Osmerus mordax - (Mitchill, 1814)
Rainbow Smelt
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Osmerus mordax (Mitchill, 1814) (TSN 162041)
French Common Names: éperlan arc-en-ciel
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.934507
Element Code: AFCHB02010
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Fishes - Bony Fishes - Other Bony Fishes
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Actinopterygii Osmeriformes Osmeridae Osmerus
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: Page, L. M., H. Espinosa-Pérez, L. T. Findley, C. R. Gilbert, R. N. Lea, N. E. Mandrak, R. L. Mayden, and J. S. Nelson. 2013. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Seventh edition. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 34, Bethesda, Maryland.
Concept Reference Code: B13PAG01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Osmerus mordax
Taxonomic Comments: Osmerus dentex formerly was included in this species. Page et al. (2013) recognized O. mordax and O. dentex as distinct species.

Both sea-run (anadromous) and lake-resident (lacustrine) populations occur; lacustrine populations include "dwarf-" and "normal-sized" life-history types, which in at least some instances are reproductively isolated; however, geographic proximity, rather than morphotype, appears to be the major determinant of genetic affinities among populations; smelt ecotypes evidently are polyphyletic and there have been multiple, independent divergences of life-history types throughout northeastern North America (Taylor and Bentzen 1993, Taylor 2001).

Some lacustrine populations of dwarf rainbow smelt in Quebec, New Brunswick, and Maine were regarded as a separate species, O. spectrum, by Lanteigne and McAllister (1983). However, the 1991 and 2004 AFS checklists did not accept O. spectrum as a valid species because of the apparent multiple independent origins of the dwarf form (Robins et al. 1991, Nelson et al. 2004).

See Begle (1991) for a classification and phylogeny of osmeroid fishes based on morphology.
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G5
Global Status Last Reviewed: 10May2016
Global Status Last Changed: 12Sep1996
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by inspection
Rounded Global Status: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Very large range; abundant; secure.
Nation: United States
National Status: N5 (05Dec1996)
Nation: Canada
National Status: N5 (10May2016)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
United States Arkansas (SNA), Colorado (SNA), Connecticut (S1), Idaho (SNA), Illinois (SNA), Indiana (SNA), Kansas (SNA), Kentucky (SNA), Maine (S5), Massachusetts (S3), Michigan (SNA), Minnesota (SNA), Mississippi (SNA), Missouri (SNA), Montana (SNA), Nebraska (SNA), New Hampshire (S3), New Jersey (SU), New York (S5), North Carolina (SNA), North Dakota (SNA), Pennsylvania (SH), Rhode Island (S1), South Dakota (SNA), Vermont (S5), Wisconsin (SNA)
Canada Labrador (S4), Manitoba (SNA), New Brunswick (S5), Newfoundland Island (S5), Nova Scotia (S5), Nunavut (SU), Ontario (S5), Prince Edward Island (S4), Quebec (S5), Saskatchewan (SNA)

Other Statuses

Implied Status under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (USESA): PS:SC
Comments on USESA: East Coast population is added to the NMFS Species of Concern list (15 April 2004).
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Lead Region: R5 - Northeast
IUCN Red List Category: LC - Least concern

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent Comments: Native in Atlantic coastal drainages from about the Delaware River, Pennsylvania, to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Lake Melville, Newfoundland (Labrador), and west through the Great Lakes. Occurs naturally in lakes and ponds in New Hampshire, Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland (Buckley 1989). Introduced in many areas of eastern and central North America, including Great Lakes watershed; seasonally present in main channels of Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, and Illinois rivers from Kentucky to Montana and south to Louisiana (Page and Burr 1991). Pacific and Arctic populations that formerly were included in O. mordax are now included in a distinct species, O. dentex (Page et al. 2013).

Number of Occurrences:  
Number of Occurrences Comments: This species is represented by a large number of subpopulations and locations.

Population Size: >1,000,000 individuals
Population Size Comments: Total adult population size is unknown but presumably exceeds 1,000,000. Species is locally and seasonally abundant wherever it is present, except perhaps at the most extreme limits of its range (Morrow 1980).

Overall Threat Impact Comments: Potential threats include overharvest and/or unmonitored harvest in commercial and sport fisheries, pollution or alteration of both freshwater and marine habitats (e.g., from oil spills, wastewater effluent, or obstruction by dams), and possibly environmental impacts associated with global climate change. Commercial harvest declines in New England (see trend comments) are believed to be the result of pollution and obstructions in spawning streams as well as decreased consumer demand (Morrow 1980).

Short-term Trend Comments: Trend over the past 10 years or three generations is uncertain but likely relatively stable or slowly declining.

Long-term Trend:  
Long-term Trend Comments: In New England, annual commercial landings reached 550,000 kg in 1889, then decreased to 215,250 kg in 1951-1954 and declined further to 69,700 kg in 1969-1971 (see sources in Morrow 1980).

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Distribution
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Global Range: Native in Atlantic coastal drainages from about the Delaware River, Pennsylvania, to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Lake Melville, Newfoundland (Labrador), and west through the Great Lakes. Occurs naturally in lakes and ponds in New Hampshire, Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland (Buckley 1989). Introduced in many areas of eastern and central North America, including Great Lakes watershed; seasonally present in main channels of Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, and Illinois rivers from Kentucky to Montana and south to Louisiana (Page and Burr 1991). Pacific and Arctic populations that formerly were included in O. mordax are now included in a distinct species, O. dentex (Page et al. 2013).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces
Color legend for Distribution Map
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States ARexotic, COexotic, CT, IDexotic, ILexotic, INexotic, KS, KYexotic, MA, ME, MIexotic, MNexotic, MOexotic, MSexotic, MTexotic, NCexotic, NDexotic, NEexotic, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, SDexotic, VT, WIexotic
Canada LB, MBexotic, NB, NF, NS, NU, ON, PE, QC, SKexotic

Range Map
No map available.

Ecology & Life History
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Basic Description: An anadromous smelt.
Reproduction Comments: Spawns in spring, usually peaking with bimonthly spring tides. Eggs hatch in 2-3 weeks. May first breed at age of 1 year in south, usually at 2 years or older in north (Buckley 1989).
Ecology Comments: Begins to school when about 19 mm long. Major predators on eggs are mummichog and fourspine stickleback (Buckley 1989).
Habitat Type: Freshwater
Non-Migrant: Y
Locally Migrant: Y
Long Distance Migrant: N
Mobility and Migration Comments: Some populations are anadromous; others are resident in lakes.
Marine Habitat(s): Near shore
Estuarine Habitat(s): Bay/sound, Lagoon, River mouth/tidal river
Riverine Habitat(s): BIG RIVER, CREEK, Low gradient, MEDIUM RIVER
Lacustrine Habitat(s): Deep water, Shallow water
Special Habitat Factors: Benthic
Habitat Comments: Habitat includes midwaters of lakes, inshore coastal waters, rivers; individuals generally stay within 2 km of shore along coast; not in water deeper than 6 m (Buckley 1989). Some populations are anadromous, others entirely freshwater. Schools of young move into shallow water at night, deeper channels during day (Buckley 1989). Spawning occurs in streams (to at least 25 km from lake) or on gravel of lake shores. In coastal streams, most spawn above head of tide (Buckley 1989). In some areas, a single individual may spawn in several streams in an estuary during a single breeding season. Salinities of 12-14 ppt fatal to eggs. Eggs attach to gravel on bottom. Larvae drift downstream, concentrate near surface; later tend to congregate on bottom in deeper areas, except at night when they move to surface apparently to feed (Buckley 1989).
Adult Food Habits: Invertivore, Piscivore
Immature Food Habits: Invertivore, Piscivore
Food Comments: Larvae and juveniles in coastal waters eat copepods and other planktonic crustaceans; larger juveniles and adults feed on euphausiids, amphipods, polychaetes, and fishes (Buckley 1989). In Great Lakes, larvae feed mainly on dipteran larvae, crustaceans, and fishes; in Lake Michigan, diet of adults and juveniles included largely Mysis in winter and young-of-the-year and yearling alewives in spring and summer (Buckley 1989).
Phenology Comments: In Great Lakes, active feeding began at dusk and ceased by nightfall (see Buckley 1989).
Length: 25 centimeters
Economic Attributes
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Economic Comments: An abundant forage fish, preyed on by many commercially and recreationally valuable coastal marine species, such as striped bass and bluefish; provides forage for several species of salmon and trout in Great Lakes; supports an important coastal and estuarine sport fishery throughout most of range, particularly in Great Lakes, New England, and e. Canada (Buckley 1989).
Management Summary
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Biological Research Needs: Research is needed on life history, oceanic population structure, migration patterns, trophic ecology, and habitat requirements for both anadromous and lake-resident populations.
Population/Occurrence Delineation
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Group Name: Fishes with Anadromous Populations

Use Class: Freshwater
Subtype(s): Rearing & Migration Area, Spawning & Rearing Area
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Occurrences are based on evidence of historical presence, or current and likely recurring presence, at a given location. Such evidence minimally includes collection or reliable observation and documentation of one or more individuals (including eggs and larvae) in appropriate habitat. For anadromous populations, occurrences are based on collection or reliable observation and documentation of one or more spawning adults, redds, other evidence of spawning, or larvae or juveniles in appropriate spawning/rearing habitat.
Mapping Guidance: Conceptually, the occurrence includes the entire freshwater area used by the population, including spawning, rearing, and migration areas. For anadromous populations, an occurrence should extend from the most upstream spawning areas downstream to the ocean. However, it is desirable (and practical) to subdivide this sometimes very large occurrence, sometimes overlapping with many other spaghetti-like occurrences extending down from the upstream spawning areas to the ocean, into separate source features or sub-occurrences, labeled with a feature label that reflects the life history stage in that area. Moreover, it may make practical sense to treat the areas downstream of spawning and/or rearing areas as a mixed element animal assemblage: Freshwater Salmon Migration Corridor. This negates the need to separately map each occurrence down to the ocean from its upstream spawning location. Information about areas with different life-history uses can be generated by using best professional judgment by district or regional fish biologists and may or may not incorporate specific locational information from spawning surveys or other surveys.
Separation Barriers: Dam lacking a suitable fishway; high waterfall; upland habitat that is very unlikely to be submerged even during periods of exceptionally high water (e.g., 100-year flood or 1% flood).
Alternate Separation Procedure: For anadromous populations and migratory populations that have distinct and separate spawning and nonspawning areas, the area used by each population whose spawning area is separated by a gap of at least 10 stream-km from other spawning areas within a stream system is potentially mappable as a distinct occurrence that extends down to the ocean (but see mapping guidance), regardless of whether the spawning areas are in the same or different tributaries.

For other (e.g., nonanadromous) populations in streams, separation distance is 10 stream-km for both suitable and unsuitable habitat. However, if it is known that the same population occupies sites separated by more than 10 km (e.g., this may be common for migratory, nonanadromous populations), those sites should be included within the same occurrence. In lakes, occurrences include all suitable habitat that is presumed to be occupied (based on expert judgment), even if documented collection/observation points are more than 10 km apart. Separate sub-occurrences or source features may usefully document locations of critical spawning areas within a lake.

Separation Justification: The separation distance is arbitrary but was selected to ensure that occurrences are of manageable size but not too small. Because of the difficulty in defining suitable versus unsuitable habitat, especially with respect to dispersal, and to simplify the delineation of occurrences, a single separation distance is used regardless of habitat quality.

"Restricted movement is the norm in populations of stream salmonids during nonmigratory periods," but there is considerable variation in movements within and among species (Rodriguez 2002). Redband trout in Montana had October-December home ranges of 5-377 m, consistent with small movements observed for radio-tagged brook trout and cutthroat trout during fall and winter (Muhlfeld et al. 2001). For nonanadromous populations, little is known about juvenile dispersal (e.g., how far fishes may move between between their embryonic developmental habitat and eventual spawning site).

In summer and fall, radio-tagged cutthroat trout in Strawberry Reservoir in Utah had single-month home ranges that were usually about 3-4 km in maximum length (Baldwin et al. 2002). In the Blackfoot River drainage, Montana, radio-tagged westslope cutthroat trout moved 3-72 km (mean 31 km) to access spawning tributaries (Schmetterling 2001). This indicates that migratory but nonanadromous populations may use extensive areas and that one should not invoke the 10-km separation distance without considering the full extent of the population.

Date: 25Nov2009
Author: Hammerson, G., and L. Master
Notes: This Specs Group comprises fish species that include anadromous populations (may also include nonanadromous populations), such as lampreys, sturgeons, herrings, shads, salmonids, and smelts.

Criteria for marine occurrences (Location Use Class: Marine) have not yet been established. These may not be needed for marine occurrences of species that likely will be dealt with as mixed element assemblages (e.g., Salmonid Marine Concentration Area).

Feature Descriptor Definitions:

Spawning Area: area used for spawning but not for rearing or migration.

Rearing Area: area used for larval/juvenile development but not for spawning or migration.

Migration Corridor: area used for migration but not for rearing or spawning.

Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 16Jan2015
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 03Dec1993
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): Hammerson, G.

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
Help
  • Aquin, P. 1999. Évaluation de la situation des groupes taxonomiques des poissons du Québec. Ministère de l'Environnement et de la Faune. 9 pages.

  • Bailey, M.M. 1964. Age, growth, maturity, and sex composition of the American smelt, Osmerus mordax (Mitchill), of western Lake Superior. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 93(4):382-395.

  • Beaulieu, H. 1992. Liste des espèces de la faune vertébrée susceptibles d'être désignées menacées ou vulnérables. Ministère du Loisir, de la Chasse et de la Pêche. 107 p.

  • Becker, G. C. 1983. Fishes of Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison. 1,052 pp.

  • Begle, D. P. 1991. Relationships of the osmeroid fishes and the use of reductive characters in phylogenetic analysis. Systematic Zoology 40:33-53.

  • Bernatchez, L. 1997. Mitochondrial DNA analysis confirms the existence of two glacial races of rainbow smelt Osmerus mordax and their reproductive isolation in the St Lawrence River estuary (Quebec, Canada). Molecular Ecology 6(1):73-83.

  • Bernatchez, L. et Giroux, M. 1991. Guide des poissons d'eau douce du Québec: leur distribution dans l'Est du Canada. Éditions Broquet Inc. 304 p.

  • Buckley, J. L. 1989. Species profiles: life histories and environmental requirements of coastal fishes and invertebrates (North Atlantic)--rainbow smelt. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Report 82(11.106). 11 pp.

  • Cooper, J.E. 1978b. Identification of eggs, larvae, and juveniles of the rainbow smelt, Osmerus mordax, with comparison to larval alewife, Alosa pseudoharengus, and gizzard shad, Dorosoma cepedianum. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 107(1):56-62.

  • Foltz, J.W. and C.R. Norden. 1977. Food habits and feeding chronology of rainbow smelt, Osmerus mordax, in Lake Michigan. Fishery Bulletin 75(3): 637-640.

  • Giroux, M. 1997. Rapport sur la situation de l'Éperlan arc-en-ciel (Osmerus mordax) anadrome du sud de l'estuaire du fleuve Saint-Laurent au Québec. Ministère de l'Environnement et de la Faune, Direction de la faune et des habitats. 52 p.

  • Lanteigne, J., and P. J. Cronin. 1981. Status of the pygmy smelt (Osmerus spectrum) in Canada. COSEWIC. 14 pp.

  • Lecomte, F., J. J. Dodson Et S. Georges. 2001. Structure des populations d'éperlans Arc-en-ciel du Saint-Laurent ; données provenant des microsatellites. Compte rendu du sixième atelier sur les pêches commerciales. Société de la faune et des parcs du Québ

  • Legendre, V. et J.F. Bergeron. 1977. Liste des poissons d' eau douce du Québec. MLCP, Service Aménage. Expl. Faune. Rap. dact. 6

  • Mayden, R. L., F. B. Cross, and O. T. Gorman. 1987. Distributional history of the rainbow smelt, Osmerus mordax (Salmoniformes: Osmeridae), in the Mississippi River Basin. Copeia 1987:1051-1054.

  • Mingelbier, M., F. Lecomte Et J. J. Dodson. 2001. Climate change and abundance cycles of two sympatric populations of smelt (Osmerus mordax) in the middle estuary of the St. Lawrence River. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 58. p. 2048-2058.

  • Morrow, J.E. 1980. The freshwater fishes of Alaska. Alaska Northwest Publishing Company, Anchorage, AK. 248 pp.

  • Page, L. M., H. Espinosa-Pérez, L. T. Findley, C. R. Gilbert, R. N. Lea, N. E. Mandrak, R. L. Mayden, and J. S. Nelson. 2013. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Seventh edition. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 34, Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Page, L. M., and B. M. Burr. 1991. A field guide to freshwater fishes: North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. 432 pp.

  • Page, L. M., and B. M. Burr. 2011. Peterson field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. Second edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston. xix + 663 pp.

  • Pouliot, G. et G. Verreault. 2000. Suivi de la reproduction de l'éperlan arc-en-ciel de la rive sud de l'estuaire du Saint-Laurent en 2000. Faune et Parcs Québec. Direction de l'aménagement de la faune de la région du Bas-Saint-Laurent. 15 p.

  • Robins, C.R., R.M. Bailey, C.E. Bond, J.R. Brooker, E.A. Lachner, R.N. Lea, and W.B. Scott. 1991. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States and Canada. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 20. 183 pp.

  • Scott W.B. et E.J. Crossman. 1974. Poissons d'eau douce du Canada. Ministère de l'Environnement. Service des pêches et des sciences de la mer. Office des recherches sur les pêcherires du Canada. Bulletin 184. 1026 p.

  • Scott, W. B., and E. J. Crossman. 1973. Freshwater fishes of Canada. Fisheries Research Board of Canada, Bulletin 184. 966 pp.

  • Scott, W.B. et M.G. Scott. 1988. Atlantic fishes of Canada. University of Toronto Press. 731 p.

  • Starnes, W. C. 1995. Taxonomic validation for fish species on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Category 2 species list. 28 pp.

  • Taylor, E. B. 2001. Status of the sympatric smelt (genus Osmerus) populations of Lake Utopia, New Brunswick. Canadian Field-Naturalist 115:131-137.

  • Taylor, E. B., and P. Bentzen. 1993. Evidence for multiple origins and sympatric divergence of trophic ecotypes of smelt (Osmerus) in northeastern North America. Evolution 47:813-832.

  • Taylor, E. B., and P. Bentzen. 1993. Evidence for multiple origins and sympatric divergence of trophic ecotypes of smelt (OSMERUS) in northeastern North America. Evolution 47:813-832.

  • Trencia, G. 2000. Incubation d'?ufs d'éperlan arc-en-ciel au ruisseau de l'église en 2000. Société de la faune et des parcs du Québec. 11 p.

  • Zilliox, R.G. and W.D. Youngs. 1958. Further studies on the smelt of Lake Champlain. New York Fish and Game Journal 5(2):164-174.

References for Watershed Distribution Map
  • Lanteigne, J., and D. E. McAllister. 1983. The pygmy smelt, Osmerus spectrum Cope, 1870, a forgotten sibling species of eastern North American fish. Syllogeus, National Museum of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. No. 45.

  • Lee, D. S., C. R. Gilbert, C. H. Hocutt, R. E. Jenkins, D. E. McAllister, and J. R. Stauffer, Jr. 1980. Atlas of North American freshwater fishes. North Carolina State Museum of Natural History, Raleigh, North Carolina. i-x + 854 pp.

  • Smith, C. L. 1983. Fishes of New York (maps and printout of a draft section on scarce fishes of New York). Unpublished draft.

  • Smith, C. L. 1985. The inland fishes of New York State. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, New York, xi + 522 pp.

  • Whitworth, W. R., P. L. Berrien, and W. T. Keller. 1976. Freshwater fishes of Connecticut. Bulletin of the Connecticut Geological and Natural History Survey 101. vi + 134 pp.

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