Great Basin Naturalist


The Colorado squawfish, a large predaceous cyprinid, is a generalist species adapted to the large seasonal water fluctuations, low food base, and changing riverine subsystems of the Colorado River. Extant at least as early as the Miocene epoch, Ptychocheilus has survived by incorporating life strategies to deal with changing climates varying from arid to pluvial. Migration and long-term movement patterns appear to have evolved as tactics to perpetuate a grand reproductive strategy for exploiting the changing habitats and general environmental conditions of the late Cenozoic era. Accordingly, high mobility of a large fish would aid in selection of optimum spawning, nursery, and adult habitats in the dynamic lacustrine/riverine system that existed at that time. A spatial separation of life stages thus produced would aid in the reduction of intraspecific competition. Large size, long life, and late spawning of Ptychocheilus indicate that mortality of young must be disproportionately high compared to that of the adult form. Growth to a large size should reduce predation by other fishes and, once attained, would facilitate long distance movement for reproduction, feeding, and other purposes. Such a strategy, formerly highly adaptive, may now be implicated in the decline of this species in controlled riverine systems.