Skip to main content

Boreal Community Media

NDSU researcher finds some Minnesota fish live more than 100 years

Jun 02, 2019 11:07AM ● By Editor
North Dakota State University researcher Alec Lackmann with a large bigmouth buffalo that was part of a study showing the fish is one of the oldest-living freshwater species in the world. Lackmann's research found one bigmouth buffalo that was 112 years old and many older than 80 years.  Photo:  Alec Lackmann / NDSU



By: Mike McFeely / Forum News Service | May 31, 2019

Don't call the bigmouth buffalo a "rough fish," a common and derisive moniker slapped on species viewed as less desirable than the sainted walleye and other hotly pursued fish.

"They are amazing," said Alec Lackmann, a North Dakota State University researcher in the Department of Biological Sciences. "They are one of the most exceptional freshwater fish species in the world."

Lackmann would know. He led an NDSU team that unearthed this amazing fact: Bigmouth buffalo can live to be more than 100 years old, making them the oldest age-validated freshwater fish in the world. 

Lackmann's study included one specimen that was 112 years old, and most of the fish he researched were more than 80 years old. The oldest fish came from lakes near Pelican Rapids, Minn., including Crystal, Rush, Prairie, Pelican, Lida, Lizzie and Fish.

"We need to start recognizing bigmouth buffalo and other native fish species as the assets they are," Lackmann said. "Hopefully this study can begin spreading awareness for underappreciated fish species and show the state of Minnesota that they deserve protection like many other native fish."

The bigmouth buffalo is found in 22 states and Canada, but despite an important place in Midwest history (Lewis and Clark harvested them and they have value as a commercial fish) they've been lumped in with invasive species like the common, bighead and silver carp. Harvest remains almost unregulated in the U.S., while Canada gave bigmouth buffalo special concern status in the 1980s.

The study, published recently on the website of the international science journal Nature, was spurred by Lackmann's curiosity and his hunch, along with that of NDSU biological sciences professor Mark Clark, that the fish were much older than previously thought. Existing age data on fish was largely compiled by counting rings on scales, similar to aging a tree, and the typical age of a bigmouth buffalo was believed to be 5 to 20 years. One small study of bigmouth buffalo using otoliths (ear bones) in Oklahoma in 1999 found a maximum age of 26.

Lackmann, a 28-year-old Fargo Oak Grove High School and Concordia College graduate who went to NDSU for post-graduate work, began the study in 2016 by collecting bigmouth buffalo samples from several sources, including bowfishermen who were taking fish from lakes near Pelican Rapids. 

The first fish Lackmann aged, using otoliths, was 87 years old.

"It was crazy," he said.

The craziness was far from over. The more fish Lackmann and his fellow researchers aged, the more they found bigmouth buffalo more than 80 years old. In one batch of 26 bigmouth buffalo from Crystal Lake, 25 were determined to be 83 years or older. The other fish was 40 years old.

A close-up of a bigmouth buffalo showing orange spots that North Dakota State researcher Alec Lackmann says correlate to the age of the fish Lackmann recently published a study showing bigmouth buffalo to be the oldest age-validated freshwater fish species in the world
A close-up of a bigmouth buffalo showing orange spots that North Dakota State researcher Alec Lackmann says correlate to the age of the fish. Lackmann recently published a study showing bigmouth buffalo to be the oldest age-validated freshwater fish species in the world. Alec Lackmann / NDSU

The fish were huge, including females that were over three feet long and weighed between 25 and 40 pounds. This made them attractive and easy targets for the bowfishermen, who because of recent changes in Minnesota fishing regulations can fish at night with spotlights and during the buffalo's spawning season.


To read much more on this story and read related reporting, follow this link to the Grand Forks Herald website.  https://www.grandforksherald.com/sports/outdoors/1355475-McFeely-NDSU-researcher-finds-some-Minnesot...

Upcoming Events Near You
DNR Fall Color Map
Fall Color Finder
Boreal Ship Spotter - larger view here