Smallmouth Bass

Micropterus dolomieu

Last updated: December 12, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© CSNafzger/Shutterstock.com

Their scales are covered with mucus!

Smallmouth Bass Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Actinopterygii
Order
Perciformes
Family
Centrarchidae
Genus
Micropterus
Scientific Name
Micropterus dolomieu

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Smallmouth Bass Conservation Status


Smallmouth Bass Facts

Prey
Small fish, crustaceans, frogs and lizards, aquatic insects
Name Of Young
Fry
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
Fun Fact
Their scales are covered with mucus!
Biggest Threat
Humans
Most Distinctive Feature
Small mouth, mucus-covered scales
Other Name(s)
Smallie, brownie, bronzeback, bronze bass
Average Spawn Size
2,000-10,000 eggs
Diet
Carnivore
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
Common Name
Smallie
Number Of Species
1
Slogan
A fierce fighter!

Smallmouth Bass Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Green
  • Dark Brown
  • Olive
  • Dull Olive
Skin Type
Scales
Age of Sexual Maturity
3-6 years
Aggression
Medium

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Smallmouth Bass Summary

The smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu) is a freshwater fish native to the rivers and lakes of eastern and central North America. It has since spread to other regions and countries, where it often disrupts their ecosystems. Alternate names for this species include smallie, brownie, bronzeback, and bronze bass. It makes a popular sport fish as well as a tasty dish.

Smallmouth Bass Fish Facts

  • Small mouths: Yes, smallmouth bass have small mouths! This is in comparison to largemouth bass, which have disproportionately big mouths that appear to gape.
  • Mucus-covered scales: This species has scales covered in mucus, which helps them swim faster and prevents infection.
  • Invasive species: Far from being endangered, this species has caused problems in ecosystems outside of its native habitats. This happens when humans introduce them to non-native regions either deliberately or by accident.
  • Involved fathers: Unlike the males of the vast majority of species in the animal kingdom, male smallmouth bass take an active role in the protection of nests and eggs.

Smallmouth Bass Classification and Scientific Name

The scientific name for smallmouth bass is Micropterus dolomieu. The word Micropterus comes from the Greek words mikros, meaning “small,” and pteron, meaning “wing” or “fin.” Dolomieu is the last name of a friend of the scientist who named the species, Bernard Germain de Lacépède.

Scientists classify members of this species as bony fish, which means their skeletons are made primarily of bone rather than cartilage. They belong to the class Actinopterygii, a taxon comprising ray-finned fishes. Within this classification, they fall into the order Perciformes, which comprises over 41% of all bony fishes. This makes it the world’s largest and most diverse group of vertebrates. They further belong to the family Centrarchidae (“sunfishes”) and the genus Micropterus (“black basses”). Centrarchidae contains eight genera and thirty-eight species, four of which are extinct. Micropterus contains 14 species, though some still dispute the 14th, the Choctaw bass (Micropterus haiaka).

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Smallmouth Bass Appearance

This species has scales covered in mucus, which helps them swim faster and prevents infection.

©iStock.com/LaSalle-Photo

Smallmouth bass manifest a range of dorsal colors from dark brown to bronze to olive to light green. Ventrally, their color fades to yellowish-white. The clearer the water, the darker the dorsal color. Dark brown bars cover their bodies vertically and their heads horizontally. These colors and patterns help them blend into their surroundings, especially along river beds with sediments like sand, gravel, and rocky substrates.

This species sports an additional adaptation: ctenoid (spiny-edged) scales covered in mucus. These scales not only provide a protective layer against damage and infection, but they also reduce water resistance. Moreover, these fish have six different types of fins: a spiny dorsal fin, a soft dorsal fin, a symmetrical caudal fin, an anal fin, pectoral fins, and pelvic fins. Their mouths are small and proportional, unlike those of largemouth bass.


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Smallmouth bass can reach a maximum length of about 27 inches, though a length of 10-20 inches is more common. Most members of this species weigh less than five pounds. However, the largest individual on record weighed 12 pounds.

Smallmouth Bass Distribution, Population, and Habitat

Smallmouth bass are native to the cool freshwater bodies of water in eastern and central North America, specifically parts of the United States and Canada. Populations originally inhabited Hudson Bay, the St. Lawrence – Great Lakes system except for Lake Superior, and the Mississippi River basins. They occurred naturally in parts of the following states and provinces: southern Quebec, North Dakota, south to northern Alabama, eastern Oklahoma, Virginia, and central Texas. These fish prefer the shallow, rocky areas of lakes and rivers without dense vegetation, usually swimming at depths no greater than 23 feet.

This species has since spread to many other states in America as well as several provinces in Canada. In addition to this, humans have introduced this species to a range of other countries as a sport fish or by accident. It has caused ecosystem disruptions in some of these regions. See the table below for the states, provinces, and countries with non-native populations of this species.

United StatesCanadaOther Countries
ArizonaBritish ColumbiaMexico
ArkansasSaskatchewanBelize
CaliforniaManitoba (Lake Winnipeg)Mauritius
ColoradoOntarioSouth Africa
ConnecticutQuebecTanzania
DelawareNew BrunswickAustria
District of ColumbiaNova ScotiaBelgium
Georgia Czech Republic
Hawaii Slovakia
Idaho Japan
Iowa Vietnam
Kansas  
Kentucky  
Maine  
Maryland  
Massachusetts  
Minnesota  
Missouri  
Montana  
Nebraska  
Nevada  
New Hampshire  
New Jersey  
New Mexico  
New York  
North Carolina  
Oregon  
Pennsylvania  
South Carolina  
South Dakota  
Utah  
Washington  
West Virginia  
Wyoming  

Due to its stable population, the IUCN lists this species as Least Concern as of 2012. For a list of endangered animals, see this article.

Smallmouth Bass Evolution and History

As a species, smallmouth bass are relatively young in terms of their evolutionary history. The molecular clock, a method of determining the age of a species, suggests the Micropterus genus originated 26 million years ago during the Paleogene Period. The earliest bass fossil on record, discovered in Texas, dates to 23 million years ago. Smallmouth bass share a common ancestor with other extant species of black bass that lived as far back as 11 million years ago during the Miocene Era.

At this point, a marine transgression isolated several species from one other. During this time, smallmouth bass and their close relatives, spotted bass, diverged from the other black bass species. However, they only diverged from each other approximately 1.7 million years ago during the Pleistocene.

The Great Lakes formed approximately 15,000 years ago, eventually becoming home to populations of smallmouth bass. The bodies of water closest to glacial outlets contained the most genetically diverse populations. Lake Huron and Lake Erie, for example, connected to various outlets and therefore contained diverse mitochondrial lineages. Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, and northern Lake Huron, on the other hand, contained bass of a single mitochondrial clade. Other populations, like those in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, had little to no genetic diversity.

Smallmouth Bass Predators and Prey

Smallmouth bass are not only carnivores but also top predators in their ecosystems. They are opportunistic feeders, eating whatever they can reasonably overpower. Available prey varies according to the individual fish’s size and age, the season, and water temperature. Because of their small mouths, they are limited in the size of fish they can eat, unlike their cousin the largemouth bass. Though they are generally diurnal, scientists have also observed activity during dawn, dusk, and at night in warmer seasons.

What Do Smallmouth Bass Eat?

Despite its small mouth, this species occasionally goes after fish like yellow perch, threadfin shad, bluegills, sculpins, minnows, and other small sunfish. They also enjoy vertebrates like frogs and lizards as well as invertebrates like crayfish, bivalves, gastropods, annelids, and various insects. Juveniles prey on crustaceans, zooplankton, and aquatic insects.

What Eats Smallmouth Bass?

Because this species is a top predator in its ecosystems, it faces few threats. Humans are their biggest predator, though overfishing is not currently a concern for most populations. Other fish that prey on adults of this species include northern pike, muskellunge, and larger bass. Herons, frogs, and snakes may also prey upon juveniles.

Smallmouth Bass Reproduction and Lifespan

Smallmouth bass are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs instead of giving birth to live young. These fish are generally monogamous, though larger individuals occasionally practice polygynandry (where both males and females have more than one mate). They usually mate from May to June, though some individuals begin as early as April or end as late as July.

The male of a given mating pair builds a nest among the sand, gravel, or rocks of shallow lakes and rivers. The nest is usually within about 150 yards of previous nests. The female approaches and they swim around the nest together while rubbing and nipping each other. They spawn for five seconds on the bottom, resume circling the nest for 25-45 seconds, and then spawn again, repeating this pattern for approximately two hours. Females may go from nest to nest mating with other males.

The number of eggs a female lays depends on her size. A 10-inch female lays approximately 2,000 eggs. An 18-inch female, however, may lay in excess of 10,000 eggs. Females lay eggs in batches of 20-50 over a period of about 10 seconds until they are finished; this process can take as long as two hours. The male releases his milt to fertilize the eggs as the female deposits them in the nest. The male remains with the nest to guard it and the eggs, which hatch in four to 11 days.

Aside from spawning, these fish are solitary by nature. Males reach sexual maturity between three and five years of age while females mature by six years of age. A typical lifespan is between six and 15 years of age, though in extraordinary cases individuals have lived as long as 26 years.

Smallmouth Bass in Fishing and Cooking

Smallmouth bass are great for recreational fishing, though they tend to interfere with other species targeted for commercial fishing. The best time of year to catch smallmouth bass is anytime between spring and fall, though they are most active in the warm summer months. The best time of day is during the early morning or late afternoon hours as they tend to bite more readily in low light. They tend to swim in shallow waters with sandy or rocky bottoms.

To catch these fish, anglers can either try artificial lures or live bait. The best artificial lures are crawfish imitators like jigs, tubes, and grubs or baitfish imitators like spinnerbaits and crankbaits. The most reliable live baits are crawfish, minnows, and leaches. This species tends to fight hard, making them an enticing sport fish.

This fish also makes good eating, whether baked, fried, pan-fried, roasted, or grilled. It tastes milder and sweeter than its largemouth cousin, sporting white meat with a firm texture. Check out this recipe for roasted bass with summer vegetables or this recipe for pan-fried bass with tartar sauce. If you want more culinary options, see this guide for the best ways to cook this appealing fish.

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About the Author

I am a freelance writer with experience in both fiction and nonfiction. When not putting words on a page, I enjoy reading, hiking in the great outdoors, and playing with my dog.

Smallmouth Bass FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Can you eat smallmouth bass?

Yes, smallmouth bass are good for cooking and eating.

How big do smallmouth bass get?

Smallmouth bass can grow up to 27 inches in length and weigh up to 12 pounds.

Where are smallmouth bass found?

Smallmouth bass are native to eastern and central North America, specifically the United States and Canada, though they are an invasive species in several other regions and countries.

What's the difference between smallmouth and largemouth bass?

Smallmouth bass have smaller mouths than largemouth bass. Also, they range from brown to green in color while largemouth bass are solely green.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. , Available here: http://www.fishbase.us/summary/SpeciesSummary.php?ID=3382&AT=smallmouth+bass
  2. , Available here: https://researcharchive.calacademy.org/research/ichthyology/catalog/SpeciesByFamily.asp#Paralichthyidae
  3. , Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/202564/18230216
  4. , Available here: http://bioweb.uwlax.edu/bio203/2010/hetke_dust/adaptation.htm
  5. , Available here: https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/factsheet.aspx?SpeciesID=396
  6. , Available here: https://cdnsciencepub.com/doi/10.1139/F09-155
  7. , Available here: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2013/04/26/the-evolutionary-history-of-the-black-bass-genus-micropterus-sp/
  8. , Available here: https://www.bassresource.com/fish_biology/smallmouth-fry.html
  9. , Available here: https://academics.cehd.umn.edu/hatch/research/fish/fishes/smallmouth_bass.html
  10. , Available here: https://tailoredtackle.com/smallmouth-bass-fishing-for-beginners/
  11. , Available here: http://www.lakefishingtechniques.com/great-largemouth-and-smallmouth-bass-recipes/
  12. , Available here: https://simpleseasonal.com/recipes/roasted-bass-and-summer-vegetables
  13. , Available here: https://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/pan-fried-bass-0

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