Distribution in the Local
Osmerus, from the Greek, osme,
"odor". Gives off an odor likened to freshly
mordax, from the Latin, "biting"
Common name from its shimmering colors in water, which
disappear when removed from the water
Other common names include: American Smelt, Freshwater
Smelt, Frost Fish, Ice Fish, Leefish, Smelt
Phylum Chordata, animals with a spinal chord
Subphylum Vertebrata, animals with a backbone
Superclass Osteichthyes, bony fishes
Class Actinopterygii, ray-finned and spiny rayed fishes
Order Osmeriformes, the argentines and smelts
Family Osmeridae, the smelts
Genus Osmerus, the rainbow smelts
Family Osmeridae contains 9 species in 6 genera in North
America, mostly Arctic or north temperate in distribution.
Most are saltwater fishes. Populations near the ocean
are andromodus, but those in the midwest are landlocked.
can exceed 12"
silvery with pale green back
iridescent purple, blue, and pink on sides
slender and cylindrical
gill rakers long and slender, numbering 26-35
dorsal fin of 8-11 rays
anal fin of 12-16 rays
pectoral fins of 11-14 rays
pelvic fins of 8 rays
has adipose fin
tail fin deeply forked
lateral line incomplete, with 62-72 scales
elongated and pointed snout
mouth large, with protruding lower jaw
teeth on both mandibles
up to 8 years
are schooling fish inhabiting the cool, medium depths
Sensitive to bright lights and warm temperatures; usually
found in dark, cool depths offshore. Optimum water temperatures
Feed primarily on crustaceans
and small fish, but also eat aquatic and terrestrial
insects. Preyed upon by other fishes, including many
of our most prized sport species, such as the lake trout
and landlocked salmon
Introduced to Michigan's inland
waters as food for stocked salmon in 1912, soon escaping
to Lake Michigan, reaching Lake Superior by 1930.
In the lower Great Lakes, rainbow smelt were at first
regarded as a nuisance, hordes of them invading and
becoming entangled in fish nets.
In Lake Superior, however, they were welcomed both as
a forage fish and as a recreational target during their
spring spawning runs. Systematic harvesting began in
1952, and dip-netting and seining in spawning streams
has developed into a popular, seasonal sport.
for animal feeds but also enjoyed by people. Spring
smelt run has become a North Shore tradition
in spring, principally during darkness. Female can produce
12,000 to 50,000 eggs, which sink to the bottom and
become attached to gravel substrate by a short stalk
formed from the outer shell membrane.
Eggs hatch rapidly and larval young drift downstream
to deep waters.
Sexual maturity attained at 2 years of age.
introduced species poses a potential threat to the fishes
of our northern lakes. Though a forage fish for larger
species, such as Walleye (Stizostedion vitreum) and
Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush), it is a voracious
feeder upon the young of these and other native fish.