“Minnow” Species (Families Cyprinidae, Xenocyprididae, and Leuciscidae) Diversity in North Carolina

By the NCFishes.com Team

Luxilus coccogenis
Warpaint Shiner – Luxilus coccogenis

Next to our native darters (Family Percidae), our native species of minnows rival the brightly colored tropical fishes one would find in your local or big-box pet store, yet few people are aware of their existence. You might have heard people calling them Horny-Heads, Baltimore Minnows, Minnows, Knotty Heads, Horned Daces, Shad Roaches, Spawn Eaters, Minners, Crappie Minnows, or many other colloquial names. But each species has its own scientific (Latin) name, which coincidentally actually means something (please refer to The Meanings of the Scientific Names of Minnows, page 33-36), and an American Fisheries Society-accepted common name (Page et al. 2013)

“Minnows” until recently were classified in the family Cyprinidae, along with Common Carp, Goldfish, and Grass Carp. Our indigenous (native) species, 68 species in total, are now classified in the family Leuciscidae, a former subfamily of cyprinid fishes (Tan and Armbruster 2018). The nonindigenous (nonnative or introduced) Grass Carp is now classified in the family Xenocyprididae (Tan and Armbruster 2018); and the nonindigenous Common Carp and Goldfish remain in the family Cyprinidae.

There are 71 species of “minnows” in North Carolina (Table 1), including 13 species found in only one river basin (Table 2), 3 species waiting to be scientifically described, and a few which may be re-named or split into additional species (Tracy et al. 2020). [Please note: Tracy et al. (2020) may be downloaded for free at: https://trace.tennessee.edu/sfcproceedings/vol1/iss60/1.] Distributional maps for every species may be found in Tracy et al. (2020). [Please note: see Supplemental Map Nos. 1-3 , page XXX, showing North Carolina’s 100 counties, 21 river basins, and 4 physiographic regions.] The family Leuciscidae is our most diverse family of North Carolina’s freshwater fish assemblage (Tracy et al. 2020).

A few superlatives associated with our “minnow” fauna:

  1. Two species are found in each of our 21 river basins — Common Carp and Golden Shiner
  2. Two species are found nowhere else in the World – Pinewoods Shiner, and Cape Fear Shiner
  3. The smallest and largest native species — Bridle Shiner (~50 mm Standard Length) and Ironcolor Shiner (~55 mm Standard Length) and Bull Chub (~270 mm Standard Length)
  4. The prettiest species (our opinion) – Mountain Redbelly Dace, Fieryblack Shiner, Warpaint Shiner, and Taillight Shiner
  5. The most non-descript species — Eastern Silvery Minnow
  6. Most unusual looking mouth and lips – Cutlip Minnow, Tonguetied Minnow, Kanawha Minnow, and Fatlip Minnow
  7. The rarest species – Bridle Shiner
  8. The most geographically restricted species – Cape Fear Shiner, Tonguetied Minnow, Cutlip Minnow, Spotfin Chub, Rosyface Chub, Yellowfin Shiner, Bridle Shiner, Striped Shiner, Notropis sp. “Kanawha” Rosyface Shiner, Kanawha Minnow, New River Shiner, Bigmouth Chub, and Sandhills Chub
  9. The most commonly encountered and abundant species — Central Stoneroller (Mountains), Bluehead Chub (Piedmont), and Dusky Shiner, Highfin Shiner, and Swallowtail Shiner (Coastal Plain)
Nocomis leptocephalus
Bluehead Chub – Nocomis leptocephalus

In terms of species diversity:

  1. The basin with the most number of species – Catawba with 27 indigenous and 7 nonindigenous species
  2. The basin with the fewest number of species – Shallotte with 4 indigenous (Golden Shiner, Ironcolor Shiner, Dusky Shiner, and Coastal Shiner) and 2 nonindigenous (Grass Carp and Common Carp)
  3. The basin with the most number of introduced species – Yadkin with 12 nonindigenous species – Goldfish, Common Carp, Grass Carp, Central Stoneroller, Mountain Redbelly Dace, Red Shiner, Greenfin Shiner, Warpaint Shiner, Rosefin Shiner, Comely Shiner, Swallowtail Shiner, and Fathead Minnow
  4. The basins with least number of introduced species – Albemarle, Shallotte, and Waccamaw, each with two species (Common Carp and Grass Carp)
Erimystax insignis
Blotched Chub – Erimystax insignis – Nolichucky

Indigenous vs. Nonindigenous Species

  1. 3 species introduced into North Carolina from outside the U.S. – Common Carp, Grass Carp, and Goldfish
  2. 2 species introduced into North Carolina from other states – Red Shiner and Fathead Minnow
  3. 20 species that are indigenous to North Carolina have been introduced into other basins within North Carolina
  4. These introductions are often the result of bait bucket dumping by fishermen, or for aquatic plant management (Grass Carp), or historically by the aquaculture trade (Common Carp)
Cyprinella lutrensis
Red Shiner – Cyprinella lutrensis

No species have been extirpated from our state, but three species have been extirpated from a portion of their native ranges. For example, Spotfin Chub is no longer found in the French Broad basin; Spotfin Shiner is now absent from the Hiwassee basin as is Eastern Silvery Minnow from the Waccamaw basin. And because many minnow species are endemic to specific basins, 18 species are considered imperiled in North Carolina (Table 4; NCAC 2017; NCWRC 2017; NCNHP 2018).

Key characteristics for their proper identification include the presence/absence of a frenum; lateral stripe width and length; lateral line scale count; the number of un-pored lateral line scales; the positioning and pigmentation of the dorsal fin, the anal ray count, presence of spines vs. rays, the position of the mouth, the pharyngeal teeth count, the presence/absence and length and shape of maxillary barbels, the overall color pattern; and the geographical distributions of the species (please refer to the Identification Key to the Barbs and Carps, Asian Carps, and Minnows (Families Cyprinidae, Leuciscidae, and Xenocyprididae) in North Carolina. Many species can easily be told apart from one another. However, the identification of minnows with 7 or 8 anal rays and immature and female Nocomis spp., where species co-occur, can be very challenging.

If you have troubles with your identifications, just send us (https://ncfishes.com/contact/) an e-mail and include as many quality digital photographs as you can along with all the pertinent locality descriptors so that we will know from where the fish came.

Table 1. “Minnow” species (Families Cyprinidae, Xenocyprididae, and Leuciscidae) found in North Carolina. Common names enclosed within tick marks (“) are scientifically undescribed species.
Family, Scientific Name, Family, Scientific Name,
American Fisheries Society Accepted Common NameAmerican Fisheries Society Accepted Common Name
Carassius auratus, GoldfishNocomis raneyi, Bull Chub
Cyprinus carpio, Common CarpNotemigonus crysoleucas, Golden Shiner
XenocyprididaeNotropis alborus, Whitemouth Shiner
Ctenopharyngodon idella, Grass CarpNotropis altipinnis, Highfin Shiner
LeuciscidaeNotropis amoenus, Comely Shiner
Campostoma anomalum, Central StonerollerNotropis bifrenatus, Bridle Shiner
Chrosomus oreas, Mountain Redbelly DaceNotropis chalybaeus, Ironcolor Shiner
Clinostomus funduloides, Rosyside DaceNotropis chiliticus, Redlip Shiner
Clinostomus sp. "Hiwassee" DaceNotropis chlorocephalus, Greenhead Shiner
Clinostomus sp. "Smoky" DaceNotropis cummingsae, Dusky Shiner
Cyprinella analostana, Satinfin ShinerNotropis hudsonius, Spottail Shiner
Cyprinella chloristia, Greenfin ShinerNotropis leuciodus, Tennessee Shiner
Cyprinella galactura, Whitetail ShinerNotropis lutipinnis, Yellowfin Shiner
Cyprinella labrosa, Thicklip ChubNotropis maculatus, Taillight Shiner
Cyprinella lutrensis, Red ShinerNotropis mekistocholas, Cape Fear Shiner
Cyprinella monacha, Spotfin ChubNotropis micropteryx, Highland Shiner
Cyprinella nivea, Whitefin ShinerNotropis petersoni, Coastal Shiner
Cyprinella pyrrhomelas, Fieryblack ShinerNotropis photogenis, Silver Shiner
Cyprinella spiloptera, Spotfin ShinerNotropis procne, Swallowtail Shiner
Cyprinella zanema, Santee ChubNotropis rubricroceus, Saffron Shiner
Cyprinella sp. "Thinlip" ChubNotropis scabriceps, New River Shiner
Erimystax insignis, Blotched ChubNotropis scepticus, Sandbar Shiner
Exoglossum laurae, Tonguetied MinnowNotropis spectrunculus, Mirror Shiner
Exoglossum maxillingua, Cutlip MinnowNotropis telescopus, Telescope Shiner
Hybognathus regius, Eastern Silvery MinnowNotropis volucellus, Mimic Shiner
Hybopsis amblops, Bigeye ChubNotropis sp. "Kanawha" Rosyface Shiner
Hybopsis hypsinotus, Highback ChubNotropis sp. "Piedmont" Shiner
Hybopsis rubrifrons, Rosyface ChubPhenacobius crassilabrum, Fatlip Minnow
Luxilus albeolus, White ShinerPhenacobius teretulus, Kanawha Minnow
Luxilus cerasinus, Crescent ShinerPimephales notatus, Bluntnose Minnow
Luxilus chrysocephalus, Striped ShinerPimephales promelas, Fathead Minnow
Luxilus coccogenis, Warpaint ShinerRhinichthys atratulus, Eastern Blacknose Dace
Lythrurus ardens, Rosefin ShinerRhinichthys cataractae, Longnose Dace
Lythrurus matutinus, Pinewood ShinerRhinichthys obtusus, Western Blacknose Dace
Nocomis leptocephalus, Bluehead ChubSemotilus atromaculatus, Creek Chub
Nocomis micropogon, River ChubSemotilus lumbee, Sandhills Chub
Nocomis platyrhynchus, Bigmouth Chub
Table 2. “Minnow” species found in only one river basin in North Carolina.
River BasinSpecies
NewBigmouth Chub, New River Shiner, Kanawha Minnow, Notropis sp. "Kanawha" Rosyface Shiner, Tonguetied Minnow
Little TennesseeClinostomus sp. "Smoky" Dace
HiwasseeClinostomus sp. "Hiwassee" Dace
SavannahRosyface Chub
CatawbaGreenhead Shiner
BroadNotropis sp. "Piedmont" Shiner
RoanokeEastern Blacknose Dace, Cutlip Minnow
Cape FearCape Fear Shiner
Table 3. “Minnow” species that have been introduced into North Carolina from outside the United States (*), from outside North Carolina (**), or which have been transferred from one river basin into a new river basins from within North Carolina.
Family, SpeciesFamily, Species
Goldfish*Rosefin Shiner
Common Carp*Bluehead Chub
XenocyprididaeGolden Shiner
Grass Carp*Whitemouth Shiner
LeuciscidaeComely Shiner
Central StonerollerRedlip Shiner
Mountain Redbelly DaceTennessee Shiner
Rosyside DaceYellowfin Shiner
Greenfin ShinerSwallowtail Shiner
Whitetail ShinerSaffron Shiner
Red Shiner**Mirror Shiner
Highback ChubMimic Shiner
Crescent ShinerFathead Minnow**
Warpaint Shiner
Table 4. Imperiled “minnow” species in North Carolina (NCAC 2017, NCNHP 2018, and NCWRC 2017). *Federally Endangered; **Federally Threatened.
Level of ImperilmentSpecies
EndangeredBridle Shiner, Cape Fear Shiner*
ThreatenedSpotfin Chub**, Rosyface Chub, Mimic Shiner
Special ConcernClinostomus sp. "Hiwassee" Dace, Clinostomus sp. "Smoky" Dace, Cutlip Minnow, Cyprinella sp. "Thinlip" Chub, Striped Shiner, Yellowfin Shiner, Kanawha Minnow, Sandhills Chub
Significantly RareBlotched Chub, Tonguetied Minnow, Ironcolor Shiner, Highland Shiner, Notropis sp. "Kanawha" Rosyface Shiner

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