Public Works and Environmental Services

Fairfax County, Virginia

CONTACT INFORMATION: Our office is open 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., Monday - Friday

703-324-5033
TTY 711

12000 Government Center Parkway
Suite 448 Fairfax, VA 22035

James Patteson,
Director

Fish of Fairfax County

Fish of fairfax image

Distribution of fish across the county can vary depending on the biology, tolerance of urbanization and habitat preference of the fish. For instance:

  • The American eel is a type of fish that lives in fresh water and breeds in the ocean (also known as a catadromous fish) whose distribution in the county is limited by Great Falls on the Potomac River and by the dam at the Occoquan reservoir.
  • The margined madtom is a small catfish species whose intolerance of urbanization has limited its distribution to parts of the county with less development and to the larger rivers where the effects of urbanization are lessened by the size of the stream.
  • The eastern mudminnow lives in slow moving streams with muddy bottoms and dense vegetation.

At least 60 different fish species make Fairfax County their home. Some of the species are native to the county, such as the American Eel. Other species are non-native, which means they have been brought into the county from other parts of the country or different countries. The Largemouth Bass is an example of a non-native species brought to Fairfax County for sport fishing.

Fish of Fairfax PosterThe Fishes of Fairfax County poster is available online for download as a PDF (sized to print 35 inches long by 19.5 inches high). To request a hard copy, please email the Stormwater Planning Division or call 703-324-5500, TTY 711. One copy per household, please.

 

 

The fish listed below were collected by the staff of Fairfax County's Stream Quality Assessment Program from 1999 thru 2014. The fish are listed by common and scientific names.

AMERICAN EEL - Anguilla rostrata

Anguillidae eelThe American eel is a catadromous fish (fish that live in fresh water and breed in the ocean) that spends its adult life in the streams and rivers of the county and then travels to the Sargasso Sea to breed. Their distribution in the county is restricted by Great Falls on the Potomac River and by the reservoir dam on the Occoquan River.

Fairfax County Native: Yes

Size: 40 inches

Diet: Fish, insects and invertebrates

Distribution sampling sites: Map

BANDED KILLIFISH - Fundulus diaphanus

Banded killifishThe banded killifish favors slow moving streams and tidal areas. With its tendency to swim just below the surface of the water and its lack of dorsal spines, it has become one of the northern snakehead’s favorite prey.

Fairfax County Native: Yes

Size: 3 inches, rarely larger

Diet: Midge larvae and microcrustaceans

Distribution sampling sites: Map

MUMMICHOG - Fundulus heteroclitus

MummichogThe mummichog is a species of killifish that mainly lives in estuaries with a small number of freshwater populations. The name mummichog is derived from an Indian term meaning “going in crowds.” This refers to its propensity of travelling in large schools.

Fairfax County Native: Yes

Size: 3 inches, rarely larger

Diet: Probably similar to the banded killifish diet of midge larvae and microcrustaceans

Distribution sampling sites: Map

EASTERN MOSQUITOFISH - Gambusia holbrooki

eastern mosquitofishThe eastern mosquitofish is the only live bearing fish in Fairfax County. As its name implies, the mosquitofish preys on larval and pupal mosquitos and is used as a mosquito control agent in ponds. This fish is able to breathe air from the water’s surface, enabling it to survive in low oxygen conditions.

Fairfax County Native: Yes

Size: 2 inches, rarely larger

Diet: Mosquito larvae and other small invertebrates

Distribution sampling sites: Map

EASTERN MUDMINNOW - Umbra pygmaea

Eastern mudminnowThe eastern mudminnow is a nocturnal fish that feeds at night and hides during the day. This fish has the ability to bury itself in mud to survive droughts.

Fairfax County Native: Yes

Size: 4 inches, rarely larger

Diet: Midge larvae and small crustaceans

Distribution sampling site: Map

GIZZARD SHAD - Dorosoma cepedianum

gizzard shadGizzard shad are filter feeders that strain plankton from the water column. They are inhabitants of medium to large rivers and lakes. The few individuals collected by Fairfax County have been below lakes and near the Potomac River.

Fairfax County Native: Yes

Size: 14 inches, rarely larger

Diet: Plankton

Distribution sampling sites: Map

LEAST BROOK LAMPREY - Lampetra aepyptera

least brook lampryUnlike the well-known parasitic sea lamprey, the least brook lamprey is a filter feeder. The adult form of the lamprey does not eat and dies shortly after spawning. They require sandy or silty bottomed small streams to survive.

Fairfax County Native: Yes

Size: Typically 4 to 5 inches

Diet: Adults do not eat. Larval form diet is unknown but probably feed on planktonic organisms

Distribution sampling sites: Map

NORTHERN SNAKEHEAD - Channa argus

northern snakeheadThe northern snakehead is an introduced species to the Potomac River that is native to parts of Asia. It has been introduced into parts of Florida also. Urban myths say that this fish can walk on land and survive three days out of water. The northern snakehead can survive out of water longer than other fish because of its ability to breathe air, but it does not have the ability to walk on land. This species has spread rapidly because it can spawn up to five times a year and the parents guard the young.

Fairfax County Native: No

Size: Usually up to 33 inches but can get larger

Diet: Any animal small enough to fit in its mouth

Distribution sampling sites: Map

POTOMAC SCULPIN – Cottus girardi

potomac sculpinAs its name implies, the potomac sculpin is only found in the Potomac River watersheds.

Fairfax County Native: Yes

Size: 4 inches

Diet: Insect larvae and rarely small fish

Distribution sampling sites: Map

WHITE PERCH - Morone americana

white perchThe white perch is generally found in the tidal areas of the Potomac and Occoquan Rivers. The individuals collected in Fairfax County were at a site not far from the confluence of the Occoquan River. The white perch is not a perch at all but is in the same genus as the striped bass. The Virginia state record is 2 pounds, 8 ounces.

Fairfax County Native: Yes

Size: 10 inches, rarely larger

Diet: Crustaceans and aquatic insects

Distribution sampling sites: Map

CREEK CHUBSUCKER - Erimyzon oblongus

Creek ChubsuckerThe creek chubsucker is one of the few freshwater fish that do not possess a lateral line.  The lateral line is a series of sensory pores along the head and sides of fish by which water currents, vibrations and pressure changes are detected. 

Fairfax County Native: Yes

Size: 10 inches

Diet: Microcrustaceans, aquatic insects, mollusks, algae and detritus

Distribution sampling sites: Map

GOLDEN REDHORSE - Moxostoma erythrurum

golden redhorseThe golden redhorse is a large sucker that is found generally in medium to large rivers but will migrate into smaller streams during the breeding season each spring. The individuals collected by Fairfax County staff were located near the mouth of streams flowing into the Potomac River.

Fairfax County Native: Yes

Size: 15 inches

Diet: Aquatic insects, invertebrates, algae and detritus

Distribution sampling sites: Map

NORTHERN HOGSUCKER - Hypentelium nigricans

northern hogsuckerThe northern hogsucker is an aggressive feeder who will overturn stones and gravel in search of food.  Other fish are known to follow feeding hogsuckers to eat any scraps it churns up from the bottom of the stream. 

Fairfax County Native: Yes

Size: 15 inches but known to grow to 24 inches

Diet: Aquatic insects, microcrustaceans and algae

Distribution sampling sites: Map

WHITE SUCKER - Catostomus commersoni

white suckerThe white sucker is a common fish found in Fairfax County streams.  Its downturned mouth is adapted to feeding on midge larvae and small crustaceans found on the bottom of streams. 

Fairfax County Native: Yes

Size: 20 inches, rarely larger

Diet: Insect larvae and small crustaceans

Distribution sampling sites: Map

FANTAIL DARTER - Etheostoma flabellare

fantail darterThe fantail darter is part of a group of fishes that have rudimentary or no air bladders to regulate their position in the water column.  These fish spend their time on the stream bottom feeding primarily on aquatic insects. 

Fairfax County Native: Yes

Size: 2 to 3 inches

Diet: Aquatic insects

Distribution sample sites: Map

GREENSIDE DARTER - Etheostoma blennioides

greenside darterThis darter inhabits the bottom of swift flowing streams where its lack of a swim bladder allows the darter to hug the bottom of the stream. 

Fairfax County Native: Unknown

Size: 4 inches

Diet: Aquatic insects

Distribution sample sites: Map

SHIELD DARTER - Percina peltata

Shield DarterThis darter is a benthic species meaning that it inhabits the bottom of the stream.  The lack of a swim bladder allows the darter to stay at the bottom of the stream. 

Fairfax County Native: Yes

Size: 3 inches

Diet: Aquatic insects

Distribution sample sites: Map

STRIPEBACK DARTER - Percina notogramma

stripeback darterThe stripeback darter is rare in Fairfax County. It is easily distinguished from other local darters by the line of black circles down its side.

Fairfax County Native: Yes

Size: 3 inches

Diet: Aquatic insects

Distribution sample sites: Map

BROWN BULLHEAD - Ameiurus nebulosus

brown bullheadThe brown bullhead is a member of the catfish family and is closely related to the yellow bullhead.  The distinguishing characteristic between brown and yellow bullheads is that the brown bullhead has dark whiskers on the lower lip while the yellow bullhead has yellow whiskers on the lower lip. 

Fairfax County Native: Yes

Size: 15 inches, rarely to 18 inches

Diet: Aquatic insects, fish and algae

Distribution sample sites: Map

YELLOW BULLHEAD - Ameiurus natalis

yellow bullheadWith its wide distribution in Virginia, the yellow bullhead is the most commonly caught catfish.  As its name implies, the yellow bullhead has yellow whiskers below its mouth. 

Fairfax County Native: Yes

Size: 14 inches, rarely to 18 inches

Diet: Aquatic insects and fish

Distribution sample sites: Map

CHANNEL CATFISH - Ictalurus punctatus

channel catfishThe channel catfish is a large fish that usually inhabits large rivers and lakes.  Specimens collected during Fairfax County surveys were most likely fish that were pushed out of upstream lakes during high rains or fish that traveled up the streams from larger rivers like the Potomac.  The Virginia state record is 31 pounds, 8 ounces. 

Fairfax County Native: No

Size: 28 inches, rarely to 35 inches

Diet: Aquatic invertebrates, fish and other vertebrates

Distribution sample sites: Map

MARGINED MADTOM - Noturus insignis

margined madtomLike all catfish, the margined madtom has hard spines in its dorsal and pectoral fins.  To varying degrees, catfish in the family ictaluridae have venom in their spines with the madtoms inflicting the most painful sting.  The sting from a madtom feels like a bee sting. 

Fairfax County Native: Yes

Size: 7 inches

Diet: Aquatic insects and fish

Distribution sample sites: Map

WHITE CATFISH - Ameiurus catus

white catfishThe white catfish is only found in the tidal areas of Fairfax County.  This catfish can live as long as 14 years.  The Virginia state record is 7 lbs 6 oz. 

Fairfax County Native: Yes

Size: 18 inches, rarely to 20 inches

Diet: Aquatic invertebrates, fish and plant material

Distribution sample sites: Map