Wisconsin is home to an estimated 175 fish species.
More than half of them can be found in Waupaca County, according to a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point fish specialist.
Justin Sipiorski, an associate professor of biology at UW-Stevens Point and curator of fishes at the school’s Museum of Natural History, presented a Winchester Academy educational program to more than 60 people June 30 at the Waupaca Area Public Library.
Although Waupaca County’s lakes, ponds, rivers and streams are home to popular game fish such as walleye, bass, northern pike, brown trout and bluegill, they’re also home to little-known species such as the tadpole madtom, redside dace and Northern brook lamprey.
“Ninety species (in the county) and most of them are not game fish,” Sipiorski said.
He and his UW-Stevens Point students monitor fish biogeography and use DNA to collect fish tissues for research. He is also a noted illustrator and his drawings have appeared in the Peterson Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes.
Before covering several of them during his hour-long presentation, Sipiorski mentioned the county’s five exotic species: common carp, grass carp, goldfish, rainbow trout and brown trout.
That’s right, rainbow and brown trout are not native to the area.
“Rainbow trout and brown trout are just as exotic as Asian carp are,” Sipiorski said. “We brought (common carp) here on purpose, along with the brown trout, because they were revered by our European ancestors.”
Carp are common in several area waters, including the Wolf River, and can grow to more than 20 pounds.
That’s not the case with another Waupaca County fish, the brook stickleback, found in shallow waters of cool streams and lakes.
“These guys can handle 90-degree temperatures and terrible levels of chemicals that will be detrimental to other species,” Sipiorski said.
Fathead minnows can also be found in local waters and are a popular live bait.
“These guys are one of the lab rat fishes,” Sipiorski said. “They breed like crazy and we use them in various toxilogical studies. We owe a lot to the fathead minnow.”
The tadpole madtom looks like a small bullhead or catfish and grows to about 4 inches in length.
“There are three species of madtoms in Wisconsin and they’re all venomous,” Sipiorski said. “They have venom sacks. The venom can cause pain and other things. It feels like several bee stings at once. Unlike bullheads and catfish, these guys actually aim for you.”
The Northern brook lamprey, which resembles an eel, is common in quiet pools of streams and rivers. Unlike the sea lamprey, which attaches itself to other fish to feed on blood and bodily fluids, the Northern brook lamprey is not a parasite and coexists with little impact on other fish species.
Hornyhead chubs grow to about 12 inches in length and is also known as the redtail chub.
“They make these beautiful piles of rocks for breeding,” Sipiorski said. “They’ll move the rocks with their mouth and if you weigh the fish and weigh the rock, the rock weighs more than the fish.”
Local species also include the brightly colored rainbow and banded darter, which grow to about 3 inches long.
“They’re right here in town,” Sipiorski said of the rainbow darter, distinguished by its bright stripes. “You can catch these (in the Waupaca River) by the bandshell.”