Brown back with silvery reflections, sides tinged golden yellow with dark-edged scales, white belly, and large scales. It is often misidentified as other carpsuckers. The most notable feature is the lack of a nipple-like projection at the middle of the lower lip. It can be distinguished from the other carpsuckers by the number of scales along the lateral line; it has 37 to 41 scales. Adults are commonly 12- to 17-inches long and weigh 1- to 3-pounds.
Abundant in the clearer streams in Iowa. Their range extends from the Great Border Rivers into the large interior rivers and most river impoundments. Along with the River Carpsucker, they often make up a big portion of fish in these rivers. Small streams occasionally have Quillback populations, but their abundance is usually rare.
Bottom ooze, plant materials, and aquatic insect larvae
Quillback Carpsuckers prefer moderately clear, highly productive streams with large, deep pools next to stable gravel or rubble bottoms. It is less tolerant of turbidity than other carpsuckers, although they are often found together. Quillbacks adapt easily to other habitats and often live in slow-flowing streams, natural lakes and river impoundments.
Quillbacks are early spring spawners. They prefer shallow areas in moderate current over sand and gravel bottoms. Spawning starts in April and May when water temperatures are 55 to 70 degrees. The adhesive eggs are randomly broadcast and sink to the bottom where they hatch unattended. A six year old female produces about 64,000 eggs. Quillbacks are a long-lived species with fish as old as 11 years found in populations. Growth averages up to 3- to 4-inches per year in the younger ages to about 1- to 1 1/2-inches each year for older fish. A six year old quillback would be about 12-inches long and weigh slightly over one pound. It has been reported to hybridize with Highfin Carpsucker.
Quillbacks are not of importance to anglers and are seldom caught except in very early spring. Snagging for Quillbacks occurs in the fast water below dams, where they tend to gather. The commercial catch of Quillbacks is low and incidental to River Carpsuckers, as neither species is in demand as a food-fish. They are an important forage fish to predators when they are young.
Recent stream sampling information is available from Iowa DNR's biological monitoring and assessment program.