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Minnows

The Minnow Family In North America

About 200 species of fish in the minnow family are native to North America, with about 100 of them included in a single genus, Notropis, most of which are commonly called shiners. Minnows native to North America are all small species, while several larger, Eurasian species have been introduced to North America and now occur in self-sustaining populations.

The most widespread native species is the common or silver shiner (Notropis cornutus), which is virtually ubiquitous in many surface waters east of the Mississippi in the United States and is also widespread in eastern Canada. This species is important as a forage fish, and as a baitfish.

The pearl or northern dace (Semotilus margarita) is a widespread species that is especially important in brown-colored, boggy waters. The fallfish (S. corporalis) occurs in northeastern North America, and can grow as large as 18 in (45 cm), and is sometimes eaten by people.

The golden shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas) occurs throughout the Great Lakes and Hudson Bay drainage, and is an important forage fish and common baitfish. The fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas) has a similar distribution and is also used as a baitfish.

The stoneroller (Campostoma anomalum) digests nutrients out of the copious quantities of mud that it ingests. The stoneroller has an enormously long intestine that coils 15 times around its air bladder.

In addition to the various native members of the minnow family, several species have been introduced to North America. The most familiar introduced species is the common carp (Cyprinus carpio). This fish is commonly cultivated as food in Europe and Asia, and it was released to many North American lakes in the hope of establishing a food resource that many immigrants would like to eat. Unfortunately, the common carp has caused some important ecological damage in many of the waterbodies where it has become established, resulting in the displacement of native species of fish and other animals and damage to aquatic vegetation.

The goldfish (Carassius auratus) has also been introduced to many ponds and lakes in North America, either deliberately as an ornamental fish, or more-or-less accidentally when unwanted pet goldfish were released into nearby ponds, or just flushed down a toilet. Like the common carp, alien populations of goldfish cause important ecological damage in many of the places where they have become well established.


Resources

Books

Lee, D.S., C.R. Gilbert, C.H. Hocutt, R.E. Jenkins, D.E. McAllister, and J.R. Stauffer. Atlas of North American Fishes. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State Museum of Natural History, 1994.

Whiteman, Kate. World Encyclopedia of Fish & Shellfish. New York: Lorenz Books, 2000.

Winfield, I.J. and J.S. Nelson, eds. Cyprinid Fishes: Systematics, Biology, and Utilization. New York: Chapman and Hall, 1991.


Bill Freedman

KEY TERMS

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Aquaculture

—The cultivation of fish as an agricultural crop for consumption by humans as food. Aquaculture is generally carried out in artificial ponds.

Bait fish

—Small fish that are used as live bait to catch larger fish.

Food web

—The feeding relationships within an ecological community, including the interactions of plants, herbivores, predators, and scavengers.

Forage fish

—This refers to small fish that are eaten by larger, economically important fish.

Omnivore

—An animal that eats a wide variety of foods, including plant and animal matter.

Planktivore

—A fish that feeds on small crustaceans in the water column.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Methane to Molecular clockMinnows - The minnow family in North America