Fathead Minnow

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Fathead minnow side view photo with black background

Cyprinidae (minnows) in the order Cypriniformes (carps, minnows and loaches)

The fathead minnow is chubby, with a blunt, rounded snout, short, rounded fins, a dusky stripe along the midside, and a spot at the base of the tail fin. Breeding males are mostly black with yellowish bars encircling the body behind the head and beneath the dorsal fin, and a distinctive fleshy pad that develops behind the head only during the spawning season.

Total length: 1 1/2 to 2 3/4 inches; maximum about 3 inches.

Lives in schools in mid water or near the bottom. Occurs in streams of all sizes but is most abundant only in the pools of small prairie creeks, because of its tolerance for high temperatures, extreme turbidity, and low oxygen. Such relatively high water temperatures and low oxygen levels commonly occur during dry, summer weather, when prairie creeks sometimes recede to a series of shallow pools. Also occurs in shallow, silty sloughs along the floodplains of prairie rivers.

Omnivorous, feeding on mostly algae and other plant material with some animal matter ― aquatic insects and small crustaceans.

Occurs in small prairie streams in northern Missouri where it is most abundant in intermittent pools.

Spawning occurs in our state in May through August. Eggs are deposited on a variety of submerged objects, and males remain with the eggs until they hatch. Males release a waterborne chemical substance that attracts females to the site. As many as 12,000 eggs have been found in a single nest. A female may spawn more than 12 times in a single summer and produce 4,000 or more offspring. Individuals rarely live longer than three years.

This hardy fish is well-suited for propagation in ponds. It is often stocked as prey for game fish and is commonly sold for bait. It seldom is abundant enough in waters containing large game fish populations to be of much value as a forage fish.

Because it survives in stagnant pools of intermittent prairie creeks in midsummer, this species, with the hardy creek chub, black bullhead, and green sunfish, often constitute the entire fish population of such creeks. In habitats supporting many other fishes, fathead minnows are seldom abundant.

Missouri has more than 200 kinds of fish, more than are found in most neighboring states. Fishes live in water, breathe with gills, and have fins instead of legs. Most are covered with scales. Most fish in Missouri “look” like fish and could never be confused with anything else. True, lampreys and eels have snakelike bodies — but they also have fins and smooth, slimy skin, which snakes do not.

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I'm a writer who focuses on the outdoors and travel. I share my time between Alaska and Colorado, where, when I'm not writing, I enjoy camping, kayaking, hiking, fishing, and skiing (often with dogs in tow). My byline may also be seen in publications such as The New York Times, National Geographic, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, and others.


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