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Photo credit: Zachary Shattuck

Prairie chub (Macrhybopsis australis) | ESA status: petitioned for listing

Prairie chub

The prairie chub is a tough little fish fighting an uphill battle against the many human-caused threats to its home in Texas and Oklahoma.

Prairie chub facts

The prairie chub is unprepossessing; a really big one may top out at three inches in length, and it is a pale, translucent gray, only standing out from the water it swims in by virtue of small black spots on its sides. Nevertheless, the chub is remarkably tough: adapted to the volatile conditions of prairie waterways, it can live through natural drought, flooding, and high salinity levels in its freshwater home.

Prairie chub habitat

The prairie chub is found in the Red River Basin, a network of rivers, streams, and watersheds crisscrossing the Texas panhandle and extending into Oklahoma. The chub persists in shallow waters and isolated pools, hovering over gravel or clean, sandy streambeds. It has disappeared from much of its former range, including the Washita River and the upper North Fork of the Red River, a warning sign of the drastic changes taking place in the Basin.

What are the threats to the prairie chub?

Humans have completely altered the waterways within the Red River Basin with cattle ranching, crop farming, and oil and gas operations. The temperature of the water has changed, the flow has changed, the very shapes of the rivers have changed, and the rivers are surrounded by thickets of invasive species such as tamarisk and Russian olive. The water quality has worsened; pollutants such as pesticides run off from nearby crop fields. Dams and reservoirs create barriers and eradicate fish from streams they once inhabited: as just one example, the Altus Dam on the Red River eliminated the prairie chub population above the dam.

What WildEarth Guardians is doing to protect the prairie chub

WildEarth Guardians is pressing for protection of this fish under the Endangered Species Act. If the chub is protected, everything and everyone in the interconnected waterways of the Red River Basin will benefit from a cleaner, healthier river system.

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