 

It’s no surprise that we found mummichogs because the fish is known for it’s hardiness and resilience to withstand pollution and low oxygen levels in water. In Little Tacony, our mummichogs tend to hang out in the same spot for a while, partially because they have no real need to hunt down the algae, small crustaceans, and insect larvae that make up their omnivorous diet. 

Common Shiner (Luxilus cornutus)
Spottail Shiner (Notropis hudsonius)
Satinfin Shiner (Cyprinella analostana)

Common shiner, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Creative Commons
Spottail shiner, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Creative Commons





Three different native shiners reside in our fish tank: the common, spottail, and satinfin shiners, which are all 3-4 inches long. These fish share a name and family, but are in separate subfamilies so there are several differences. Each of these omnivorous fish species have different habitat preferences, with common and satinfin shiners preferring cooler, faster waters, and spottail shiners preferring warmer, slower, and cleaner waters. While most shiner species grow to around 4 inches long, common shiners can reach a whopping 10 inches!

Satinfin shiner, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Creative Commons

The three satinfin shiners are easy to spot in due to their glittery white fin edges and silver color, while the common shiner has a darker, almost brown color. Even though the satinfish and common shiners are different, they all like to frolic in the tank together.

The spottail shiner closely resembles the blacknose dace in both size and coloring, though the dace and the other shiners don’t socialize with this lone fish. Despite the behavior of the shiners in our tank, it is not uncommon for shiners in the wild to crossbreed, as they often spawn in the same places over the Spring and Summer. 

Blacknose Dace (Rhinichthys atratulus)

Blacknose dace, Brian Gratwicke, Creative Commons

Our small school of blacknose dace make up the smallest fish species in our fish family. These sleek 3-inch fish dart around the tank together, weaving around fish larger than them. In fact, the common name ‘dace’ comes from the French word for dart, referencing how these fish swim in quick, pointed motion. The Latin name also provides information about the fish, literally translating to ‘snoutfish clothed in black,’ since the dace have a black line down the middle from nose to tail.

Blacknose dace prefer flowing water, although they can also survive in other habitats like slow-moving creeks. They eat tiny invertebrates, such as insects and spiders, as well as algae. The dace in our tank are a cohesive group that sticks together, making them look tiny next to the creek chub, Shark Ruffalo. 

Creek Chub (Semotilus atromaculatus)

The biggest member of our fishy family at the TTF office is a lone creek chub nicknamed Shark Ruffalo due to its size and eating habits. A member of the minnow family and a schooling fish, the creek chub is a thick-bodied, almost cylindrical fish averaging 5-7 inches long with reflective scales and a large mouth. Creek chubs can be found all across the eastern two-thirds of the United States and in Southeastern Canada. They seek out fast moving water, make their homes in small, gravel-bedded streams, and are rarely found in lakes or still water. Chubs are also very tolerant of low oxygen levels and are often the last fish to survive in creeks where all other fish have succumbed to pollution.

Creek chub, Ryan Hodnett, Creative Commons

Creek chubs prefer small to moderate sized streams and rivers, and while they tolerate cloudy water, they favor clear to faintly cloudy waters with gravely or sandy bottoms. Creek chubs are typically 2-6 inches, but larger specimens can reach up to 12 inches! Chubs are primarily carnivores, eating insects, larvae, and small fish. Indeed, we suspect that Shark Ruffalo has sadly, but naturally, made snacks of some of the smaller fish in Little Tacony, which seem to have steadily decreased in number. Despite being bigger and hungrier than our other fish, the creek chub is generally non-aggressive day-to-day. Our creek chub is easy to pick out in our tank due to its size, thick body, and broad head.

White Sucker (Catostomus commersonii)

The white sucker is a round-bodied fish with a dark green, grey, copper, brown, or black back and sides and a light underbelly. White suckers are not just found in our creeks, but they are the most common kind of sucker fish species documented in Pennsylvania’s waters. White suckers are very habitat-flexible, living in a wide variety of lakes and streams including those with silted water, low oxygen, and pollution. Because of their tenacity, sometimes white suckers are used as environmental monitors for water quality and contamination.

White sucker, Brian Gratwicke, Creative Commons

White suckers are usually 12-20 inches long and weigh 1-2 pounds, but the ones that live in our tank are only a few inches long. The downward-pointing mouth is a key way to identify the fish; indeed, the genus name, catostomus, means ‘inferior mouth.’ Interestingly, when suckers are prepared for human consumption, they are often labeled as mullet.

Rest in peace to the white sucker that once lived in Little Tacony before falling victim to Shark Ruffalo’s big appetite. Though you can’t see white suckers in our tank anymore, check them out swimming through our TTF  creeks!

Rest in peace to Shark Ruffalo, as well. Our largest fish died last week. We suspect it may have been to constipation due to overeating. We will miss you, SR!

*Little Tacony Creek no longer exists. It became a sewer pipe under Torresdale Avenue.

Do you fish in any TTF creeks? Please share your experiences and photos with us!


National Park Service, Fish of the Mississippi: White Sucker

Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Carps & Minnows

Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Suckers 


University of Michigan, Fundulus hereoclitus 

Recent Posts

Scroll to Top