|Family overview: Minnows are a huge family of fishes. About 2,100 species are distributed in North America, Eurasia and Africa. North America alone (north of Mexico) has over 230 species of minnows. In Pennsylvania, 39 native minnow species have been documented in recent years, in 13 groups, or genera. There are also introduced minnows, like carp and goldfish. Many minnow species may be present in the same water area. Fifteen or more may be found together in streams with high biodiversity, like the tributaries of the Allegheny River. In all, minnows make up 25 percent of Pennsylvania’s total fish fauna.
The young of most fish, including game fish, are sometimes incorrectly called “minnows,” because of their small size. True minnows belong to the scientifically defined Cyprinidae family. They may be quite large, like a 50-pound carp, or a scant three inches long, like the blacknose dace. The carp is big enough to attract sport anglers. Other members of the minnow family provide fishermen’s bait and are an important food source for game fish. In turn, minnows may eat the eggs and young of sport fishes and compete for available food. Nevertheless, all minnows and other nongame fish are an important part of Pennsylvania’s aquatic life regardless of whether they provide food for “game fish.”
Some minnows are plentiful in Pennsylvania. Other minnows are sensitive to pollution and are indicators of water quality. The gravel chub is so rare, it is an endangered species in the state. In 2000, Fish & Boat Commission biologists identified the first known occurrence of the pugnose minnow in PA waters.
Bluntnose Minnow Pimephales notatus
General identification: Size doesn’t define the minnow, but certain body characteristics separate it from other fishes, especially the similarappearing suckers. All minnow species have one brief dorsal fin, with nine or fewer soft rays (usually seven or eight). Minnows have well-defined cycloid, or smooth-feeling, scales, which may shed readily from the fish when it is handled. The anal fin is placed farther forward on minnows than it is on suckers. None of the minnows’ fins has true spines, but in the carp, some of the soft rays harden into what feel like horny spines. Minnows have no teeth in the jaw, but they do have one to three rows of toothlike structures on the pharnygeal bone, the bony structure that supports gill tissues. Thus, the pharyngeal “teeth” are in the throat, where they are used to grind the minnow’s food against a horny pad. Spawning minnow males, and occasionally females, develop horny nodules, called tubercles, or pearl organs, on the head, body or fins. The males also deepen in color or show additional red or yellow hues at spawning time. Except for a few extremes, most of the minnows are small fish, growing to less than 12 inches, sometimes much less, depending on the species.
Cutlips Minnow Exoglossum maxillingua
Life history: Minnows are found in many habitats, according to each species’ preference, from big lakes to small streams. Most minnows favor medium-sized, fairly warm, unpolluted rivers. Many of the minnows spawn in the spring to early summer, but some spawn in late summer. Most do not build nests for spawning, but scatter eggs randomly. Others, like the stoneroller, hollow out nesting sites in the bottom. Some, like the creek chub and fallfish, are known for the stone piles they build in streams, into which eggs are deposited. Because other minnows may also use these stone mounds for spawning, natural hybridization of minnow species occurs. Minnows may eat animal life, like insects, small crustaceans, clams, smaller fishes and fish eggs, or they may consume plants, like algae and other organic matter in the stream. The stoneroller is specially equipped to digest plant material. It has an extremely long intestine that wraps around its swim bladder.
Central Stoneroller Campostoma anomalum
Genera Notropis, Luxilus, Notemigonus
Genus overview: The shiners of the genera Notropis and Luxilus are the second largest group of freshwater fishes in North America, numbering 75 species. Nearly 20 shiner species have been collected in Pennsylvania recently. Some of Pennsylvania’s shiners are abundant. Others are so rare that they are candidates for the state’s endangered or threatened species list.
In Pennsylvania, the common shiner is indeed common and in all watersheds. Other shiners are limited in distribution. Shiners of the Susquehanna River and its tributaries include the comely, satinfin, spottail, swallowtail, rosyface, spotfin and mimic. The Potomac River watershed in Pennsylvania has the comely, satinfin, spottail, rosyface and spotfin shiners.
The Delaware River watershed has the comely, satinfin, bridle (rare), spottail, swallowtail, rosyface and spotfin. The ironcolor shiner was rediscovered in a tributary to the upper Delaware River. It may occur in the lower river, but its presence has not been confirmed.
The Genesee River watershed, flowing from extreme northcentral Pennsylvania north into New York state, may have the blackchin shiner, because this fish’s presence has been documented in the Genesee River watershed in New York.
The Allegheny and Ohio River watersheds have a wide diversity of shiners, including the emerald, ghost (rare, recorded from the Monongahela River), striped, bigmouth, spottail, silver, rosyface, spotfin, sand, redfin and mimic. The Lake Erie watershed in Pennsylvania has been confirmed to have the emerald, striped, blackchin (in Lake Pleasant), spottail, silver, rosyface, spotfin, sand, redfin and mimic.
Some Pennsylvania shiners are of unknown status, or they are believed to be extirpated (gone from the state). The popeye shiner was last seen in 1853 at the mouth of the Clarion River. The river shiner has been seen on rare occasions since 1886, in the Ohio and Monongahela rivers.
The common shiner and striped shiner are assigned to the scientific genus Luxilus. Most other small shiners are in the genus Notropis. The golden shiner is in the genus Notemigonus, and is common across Pennsylvania, found in all the major watersheds.
Identification: Many shiners grow to a length only of two or three inches, but the common shiner may reach 10 inches, and the golden shiner, 12. The spottail, silver and spotfin shiners can grow to more than four inches long. Most shiners are slender fish, except the common, striped and golden, which are deeper bodied and more robust-looking. There are no barbels around a shiner’s mouth, and there is a short, single soft-rayed dorsal fin. Shiners have pharyngeal teeth, toothlike structures in the throat, for grinding food. The scales, which look higher than they are wide, are very visible and reflect brilliant silver or brassy-gold tints, so the fish have a “shining” appearance. Some shiners display darkish lines along the side and may show tints of blue or green. During breeding time, shiners may add yellow or red to their coloration.
Emerald Shiner Notropis atherinoides
Rosyface shiner Notropis rubellus
Spotfin Shiner Cyprinella spiloptera
Habitat: Shiners are found in many habitats, according to their species. Some shiners, like the emerald, golden, spottail, sand and mimic, can be found in lakes and the slow areas of large streams. Others, including the satinfin, common, striped and spotfin, prefer cool, fast headwaters and small streams. Some shiners, like the swallowtail, are tolerant of muddy water. Many shiner species need water that is clear and clean. The bridle and ironcolor shiner can live in brackish water near the tide line.
Life history: Shiners are schooling fish. They feed, travel and spawn sometimes in very large groups. Shiners, especially abundant types like the common, golden and emerald, are important forage fish, providing food for larger fish and game fish. Anglers also use shiners for bait.
Shiner species show a variety of spawning behaviors. Some shiners, such as the satinfin and spotfin, deposit eggs in the crevices of submerged tree bark or in rock cracks. The males defend the spawning territory. Some shiners, including the emerald, bridle, spottail and mimic, broadcast their eggs randomly over gravel, sand or mud bottoms. Several shiners, like the common, rosyface and striped, spawn over the stone-mound nests of creek chubs and hornyhead chubs, allowing their eggs to fall into the crevices of the already built spawning site. Because several shiner species may use the same spawning location at the same time, hybridization is common. Shiners spawn from spring throughout summer, according to their species. They do not defend the nest after spawning. Some shiners are pelagic, living in open water and feeding at midwater and on the surface. Their feeding “dimpling” may look like raindrops on the water. Shiners eat zooplankton, small crustaceans, aquatic insects, terrestrial insects that fall into the water, algae and other plant material.
Genera Nocomis, Semotilus, Margariscus
Genus overview: In Pennsylvania, three members of the minnow family are commonly called “chubs.” They provide food for larger game fish. Some chubs, especially fallfish, may bite an angler’s bait or fly.
River chubs belong to the genus Nocomis. In Pennsylvania, river chubs include the hornyhead chub and river chub. The hornyhead chub is a Midwestern fish that enters Pennsylvania only in the Allegheny River watershed. It is found mostly in tributary streams in the state’s glaciated northwest region. The river chub has a very wide distribution in Pennsylvania, although its establishment in the Delaware River watershed is thought to be recent. The genus name “Nocomis” is an American Indian name that originally referred to these fishes.
The similarly appearing creek chubs are assigned to the genus Semotilus. In Pennsylvania they include the creek chub and fallfish. The smaller pearl dace (Margariscus margarita) is found in scattered locations in the state. It is never abundant, and is not found in the Lake Erie drainage. The genus name “Semotilus” means “spotted banner,” referring to the spot on the creek chub’s dorsal fin.
Identification: Chubs are stout-looking, cylindrical minnows, with large, reflective scales and a moderately large mouth. The river chubs (Genus Nocomis) all have yellow-orange to red fins. Their small eyes are set far up toward the top of the head. The creek chubs (Genus Semotilus) have a triangular flaplike barbel in the groove between the lip and snout. In all chubs, the males grow bigger than the females.
The hornyhead chub grows to about 10 inches. They are dark-olive to brown on the upper side and back, have green highlights on a yellow-brown side, and fade to light-yellow on the belly. A bright-red spot behind the eye appears on large males.
River chubs reach about one foot long. They are also dark-olive to brown on the back, shading to yellow-white on the belly, with a brassy, green iridescent side. The scales on the upper part of the body are darkedged, and appear outlined.
Pearl dace are dark olive-gray on top. They have many small black and brown specks on their silvery sides. The breeding male has a bright orange-red stripe along its lower side. Pearl dace rarely grow more than five inches long.
During breeding time, the head of male chubs swells and the fish develop large tubercles, or pearl organs. These fleshy knobs are found mostly on the top of the head, but sometimes on the fins or other parts of the chub’s body, according to the species. The males also brighten in color, with intense pink, orange, blue, green or purple hues on the body and fins. Creek chubs develop a rose-colored band along the side, and red surrounds the dark dorsal-fin spot.
Hornyhead Chub Nocomis biguttatus
Habitat: Chubs are fish of flowing water. The creek chub and hornyhead chub live in gravel riffles and quick-moving runs in small to moderate-sized cool streams. River chubs live in the rapid currents of rocky bottomed large creeks and small rivers. The less common pearl dace also thrives in the current of cool streams. The creek chub is tolerant of low oxygen situations, such as those caused by organic and coal mine pollution. It is present in a stream after almost all other fish have succumbed to water quality degradation.
Life history: All of the chubs build nests, except for the pearl dace. The males construct spawning sites in early summer by carrying river pebbles in their mouths, or pushing them with the snout one by one to build up a large pile in a riffle. When stream levels fall in the summer, the stone mounds may be left high and dry or they may protrude above the low water. The gravel piles become a curiosity, and a mystery, to those who don’t know that fish built them.
Creek chubs build gravel nests that look like underwater ridges, sometimes measuring six feet long. They add to the downstream side of the pile during the spawning season, lengthening it and aligning it with the current flow. The males defend the nest territory, while several females add eggs to the gravel pile. Female creek chubs produce 2,200 to 7,500 eggs a year. The eggs fall into the spaces between the rocks or are covered and protected by additional stones the male carries in.
Other minnows gather over the nest mounds and deposit their eggs as well, leading to some hybridization among species. After spawning is completed, chubs provide no care for the eggs or young. The eggs hatch and disperse on their own. Chubs feed on stream invertebrates, including aquatic insects, plant material, tiny crustaceans and mollusks. The larger chubs eat larger insect larvae and adults, as well as small fish. Surfacefeeding chubs, especially the creek chub and fallfish, are often caught by fly fishermen.
Species overview. The grass carp, or white amur, was introduced into the United States from East Asia in the 1960s as a potential food fish and to control aquatic vegetation. By 1976, the grass carp had been stocked in or spread to, by traveling rivers, 35 to 40 states. Grass carp are voracious feeders on aquatic vegetation, eating many pounds in a single day. Because of this double-edged trait, they are an option for pond owners as a non-chemical control of aquatic vegetation and algae. However, grass carp are also prolific spawners, and fisheries managers view their introduction with caution. Their release into the wild could have devastating effects on aquatic ecology, removing underwater vegetation that other water life depends on for food and cover.
In Pennsylvania, introducing grass carp into the state’s waters, or possessing them without a permit, is prohibited. However, a reproductively sterile version of the fish, called the triploid grass carp, is allowed under a tightly regulated permit, available through the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission. The triploid is created by physical alteration of grass carp eggs. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service tests each fish before it is sold or stocked to make sure it is sterile. The triploid then may answer the need for aquatic vegetation control on small waterways, without the potential problems of the fertile grass carp.
Identification: The grass carp looks somewhat like the common carp. Its color is olive to silvery-white, and it has large scales that are darkedged, with a black spot at the base. The fins are clear to gray-brown, and the body is relatively slender and compressed-looking for a carp. Unlike the common carp, grass carp do not have spiny modified rays at the leading edge of the dorsal and anal fins. Grass carp also do not possess barbels around the mouth.
Habitat: The natural habitat of the grass carp is lakes, ponds, pools and the backwaters of large rivers. In Pennsylvania it is allowed only by permit in ponds.
Life history: Unaltered grass carp are highly fertile. Each female produces one million or more eggs. The eggs must remain suspended in the current for several days before hatching, so grass carp need long stretches of flowing water for successful reproduction. They grow rapidly, to more than 10 pounds in just two years. They are not readily taken by anglers, because they feed almost entirely on aquatic vegetation, algae and some small bottom-dwelling invertebrates. They can grow to 50 pounds or more and about four feet long.
Species overview: Pennsylvania’s biggest minnow is not a native of this continent, or this hemisphere. It was originally distributed throughout Europe and Asia. It is not known exactly when carp were brought to the United States from Europe, probably the mid-1800s to late 1800s. Some earlier reports by European settlers of “carp” in North America are thought to be misidentifications of the quillback (see page 85). By 1880, the U.S. Fish Commission had distributed more than 12,000 carp to people in 25 states and territories to establish the fish in this country. Today, carp are found not only throughout the United States, where they are especially abundant in the fertile waters of the Mississippi River watershed, but they occur in all 67 Pennsylvania counties. Young carp are an important part of the aquatic food base. Larger carp are a fisherman’s challenge because of their tackle-testing weight. Carp are also pursued by bow fishermen, especially when the fish move into shallow water to spawn. The genus name “Cyprinus” is the old-world name for carp. “Carpio” is a Latinized word meaning “carp.”
Identification: Carp can be confused with feral (wild) goldfish, except that the carp grows much larger and has two pairs of soft, fleshy barbels around its mouth. Goldfish don’t have these barbels. The carp’s body is robust, deep and thick, and arched toward the dorsal fin. It has large scales that are dark-edged, with a black spot at the base. Most carp are heavily scaled, but two genetic mutants show either few, extremely large scales (the “mirror carp”) or no scales at all (the “leather carp”). Carp have a lengthy dorsal fin, with nearly 20 soft rays. The dorsal fin extends well along the back. The dorsal and anal fins have a sharp “spine,” actually, a hardened soft ray, on the front edge. The typical carp’s back is olive-brown to reddish brown, with the sides becoming silvery-bronze, brassy, or olive-gold. The belly is yellow or yellow-white. The caudal and anal fins are usually tinged with red. Carp generally grow to about 30 inches and 10 to 15 pounds. The Pennsylvania state record is over 50 pounds.
Habitat: Carp tolerate a variety of habitats, even heavily silted water or polluted water that most other fish cannot tolerate. They can also be found in clean streams, including the larger trout streams. When carp live in rivers, they inhabit the slower-flowing sections. They are also in ponds, lakes and reservoirs. Carp prefer shallow areas with plenty of underwater weed growth. But they can be found over any type of bottom, including mud, sand or gravel. Carp create their own turbidity, muddying the waters during their bottom-rooting feeding. They have been blamed for contributing to the decline of clean-water native fish, because their silt-stirring activities decrease light penetration. This inhibits plant growth, and causes mud to settle on and suffocate developing fish eggs.
Life history: Carp spawn in late spring to early summer, over aquatic vegetation. They may choose a shallow, weedy bay. After rains have swelled their home river over its banks, they may move into flooded fields to deposit eggs on submerged plants. The splashing of their spawning commotion in shallow water can often be seen and heard. Several males may spawn with a female, which can release up to two million tiny eggs. The carp parents abandon the eggs. The eggs adhere to submerged vegetation and to the bottom. They hatch in four or five days. Carp grow to four or five inches their first year. They mature in three or four years, and they can live to be about 20 years old. The carp is an omnivore, eating a wide variety of aquatic plants, algae, insect larvae and other invertebrates, and even small fish. Its usual feeding method is to disturb the bottom material with its snout and pick up the food it dislodges, usually kicking up clouds of silt. Carp have a well-developed sense of taste and a sensitive mouth. Their pharyngeal “teeth,” located in the throat, are adapted for crushing. The larger ones look like human molars.
Species overview: The common shiner is indeed common in Pennsylvania, and it is an important component for the food web in Pennsylvania stream ecosystems. The common shiner lives in all of Pennsylvania’s watersheds. It is found across southern Canada to Saskatchewan, and south to Kansas and Missouri in the Ohio and Mississippi River watersheds. It can be found in the Atlantic Coast states to Virginia’s James River.
Identification: The common shiner averages three to four inches in length, but may attain a length of eight inches. The back of this relatively deep-bodied fish is olive-green with a noticeable purple or blue-gray stripe, becoming silvery on the sides and white on the belly. The head of breeding males becomes swollen and pinkish purple, and it is marked with a dense covering of sharp tubercles that extends along the back to the dorsal fin. A single row of tubercles also is found along the hind corners of the lower jaw. The scales on each side are higher than they are wide. Their pigmentation makes it appear as if some scales are missing. The scales on the back just behind the head are small and crowded in irregular rows.
Habitat: The common shiner prefers streams of small to moderate size that are shaded with cool and clear water. It does not tolerate warmer or more silted conditions as well as other shiners.
Life history: Common shiners spawn at water temperatures of about 60 to 65 degrees, usually from May into July. The large range of the common shiner can probably be partly attributed to its spawning habitats, because it uses several habitats for this purpose. Common shiners spawn over gravel beds, depressions that they build in sand or gravel in flowing water, or the spawning sites of other fish, often including those of chubs. Males remain over nests to defend the eggs from predation.
Species overview: The river chub is one of Pennsylvania’s most common baitfishes, and it appears throughout the state. Its native range includes Atlantic watersheds from the Susquehanna River to Virginia, and from New York state west to Michigan and south to Alabama and Georgia. The name “micropogon” comes from Greek words that mean “small” (micro) and “beard” (pogon), referring to the fish’s barbel on the jaw.
Identification: Anglers sometimes catch large river chubs while fishing for other species. River chubs attain lengths of six to nine inches. The river chub has small eyes and a long snout. The back is olive-brown, shading to silvery on the sides above a pale-yellowish belly. The head of large breeding males becomes swollen between and behind the eyes. The head has fewer than 40 large, sharp tubercles above the snout but below the eyes. The pectoral fins are somewhat rounded and blunt-tipped, and a fleshy barbel is present at the rear angle of the jaws.
Habitat: The river chub prefers moderate- to high-gradient large streams or small rivers and fast, clean, cool water with bedrock bottoms and gravelly riffles.
Life history: In addition to the head swelling, breeding males grow tubercles on the head and develop blue and green body colors. Males hold stones in their mouths and build nests of mounds that can reach a diameter of 24 inches. The river chub males defend their nests, but they tolerate other minnow species using their large spawning sites. Their nests are built during the higher flows of spring and early summer. These nests are often visible as mounds of gravel left high and dry when flows dwindle in late summer.
The diet of the river chub includes small clams and aquatic insects. River chubs live about five years.
Species overview: The golden shiner is widely distributed from the Canadian Maritime provinces, throughout the eastern and central United States, to South America, and in many parts of the western United States. The golden shiner is one of Pennsylvania’s most common shiners. It can be found throughout the state. The golden shiner is most often used as bait. “Notemigonus” means “angled back,” and “crysoleucas” means “golden-white.”
Identification: Adults can reach sizes of seven to 10 inches, and may live as long as eight years. Anglers sometimes catch larger adults while fishing for other species. The golden shiner is deep-bodied with a small head. It has gold-colored sides and an olive-brown back. The sides sometimes reflect a silver color. The fins in the adult are yellow or light-olive, and silvery in the young. The smallest young, those smaller than about four inches, appear silvery all over, as do other shiners. Young golden shiners have a dark lateral stripe that becomes fainter as the fish grows, until it is absent in adults. The lateral line is curved noticeably downward.
The golden shiner’s body has cycloid scales, but the head has no scales. It has four to six teeth in one or two rows on the pharyngeal arches. There are no teeth in the mouth. The golden shiner has a single, spineless dorsal fin with eight rays. The anal fin has 11 to 13 rays and is deeply curved.
The belly between the pelvic and anal fins is raised in a sharp keel that bears no scales.
Habitat: The golden shiner can be found in the quieter portions of lakes, rivers and streams with clear water, a bottom of sand or organic debris, and much aquatic vegetation.
Life history: Golden shiners spawn in late spring through about mid-summer in water temperatures of 68 to 80 degrees. The female lays adhesive eggs in submerged vegetation. One or two males usually pursue the female, pushing the female with their snouts and moving in quick circles. Spawning males grow small tubercles on the top and sides of the head, and on the lower jaw.
Golden shiners feed on zooplankton and midge pupae. They also consume small mollusks, insect larvae, filamentous algae and terrestrial insects.
Species overview: The fathead minnow’s original range in Pennsylvania included the Appalachian Mountains and west. Today, this species is distributed statewide and appears most often in small, still waterways and slow-moving streams. The fathead minnow is a common baitbucket fish, propagated frequently because of its hardiness. This minnow is probably the most common baitfish sold in Pennsylvania. The fathead grows to a maximum size of about 3 1/2 inches. The name “promelas” comes from Greek words that mean “in front of” and “black,” referring to the color of the breeding male’s head.
Identification: The fathead minnow is yellow-olive or olive-colored on the back with hints of purple and copper in older fish. The sides become lighter with more yellow, fading to yellowish white or silver on the bottom. The fins appear tinted with silver or olive-yellow. The lateral line can be complete or incomplete. The fathead minnow’s body is completely scaled, with scales crowded in front of the dorsal fin. Breeding males develop tubercles on the snout and a gold-copper ring around the body right behind the head. The body of the breeding male darkens, and the head is almost black.
Habitat: Because the fathead minnow is so hardy, it tolerates a wide range of environments from clear water to cloudy water, and extremes of pH and low oxygen levels. Fathead minnows prefer slow-moving streams and still water.
Life history: Fathead minnows spawn from late spring into summer when water temperatures reach about 60 degrees. Males prepare nests by clearing a spot for the nest if it’s on the bottom, and they establish territories. Females lay their eggs in the nests, or underneath lily pads, stones and logs, and other objects. The male grooms the eggs, which are contained in viscous material so that they don’t scatter. Eggs hatch in six to nine days. Fathead minnows don’t often live past their third year.
Rhinichthys atratulus/Rhinichthys obtusus
Species overview: The blacknose dace is a common small minnow, distributed throughout the Mississippi and Great Lakes watersheds, and along the Atlantic Coast to North Carolina. There are two species in Pennsylvania–the western blacknose dace (Rhinichthys obtusus) in western Pennsylvania and the eastern blacknose dace (Rhinichthys atratulus) in the eastern part of the state. Both look virtually alike. The blacknose dace’s genus name “Rhinichthys” means “snout-fish,” and the species name “atratulus” is derived from a word that means “clothed in black.” Local Pennsylvania nicknames for this species are “redfin” and “redfin dace.”
Identification: The blacknose dace is a small, slender minnow that grows to about three inches long. They have the typical minnow’s short, single dorsal fin and a forked tail. The back is light or dark-brown, or gray. The sides shade lighter, toward a silvery-white belly. Sprinkled along the sides are dark scales that give the fish a spotted appearance. The blacknose dace’s most obvious characteristic is its black side stripe. The stripe runs from the snout through the eye, and along the length of the side to the tail. At breeding time, the males also have a rusty-orange or red stripe immediately below the black side stripe. In spawning season, males also acquire pads on the upper surface of the pectoral fins, and the pectoral and pelvic fins become yellow-white or orange. The blacknose dace’s cousin, the longnose dace, grows up to five inches long and is reddish brown to dark-olive, with scattered dark spots and a light belly. But it does not display the blacknose’s prominent black “racing” stripe on its side.
Habitat: Blacknose dace are creatures of flowing water. They are found in most of the small streams in Pennsylvania, but are typically in the moderate current of headwaters and springfed runs. Although they thrive in stream pools as well as rocky riffles, they won’t be found in the still water of lakes. The blacknose dace shares Pennsylvania with the longnose dace (Rhinichthys cataractae). Both dace are most often found in the same streams, but they use different habitats.
Life history: Blacknose dace spawn in spring, May to June, choosing a shallow, sandy or gravelly riffle. The males assemble over the spawning area and stake out territories, guarding a bit of underwater turf against other blacknose dace males. The males circle and seem to “dance” to attract females. Several females spawn on the male’s nest site or in a nearby similar area. Each female deposits some 750 eggs. The eggs fall in or on the gravel and the parents abandon them to develop on their own. Blacknose dace live only three or four years. They feed on the tiny invertebrate animal life they find on the stream bottom, including blackfly and midge larvae, as well as diatoms and algae.
Species overview: The longnose dace can be found throughout North America and northern Mexico. It occurs more often in the eastern United States than in our western states. In Pennsylvania the longnose dace is most abundant in swift-flowing streams with gravelly bottoms, although it does appear in some lakes.
Identification: Adults reach a length of four or five inches. On the upper sides and back, the longnose dace is reddish brown to dark-olive. The sides are lighter, sometimes with a faint darker lateral band, fading to silver or white on the bottom. Dusky scales are scattered along the sides, making the longdose dace appear mottled. The fins are transparent to light-green. The anal, pectoral and pelvic fins of spawning males are red, as are the lips. Spawning males develop large tubercles on the rays of the pectoral fins. The mouth is nearly horizontal, and the snout projects well beyond the mouth. The pelvic and dorsal fins have eight rays. The pectoral fins have 13 to 15 rays. The longnose dace has a barbel at the tip of the jaw.
Habitat: The longnose dace prefers swift riffles in cold or cool fast-moving streams, most often trout streams in Pennsylvania. Their downward-sloping head assists them in maintaining their position in the water column in the fast riffles they prefer. Longnose dace feed on aquatic insects, including mayflies, blackflies and midge larvae. Longnose dace occur throughout Pennsylvania.
Life history: Longnose dace usually spawn in the spring, from April into June. Spawning sites include areas over gravel or sand in fast water. Males defend the spawning site by butting and biting intruders. Each female lays some 200 to 2,000 adhesive, transparent eggs, which hatch in seven to 10 days at about 60 degrees.
Species overview: The creek chub is one of the most common stream fishes in central and eastern North America, and it is found in all of Pennsylvania’s watersheds. Creek chubs are usually associated with transitional streams–streams that contain water temperatures typically warmer than coldwater streams and cooler than warmwater streams. Their adaptability has allowed them to establish and maintain a statewide distribution. Creek chubs are a popular bait fish.
Identification: The creek chub may attain a length of 10 inches, but the length averages closer to four inches. The body is nearly cylindrical, tapering at the head and tail. The back is light to dark-olive, shading to silvery on the sides with purple-violet reflections above a silvery-white belly. The dorsal fin has a dark spot at the lower front corner. The head and body of breeding males are tinged with rose-purple, blue, yellow or orange. A single row of six to 12 large tubercles extends backward from the front of the snout to a point above and just behind each eye. Smaller tubercles are found on the gill cover and on the first six to eight rays of the pectoral fins.
Young creek chubs are more silvery than adults. The young also have the spot on the dorsal fin. A narrow black band extends along the middle of each side from the eye to the caudal fin base. It ends in a dark spot.
Habitat: Creek chubs prefer the deeper pools of small and mediumsized streams, but they can also be found in lakes and ponds.
Life history: Creek chubs spawn in spring when water temperatures reach about 55 degrees. Males build nests by pushing pebbles with their snouts and carrying them in their mouths. The nest is a row of gravel in line with the current flow. Males dig a depression at the downstream end of the pebble line. Some creek chub nests can be as long as about six feet. Males vigorously defend their nests. Young creek chubs feed on aquatic invertebrates. Adult creek chubs eat small fish, larger invertebrates and crayfish.
Species overview: The fallfish is a species of the East Coast, ranging from Canada to Virginia. The fallfish lives in the Susquehanna, Delaware and Potomac River watersheds in Pennsylvania. It is Pennsylvania’s largest native minnow. Its name “corporalis” is a Latin word that means “bodily,” but it could also reference the military rank and the fish’s aggressive behavior.
Identification: Fallfish may attain lengths of about 18 inches, but they average half that. The back is olive-brown to black, shading to silvery on the sides. The belly is white. The side scales in adults are marked with a dark triangular bar at the front corners, so they appear outlined. Fallfish less than four inches are silvery with a prominent wide, dark band extending along the middle of each side. This band extends from the eye to the base of the caudal fin where it ends in a large spot. The caudal fin is forked with sharp-pointed lobes. The fallfish has a small barbel between the lip and snout, like the pearl dace and creek chub.
Habitat: Fallfish prefer clear, clean, gravelly pools and slower-flow areas of large streams. They can also be found in lakes.
Life history: Fallfish spawn when water temperatures reach about 58 degrees. The male clears an area and digs a small pit. Then he gathers pebbles and gravel in his mouth and builds a mound. In still water, mounds are round, but in flowing water, the nest angles downstream. The largest nests can be six feet across and a foot or two high. Eggs hatch in about six days. Males vigorously defend the nests with displays that include flaring the gill covers and spreading the fins. Fallfish live about 10 years.