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Sand pickerel

Sander canadensis

What do they look like?

Saugers have thin, dark-yellow to brown bodies that have large, dark saddles on their sides and white undersides. They have two separate dorsal fins. Saugers also have two pectoral fins, an anal fin, and a forked caudal fin. These fish have a large, horizontal mouth and canine-like teeth used for feeding on fish as adults. In some populations, adult females may be larger than males. Saugers are closely related to walleyes, though saugers tend to be smaller. Three key features help identify walleyes and saugers in the field: first, saugers have black spots on their first dorsal fin. Walleyes lack these spots, but have a black membrane that forms a spot between the last two to three spines on their first dorsal fin. Second, saugers have a distinct, dark coloration in blotches, or saddles, down most of their sides. Walleyes have much lighter vertical bars found on the upper portion of their sides, which sometimes extend below the lateral line. Finally, walleyes have a white spot at the bottom of their caudal fin. Saugers lack this spot. Additionally, saugers have scales on their cheek that are lacking in walleyes. ("Biology, Management, and Culture of Walleye and Sauger", 2011; "Fishes of Wisconsin", 1983; "Sauger", 2013a; "Sauger", 2013b; "Sauger (Sander canadensis)", 2013)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • female larger
  • Range length
    296 to 635 mm
    11.65 to 25.00 in
  • Average length
    330 mm
    12.99 in

Where do they live?

Saugers are freshwater fish found in North America. They are found in most of the United States, east of the Rocky Mountains and west of the Appalachian Mountains as well as several provinces in Canada. Their range includes the Missouri, Ohio, Mississippi, and Saint Lawrence River drainages, all of the Great Lakes, and many tributaries. They are found from Alberta to Manitoba in Canada. In the United States, saugers are found as far west as Wyoming and Oklahoma, and as far east as New York and Alabama. ("Biology, Management, and Culture of Walleye and Sauger", 2011)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Saugers are found in rivers and larger lakes. They prefer flowing river channels with deep, cloudy water and moderate currents. Saugers are considered a cool water species; they usually prefer water that is about 19.6°C. Saugers usually live in deeper water than their close relatives, walleyes. Saugers have a highly-developed reflective layer in their eyes that allows them to see in this darker habitat. In the Ottawa River in Ontario, these fish were found at a depth between 3 and 35 meters, while walleyes do not usually go below 12 m. ("Biology, Management, and Culture of Walleye and Sauger", 2011; "Sauger", 2013a; Johnson and Oberlie, 2008)

  • These animals are found in the following types of habitat
  • freshwater
  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams
  • Range depth
    35 (high) m
    114.83 (high) ft

How do they grow?

Saugers become mature after two to eight years. This mostly depends on climate and the availability of prey. ("Biology, Management, and Culture of Walleye and Sauger", 2011; "Fishes of Wisconsin", 1983; "Sauger", 2013b)

How do they reproduce?

Saugers are migratory fish and may travel hundreds of kilometers to spawn. They reproduce by broadcast spawning. Eggs are fertilized by males as they are released over rocks, gravel, or sand. Saugers provide no parental care and do not build nests. ("Biology, Management, and Culture of Walleye and Sauger", 2011; "Fishes of Wisconsin", 1983; "Sauger (Sander canadensis)", 2013)

Saugers breed by broadcast spawning, or releasing eggs and sperm into the water. These fish usually spawn at night over gravel or sand in running waters located at the heads of large tributaries or immediately below dams. Breeding generally occurs between March and May in streams or lakes depending on the geographic location. Female saugers typically lay between 10,000 and 50,000 eggs. Eggs are usually 1.3 mm in diameter. Eggs hatch between 9 and 21 days depending on water temperature and receive no parental care. At a temperature 8.3°C, eggs hatch in about 21 days. Saugers may interbreed with walleyes, making hybrids known as saugeyes. ("Biology, Management, and Culture of Walleye and Sauger", 2011; "Fishes of Wisconsin", 1983; "Sauger", 2013b)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    These fish breed once a year.
  • Breeding season
    Saugers breed in the spring, from March to May.
  • Range number of offspring
    4,200 to 50,000
  • Range time to hatching
    9 to 21 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 to 8 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 to 8 years

Saugers do not provide any parental care to their eggs or young. ("Biology, Management, and Culture of Walleye and Sauger", 2011)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement

How long do they live?

In the wild, saugers have an expected lifespan of 2 to 13 years, depending on their habitat. Their expected lifespan typically increases from south to north throughout their range. ("Biology, Management, and Culture of Walleye and Sauger", 2011; "Sauger", 2013a)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    2 to 13 years

How do they behave?

Saugers are most active at times of low light; they mostly feed at night, as well at dusk and dawn. These fish are able to feed in low-light because of a reflective layer behind their retina. When they are active during the day, saugers are found in very cloudy water. Saugers are very migratory and can travel hundreds of kilometers for spawning. ("Biology, Management, and Culture of Walleye and Sauger", 2011; "Sauger", 2013a)

Home Range

Saugers are a highly migratory species that can travel hundreds of kilometers to spawn. In the spring, these fish travel 5 to 350 kilometers to their spawning grounds. ("Biology, Management, and Culture of Walleye and Sauger", 2011; Jaeger, et al., 2005)

How do they communicate with each other?

Saugers can sense motion and vibrations in the water. These fish find their prey visually in low-light or cloudy habitats using the reflective layer behind their retinas. ("Biology, Management, and Culture of Walleye and Sauger", 2011; "Sauger", 2013a)

What do they eat?

Saugers eat a variety of organisms throughout their life cycle, including smaller fish, insects and other invertebrates, and crustaceans. Saugers begin eating zooplankton before they have completely absorbed their yolk sac. Saugers between 12 to 50 mm in length mostly eat Daphnia and other small organisms. As they grow, they begin eating invertebrates for a short time before they begin eating fish. As large juveniles and adults, they primarily eat fish, including gizzard shad, young walleye, trout-perch, yellow perch, white bass, burbots, sunfishes, emerald shiners, and many other species. When their habitats overlap, walleyes and saugers may eat different fish species, or saugers may feed at a greater depth than walleyes. ("Biology, Management, and Culture of Walleye and Sauger", 2011; "Fishes of Wisconsin", 1983; "Sauger", 2013a; "Sauger (Sander canadensis)", 2013)

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • insects
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • zooplankton

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Saugers may go unnoticed by predators due to their camouflaged coloration. Saugers are preyed upon by larger fish and birds including double-crested cormorants. Walleyes, a closely related species, are known to be preyed on by yellow perch, smallmouth bass, rainbow smelt, bullheads, burbots, and northern pike when they are small and by yellow perch, spottail shiners, stonecats, and white suckers as eggs. (Barton, 2011; Hobson, et al., 1989)

  • These animal colors help protect them
  • cryptic

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

As both predators and prey, saugers have a large impact on their ecosystem. Saugers may also be parasitized by 90 different species of Protozoa, trematodes, cestodes, and nematodes. Unlike walleyes, their close relatives, saugers are much more likely to be preyed upon by nematodes and trematodes. (Barton, 2011)

Commensal or parasitic species (or larger taxonomic groups) that use this species as a host

Do they cause problems?

There are no known negative effects of saugers on humans.

How do they interact with us?

Saugers are considered important game fish and food in many areas. While they have some commercial and recreational value, they are less valued than their relatives, walleyes. ("Biology, Management, and Culture of Walleye and Sauger", 2011; "Fishes of Wisconsin", 1983)

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • food

Are they endangered?

Saugers are considered to be threatened by the State of Michigan, but are abundant in other parts of their range. However, their overall population is declining as a result of dams, which make their cloudy river habitat less available. Dams may also prevent migration, block access to spawning grounds, reduce the amount of sediments, and change the temperature of rivers. ("Biology, Management, and Culture of Walleye and Sauger", 2011)

Some more information...

Saugers used to be classified in genus Stizostedion. They are often called "sand pickerels" or "sand pike". Walleyes and saugers can interbreed and produce hybrids known as "saugeyes". These hybrids are most often the result of a female walleye and a male sauger mating. Some saugeyes are able to breed with other saugeyes, saugers, or walleyes. Saugeyes share characteristics of both walleyes and saugers, but can be identified by the black streaks (rather than spots) on their first dorsal fin. Most saugeyes came from hatchery programs; managers raise hybrids because they grow fast and, unlike either parent species, will eat artificial foods. ("Biology, Management, and Culture of Walleye and Sauger", 2011; "Fishes of Wisconsin", 1983; "Sauger", 2013b)

Contributors

Amanda Harvanek (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Lauren Sallan (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Jeff Schaeffer (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Leila Siciliano Martina (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

References

2011. Biology, Management, and Culture of Walleye and Sauger. Bethesda, MD: American Fisheries Society.

1983. Fishes of Wisconsin. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin.

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. 2013. "Sauger (Sander canadensis)" (On-line). Accessed November 14, 2013 at http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/fish/details.asp?fish=010215.

Conservation Commission of Missouri. 2013. "Sauger" (On-line). Accessed November 23, 2013 at http://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/sauger.

Ohio DNR. 2013. "Sauger" (On-line). A to Z Species Guide. Accessed November 17, 2013 at http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/Home/species_a_to_z/SpeciesGuideIndex/sauger/tabid/6749/Default.aspx.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 2013. "Sauger" (On-line). Fishes of Minnesota: Fact Sheets. Accessed December 09, 2013 at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/fish/sauger.html.

2014. "Sauger" (On-line). Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. Accessed November 14, 2013 at http://fwp.mt.gov/education/angler/mayClub/sauger.html.

Barton, B. 2011. Biology, Management, and Culture of Walleye and Sauger. Bethesda, MD: American Fisheries Society.

Hobson, K., R. Knapton, W. Lysack. 1989. Population, Diet and Reproductive Success of Double-crested Cormorants Breeding on Lake Winnipegosis, Manitoba, in 1987. Colonial Waterbirds, 12:2: 191-197.

Jaeger, M., A. Zale, T. McMahon, B. Schmitz. 2005. Seasonal Movements, Habitat Use, Aggregation, Exploitation, and Entrainment of Saugers in the Lower Yellowstone River: An Empirical Assessment of Factors Affecting Population Recovery. North American Journal of Fisheries Management, 25:4: 1550-1568.

Johnson, K., D. Oberlie. 2008. Habitat Use and Movement Patterns by Adult Saugers from Fall to Summer in an Unimpounded Small-River System. North American Journal of Fisheries Management, 28/2: 360-367.

Leggett, W. 2012. Abundance, growth, and life history characteristics of sympatric walleye (Sander vitreus) and sauger (Sander canadensis) in Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba. Journal of Great Lakes Research, 38: 35-46.

 
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Harvanek, A. 2014. "Sander canadensis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed August 20, 2019 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Sander_canadensis/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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