Identification Key to Native Freshwater Fishes of Peninsular Florida

Written by:
George Burgess
Ichthyology
Florida Museum of Natural History
Freshwater Fishes of Florida References

education, freshwater fish montage

How to Use this Key:

  1. Start with the first question. Decide whether the statment in the first box (1a) or the second box (1b) best describes the characteristics of the fish you are trying to identify.
  2. Click on the link in the row that best matches your fish. Your choice will lead you to a photo and range map for your fish or the next appropriate pair of questions.
  3. Work through the questions, each time choosing the characteristic that best matches your fish from the two choices. This will lead you to the final choice which identifies the fish. You can also nagivate through the photos by clicking on the arrows near the left and right edges of the image.
1a) No pelvic fins; dorsal, anal, and caudal fins continuous; body snake-like in appearance Anguilla rostrata - American eel
1b) Pelvic fins present; dorsal, anal, and caudal fins not continuous; body not snake-like in appearance Go to question 2

2a) A gular plate present on underside of head; dorsal fin length about one-half the total length of the fish, with more than 45 rays; snout short Amia calva - Bowfin
2b) No gular plate on underside of head; dorsal fins short, length always less than one-half total length and with less than 45 rays Go to question 3

3a) Hard, armor-like scales cover an elongate body; snout very long Go to question 4
3b) Scales do not form an armor-like covering over the body; snout moderately elongated to short Go to question 5

4a) Snout length (measured from tip of snout to angle of jaws) more than twice the length of the remainder of the head (angle of jaws to back of operculum); body without prominent spots Lepisosteus osseus - Longnose Gar
4b) Snout length less than twice the length of the remainder of the head; body prominently spotted Lepisosteus platyrhincus - Florida Gar

5a) Snout moderately long, shaped like a duck bill; body elongate, scales very small, body feels soft and smooth; caudal fin forked Go to question 6
5b) Snout not shaped like a duck bill Go to question 7

6a) Branchiostegal rays 11-14; lateral line scales about 105; adult’s body usually marked with irregular vertical bars Esox americanus - Redfin Pickerel
6b) Branchiostegal rays 14-16; lateral line scales about 125; adult’s body usually marked with a reticulate, chain-like pattern Esox niger - Chain Pickerel

7a) Both eyes located on right side of the head; body extremely flattened dorso-ventrally Trinectes maculatus - Hogchoker
7b) One eye on each side of head; body not flattened dorso-ventrally Go to question 8

8a) Anus placed far forward, located between pelvic fins or closer to head, except in young; chocolate brown to gray in color Aphredoderus sayanus - Pirate Perch
8b) Anus situated farther towards tail Go to question 9

9a) Body greatly compressed laterally with keeled (often saw-edged) belly; coloration metallic silver or gold (see 10b for exception) Go to question 10
9b) Body round in cross section, or if laterally compressed, without keeled belly Go to question 12

10a) Last dorsal fin ray elongated, threadlike; lateral line straight; anal rays 17-35; color silvery Go to question 11
10b) Last dorsal fin ray not elongated; lateral line strongly decurved; anal rays 13-19; adults silvery or golden with a reddish tint (juveniles silvery with a dark lateral stripe) Notemigonus crysoleucas - Golden Shiner

11a) Anal rays 17-25; lower jaw projecting beyond tip of snout Dorosoma petenense - Threadfin Shad
11b) Anal rays 29-35; lower jaw not projecting beyond tip of snout Dorosoma cepedianum - Gizzard Shad

12a) Front of head depressed, with 8 long barbels; pectoral fins with strong serrated spines; body without scales Go to question 13
12b) Front of head not depressed, without 8 long barbels; pectoral fins lack strong, serrated spines, body scaled Go to question 17

13a) Posterior end of adipose fin connected to caudal fin Go to question 14
13b) Posterior end of adipose fin not connected to caudal fin Go to question 15

14a) Dorsal, anal, and caudal fins heavily speckled; upper jaw overhangs lower jaw Noturus leptacanthus - Speckled Madtom
14b) Dorsal, anal, and caudal fins not speckled, upper and lower jaws about equal in length Noturus gyrinus - Tadpole Madtom

15a) Chin barbels at least partially white (no melanophores); anal rays 24-28; color generally uniform, without mottling Ameiurus natalis - Yellow Bullhead
15b) Chin barbels dark (at least some sprinkling of melanophores); anal rays 18-24; color usually mottled or spotted Go to question 16

16a) Upper and lower jaws about equal in length; color usually darkly mottled on lighter background; dorsal fin lacks dark basal blotch Ameiurus nebulosus - Brown Bullhead
16b) Upper jaw projects beyond lower jaw; color usually light speckles on darker background (but may be uniformly dark); dorsal fin with dark basal blotch Ameiurus brunneus - Snail Bullhead

17a) Spines absent in dorsal and anal fins Go to question 18
17b) Spines present in dorsal and anal fins Go to question 38

18a) Mouth upturned and protractile Go to question 19
18b) Mouth terminal or downturned, never protractile Go to question 29

19a) Third anal ray branched; anal fins of adult males and females rounded Go to question 20
19b) Third anal ray unbranched; anal fin of males slender with long rays (forming a gonopodium) Go to question 27

20a) Deep bodied: standard length less than three times maximum body depth; coloration red, white, and blue Jordanella floridae - Flagfish
20b) Less deep bodied: standard length more than three times body depth Go to question 21

21a) An isolated, round, ocellated spot (dark spot surrounded by light ring) on caudal peduncle; body color greenish Leptolucania ommata - Pygmy Killifish
21b) No isolated, round ocellated spot on caudal peduncle (may have a caudal spot connected to a lateral stripe) Go to question 22

22a) A single broad, dark lateral stripe present along side of body, often ending in a spot on caudal peduncle Lucania goodei - Bluefin Killifish
22b) A single broad, dark lateral stripe absent (several longitudinal streaks present in one species) Go to question 23

23a) Scales along side of body 50 or more; 17 rays in dorsal fin; body peppered with small, black spots Fundulus seminolis - Seminole Killifish
23b) Scales along side of body less than 40; less than 14 dorsal rays Go to question 24

24a) A dark, tear-drop marking under each eye; several longitudinal streaks or vertical bars present on side of body Fundulus lineolatus- Lined Topminnow
24b) Tear-drop markings absent under eyes; body with spots or vertical bars Go to question 25

25a) 7 pores lining inner edge of preopercle, origin of dorsal fin posterior to that of the anal fin; usually less than 12 vertical bars (in males) on side of body; gold or red spots or flecks on body Fundulus chrysotus - Golden Topminnow
25b) 5 or 6 pores lining inner edge of preopercle Go to question 26

26a) 5 pores lining inner edge of preopercle, breeding males with red pigment on jaws and sides of head Fundulus rubrifrons - Red-Face Topminnow
26b) 6 pores lining inner edge of preopercle, never with red pigment on jaws or head, absent from peninsular Florida, southern most populations occupying the Santa Fe River (Suwannee River drainage) Fundulus cingulatus - Banded topminnow

27a) A single dark spot present on the dorsal fin (also on the anal fin of females); caudal fin clear Heterandria formosa - Least Killifish
27b) Dorsal and caudal fins with numerous black flecks Go to question 28

28a) Body with numerous longitudinal streaks; dorsal rays 14-16; dorsal fin of certain males enlarged, sail-like Poecilia latipinna - Sailfin Molly
28b) Body without numerous longitudinal streaks; dorsal rays 7-9; dorsal fin never enlarged Gambusia holbrooki - Mosquitofish

29a) Caudal fin rounded; a small vertical bar present at base of caudal fin Umbra pygmaea - Eastern Mudminnow
29b) Caudal fin forked; a spot (but no vertical bar) may be present at base of caudal fin Go to question 30

30a) Mouth underslung with thickened, fleshy lips; 10-13 dorsal rays Erimyzon sucetta - Lake Chubsucker
30b) Mouth terminal, never underslung or with thickened, fleshy lips, 8-9 dorsal rays Go to question 31

31a) Dorsal rays 9; mouth extremely oblique, situated at an angle of 35-45 degrees to the horizontal; scales along side of body thinly outlined with dark pigment to produce a cross hatch effect Opsopoeodus emiliae- Pugnose Minnow
31b) Dorsal rays 8; mouth more or less horizontal (always less than 35 degrees to horizontal); no cross hatch effect on sides Go to question 32

32a) Anal rays usually 10 Go to question 33
32b) Anal rays 9 or less Go to question 34

33a) Lateral stripe on body relatively narrow (its width about one third of body depth at level of dorsal fin), dusky black and sharply delineated; dorsal fin without definite pigmentation pattern Notropis cummingsae - Dusky Shiner
33b) Lateral stripe on body wide (its width about one half of body depth at level of dorsal fin), steel blue and less sharply defined; dorsal fin with dark pigment on membranes in middle and back of fin Pteronotropis metallicus - Sailfin Shiner

34a) Anal rays usually 7; a small, oblong spot (continuous with the dark lateral stripe) present on caudal peduncle Notropis petersoni - Coastal Shiner
34b) Anal rays usually 8; caudal spot variously developed or absent Go to question 35

35a) A distinct round, dark caudal spot present on caudal peduncle and (mostly) caudal fin, not (or barely) connected to much less intense, thin lateral stripe; scales along middle and upper side of body thinly outlined by pigment giving a chained effect Notropis maculatus - Taillight Shiner
35b) Caudal spot, if present, not round, always obviously joined to dark lateral stripe; no chained effect on sides Go to question 36

36a) Dorsal and anal fins in adults (especially males) notably enlarged and rounded, often with heavy concentrations of black pigment in membranes; light area on snout of adults (especially males), often brilliant blue in life; horizontally oblong, intensely black spot (intensification of lateral stripe) present on caudal peduncle and caudal fin; origin of dorsal fin distinctly posterior to insertion of pelvic fins, situated at least one fourth of distance back along length of depressed pelvic fins Pteronotropis welaka - Bluenose Shiner
36b) Dorsal and anal fins in adults not notably enlarged and rounded; snouts of adults not blue in life; caudal spot, if present, not distinctly oblong, no intensely dark or extending onto caudal fin; origin of dorsal fin only slightly posterior to insertion of pelvic fins Go to question 37

37a) Chin essentially devoid of pigment, dorso-lateral scales less sharply outlined with dark pigment; area around anus and bordering anal fin base without concentrations of black pigment; "V"-shaped light area on end of snout (above dark lateral stripe); a small barbel usually present at posterior end of maxillary bone Notropis harperi - Redeye Chub
37b) Chin with considerable black pigment; dorso-lateral scales more sharply outlined with dark pigment, although scales as a whole may be rather dark; "V"-shaped light area on end of snout usually absent; no barbel present at posterior end of maxillary bone Notropis chalybaeus - Ironcolor Shiner

38a) The two dorsal fins widely separated; very elongate and slender body; dorsal surface greenish, sides silvery Labidesthes sicculus - Brook Silverside
38b) A single dorsal fin present, or two dorsal fins with a short separation Go to question 39

39a) Two dorsal fins, with a short separation present between Go to question 40
39b) A single dorsal fin present Go to question 44

40a) Anal fin with three strong, graduated spines; several narrow stripes along sides Morone saxatillis x M. chrysops - Sunshine Bass
40b) Anal fin with two spines Go to question 41

41a) Sides with 9 or more blotches, narrow and vertically elongate under dorsal fins; three evenly spaced dark spots at top, middle, and bottom of caudal fin base; snout sharp; midline of belly naked or with a single row of large scales Percina nigrofasciata - Blackbanded Darter
41b) Coloration not as above; snout more blunt than sharp; midline of belly without single row of large scales Go to question 42

42a) "W" or "X"-shaped markings present along side of body, lateral line complete and straight Etheostoma olmstedi - Tessellated Darter
42b) Coloration not as shown above; lateral line sharply or moderately arched Go to question 43

43a) Lateral line scales whitish, causing lateral line to be clearly delineated; four small spots present on caudal fin base, one each at top and bottom and two closely situated medially; lateral line strongly arched above pectoral fin; irregular dark blotches on body Etheostoma fusiforme - Swamp Darter
43b) Lateral line scales not depigmented, causing lateral line to blend in with adjacent scales; four small peduncle spots absent; lateral line moderately arched above pectoral fin; sides uniformly brownish, males with red spots on body and fins Etheostoma edwini - Brown Darter

44a) Lateral line absent; adult length not exceeding 50 mm Go to question 45
44b) Lateral line present; adult length exceeds 50 mm Go to question 47

45a) Dorsal spines 5; dark spot on body near tip of pectoral fin; seven or more dark, vertical bars on side; males not blue in life Elassoma zonatum- Banded Pygmy Sunfish
45b) Dorsal spines 3-4; no dark spot on body near tip of pectoral fin; five or less (often none) dark, vertical bars on side; males blue in life Go to question 46

46a) Top of head without scales, caudal fin unspotted (but with light or dark background color); tip of mouth lighter than sides of mouth Elassoma okefenokee - Okefenokee Pygmy Sunfish
46b) Tip of head scaled (scales often imbedded); caudal fin spotted (sometimes only faintly); mouth evenly colored Elassoma evergladei - Everglade Pygmy Sunfish

47a) Five or more anal spines Go to question 48
47b) Three anal spines Go to question 50

48a) Caudal fin rounded; 12 dorsal spines; four longitudinal dark stripes on head Acantharchus pomotis - Mud Sunfish
48b) Caudal fin notched; 7-11 dorsal spines; longitudinal head stripes absent Go to question 49

49a) Eleven dorsal spines; sides striped or with longitudinal rows of spots; young with distinctive orange or black spot on rear portion of dorsal fin Centrarchus macropterus - Flier
49b) Seven or eight dorsal spines; sides with horizontal rows of dark spots (larger than those of the Flier) Pomoxis nigromaculatus - Black Crappie

50a) Caudal fin rounded; a dark, vertical bar below each eye Go to question 51
50b) Caudal fin notched; no dark, vertical bar below each eye Go to question 53

51a) Middle dorsal fin spines noticeably longer than rear ones; front of dorsal fin dark; dark well defined, vertical bars on a gold to silver background Enneacanthus chaetodon - Blackbanded Sunfish
51b) Middle and rear dorsal spines about equally long; front of dorsal fin not darker than rest of fin; dark vertical bars, if present, less well defined, most often on a greenish or brownish background Go to question 52

52a) 18 or less scale rows around caudal peduncle; light spots on sides (blue to white in life); vertical bars generally lacking, but if present, indistinct and numbering five or less Enneacanthus gloriosus - Blue Spotted Sunfish
52b) 19 or more scale rows around caudal peduncle; sides usually marked with more than five dark, vertical bars; in life, gold spots often present on sides Enneacanthus obesus- Banded Sunfish

53a) Standard length more than three times the body depth; a deep notch between spiny and soft portions of dorsal fin Micropterus salmoides - Florida Largemouth Bass
53b) Standard length less than three times the body depth; no deep notch between spiny and soft portions of dorsal fin Go to question 54

54a) Mouth large, extending below the eye; color dark olive-brown with faint, darker blotches and several alternating light and dark stripes on operculum; an orange spot often present at tip of operculum Lepomis gulosus - Warmouth
54b) Mouth smaller, not extending back to eye; color variable, but never as above Go to question 55

55a) Pectoral fins long and pointed, when appressed almost reaching dorsal fin origin; if not, then a dark spot present at rear of dorsal fin Go to question 56
55b) Pectoral fins long and pointed, when appressed falls short of dorsal fin origin; dark spot never present on rear portion of dorsal fin Go to question 57

56a) Tip of operculum with posterior extension, this flap a dark spot bordered with orange-red (in-life); no dark spot at rear of dorsal fin; gill rakers much shorter than longest gill filaments Lepomis microlophus - Redear Sunfish
56b) Tip of operculum with a dark spot, but not extending backwards as a flap and without orange-red (in-life) margin; a dark spot (sometimes indistinct, especially if fin is dark) present at rear of dorsal fin; gill rakers as long as longest gill filaments Lepomis macrochirus - Bluegill

57a) Opercular spot with pale green margin; cheeks and belly orange with blue streaks Lepomis marginatus - Dollar Sunfish
57b) Opercular spot black without orange-red margin; body spotted (black) or unspotted Go to question 58

58a) Body coloration a series of small black spots on an olivaceous background; black opercular flap not particularly elongated Lepomis punctatus - Spotted Sunfish
58b) Belly reddish or yellowish in life, sometimes with small dark spots on sides (much less numerous than the spotted sunfish); black opercular flap is stiff, long, and narrow Lepomis auritus - Redbreast Sunfish