Natural History

The Nature Center is home to a variety of fish that live in the James River and Chesapeake Bay.  A comprehensive list of fish located at the Nature Center can be found below. One of our most notable fish is the Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus), which is considered threatened, endangered, and even extinct in much of its original habitats.

The Atlantic sturgeon was a primary source of protein in Colonial times, and is often referred to as  “the fish that saved Jamestown”. This species of fish is known for its occasional ‘leaping’ behavior called breaching. The exact reason why sturgeon breach remains unknown, although it has been suggested that they may be attempting to rid themselves of parasites. Another unique characteristic of the Atlantic sturgeon are their scales. Rather than having true scales like other fish, they have five rows of bony plates known as scutes.

Atlantic sturgeon under six years of age stay in the brackish water where they were born before moving into the ocean. They may be 3 to 5 feet long at this stage. Atlantic sturgeon may take anywhere from seven to twenty-three years to become sexually mature, depending on the sex and temperature of the water. When mature, they travel upstream to spawn. The females may lay 800,000 to 3.75 million eggs in a single year, doing so every two to six years. After laying their eggs females will travel back downstream, but males may remain upstream after spawning until forced to return downstream by the increasingly cold water. They may even return to the ocean, where they stay near the coastline. Sturgeon can often live to the age of sixty years old. Accounts of sturgeon over the age of one hundred were not uncommon in colonial times.

Populations of Atlantic sturgeon have declined due to overfishing, loss of habitat, limited access to spawning areas and water pollution. In the Chesapeake watershed, the James River in Virginia is one of the last confirmed holdouts for that region’s nearly extirpated population. In May 2007, a survey identified 175 sturgeon remaining in the entire river, with 15 specimens exceeding five feet.

Fish in the Nature Center

American eel, Anguilla rostrata

American shad, Alosa sapidissima

Atlantic sturgeon, Acipenser oxyrhynchus

Black crappie, Pomoxis nigromaculatus

Blue catfish, Ictalurus furcatus

Blueback herring, Alosa aestivalis

Bluegill, Lepomis macrochirus

Bluespotted sunfish, Enneacanthus gloriosus

Bowfin, Amia calva

Brown bullhead, Ameiurus nebulosus

Bull chub, Nocomis raneyi

Channel catfish, Ictalurus punctatus

Chain catshark, Scyliorhynus retifer

Common carp, Cyprinus carpio

Gizzard shad, Dorosoma cepedianum

Flathead catfish, Pylodictis olivaris

Largemouth bass, Micropterus salmoides

Lined seahorse, Hippocampus erectus

Longnose gar, Lepisosteus osseus

Margined madtom, Noturus insignis

Northern hogsucker, Hypentelium nigricans

Oyster toadfish, Opsanus tau

Pumpkinseed, Lepomis gibbosus

Quillback, Carpiodes cyprinus

Redbreast sunfish, Lepomis auritus

Rock bass, Ambloplites rupestris

Sea lamprey, Petromyzan marinus

Shiner/Spottail, Notropis hudsonius

Shorthead redhorse, Moxostoma macrolepidotum

Smallmouth bass, Micropterus dolomieu

Striped bass, Morone saxatilis

Striped blennies, Chasmodes bosquianus

Striped burrfish, Chylomycterus schoepfi

Stripedback darter, Percina notogramma

Torrent sucker, Thoburnia rhothoeca

Walleye, Stizostedion vitreum

Warmouth, Lepomis gulosus

White catfish, Ameiurus catusCc

White crappie, Pomoxis annularis

White perch, Morone americana

Yellow bullhead, Ameiurus natalis

Yellow perch, Perca flavescens