Great Basin Naturalist


The cui-ui, Chasmistes cujus Cope, a member of the sucker family and endemic to Pyramid Lake, Nevada, is listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Cui-ui was once a major source of sustenance for native Americans, who have inhabited the Lahontan region for at least 11,000 years. The Northern Paiutes developed sophisticated fishing technology to harvest this resource. The original distribution of cui-ui was the ancient Lake Lahontan complex, but as a result of climatic changes it was restricted to the Pyramid–Winnemucca–Truckee system by the turn of the 20th century. Transbasin water diversions (1905 to present) have resulted in further restrictions of habitat. The species is now limited to Pyramid Lake and the lower Truckee River. Reproduction is from hatcheries as well as limited natural reproduction. Females produce more than 40,000 2-mm eggs per year. The normal development is described from the unfertilized egg through 912 hours post-hatching, when the fry are actively feeding and approaching adult body form. The unusual feature of adult cui-ui morphology is the relatively large ventro-terminal mouth, with thin and obscurely papillose lips. Cui-ui grow slowly and may live 18 years or possibly much longer; females generally live longer and attain a greater size than males. The highest adult mortality probably occurs during spawning runs. At this time they are vulnerable to predation, stress, and sometimes environmental degradation. The highest larval mortality probably occurs from predation when they are planted or migrate into the lake. The trophic ecology of the species is poorly understood, but they are known to ingest algae and zooplankton. Spawning behavior is documented. At present, natural reproduction is probably still the limiting factor for the cui-ui population. Cui-ui composed less than one percent of the total fish in Pyramid Lake during 1975–1977. During 1982 the largest cui-ui spawning run (13,000) in recent years occurred. The activity of cui-ui in the lake closely resembles that of the Tahoe sucker being most active during the spawning season each spring. Cui-ui inhabit the inshore-benthic zone and the pelagic waters of Pyramid Lake (< 46 m).