• Family: Osmeridae (Smelts)
• Other Names: None
• Ohio Status: Introduced
• Adult Size: Typically 7-10 inches, can reach 14 inches.
• Typical Foods: Various aquatic invertebrates and some small fish.
Rainbow smelt are a long slender fish that is silver in color with some blue or purple reflections on the sides. They have a large terminal (ending at tip of snout) mouth that extends to below the rear of the eye. They have many sharp teeth on the tongue and jaws. They also have an adipose fin (small fleshy fin just in front of their tail on their back) and the dorsal fin is directly above the pelvic fins.
Habitat and Habits
Rainbow smelt are naturally occurring along the North Atlantic coast of North America and move into small freshwater streams to spawn. They were introduced to the Great Lakes in Michigan in 1912. They then spread throughout the Great Lakes and were first found in Lake Erie in 1932. By 1936 they had become established in Lake Erie and spawning runs occur annually in small northeast Ohio Lake Erie tributaries. The population in Lake Erie can fluctuate from year to year and some years large die offs occur after the spring spawning runs.
Reproduction and Care of the Young
Rainbow smelt spawn in late winter or early spring when water temperatures approach 40 degrees Fahrenheit. They spawn in small tributaries to Lake Erie in swift riffles at night. They have adhesive eggs that stick to the gravel substrate. Once the eggs hatch the young immediately drift down stream to the lake. No parental care is given to the eggs or young.