Bluehead suckers are native to the middle and upper Colorado River. Within the Colorado River Basin, bluehead suckers are found in the Colorado, Dolores, Duchesne, Escalante, Fremont, Green, Gunnison, Price, San Juan, San Rafael, White, and Yampa rivers. Adult suckers prefer areas with rocky or gravel bottoms and moderate to fast currents. While tolerant of a variety of conditions they are typically found in streams with cool temperatures.
The following description of bluehead suckers is taken from Bezzerides and Bestgen (2002): “Bluehead suckers have a short, broad head with a wide snout that overhangs a large mouth. Lips are large and the upper forms a fleshy hood over the mouth. The lower lip is shallowly notched at the midline. Small papillae are evenly scattered over the lower lip and oral face of the upper lip, but are absent from anterior face of upper lip. Both jaws have well-developed, cartilaginous scraping edges. The body is elongate and tapers to a caudal peduncle that varies in thickness. . . . In clear water, C. discobolus is typically dark olive to nearly black on the back and sides and yellowish on the belly, and in turbid water, silvery tan or lighter green above and dirty white below. The head is often bluish, thus the common name. Young fish are dusky above and white below.”
Bluehead suckers spawn in the spring and early summer when water temperatures range from 65 to 75 degrees. They prefer to spawn in shallow water over gravelly areas with moderate current. During spawn, one or two males positioned themselves alongside a female in a depression created by fanning. They shudder their bodies during spawn stimulating the female to subsequently release her eggs into the depression. Juveniles grow fast, reaching lengths three inches. They become sexually within two to three years. Larvae of bluehead sucker may drift after emerging from the egg. However, blueheads are generally sedentary, seldom moving more than a few kilometers during the year. The species is long-lived, with maximum ages reported over 20 years.
These fish are omnivores, foraging on the bottom. The scrapping disc allows them to scrape algae, insects, and other material from rock surfaces.
Bluehead sucker in Colorado
In Colorado, the bluehead suckers are restricted to western slope waters. Longnose and white suckers have replaced them in some areas, such as the Gunnison River above Blue Mesa Reservoir. Bluehead suckers are a species of special concern in Colorado and it is illegal to take and use them for any purpose.