Territorial and mating calls of the Sheepshead Minnow – Cyprinodon variegatus

Sheepshead Minnow - Cyprinodon variegatus - Male
Sheepshead Minnow – Cyprinodon variegatus – Male

In the beautiful town of Emerald Isle, NC, there is a small retention pond that was dug to control runoff at the Wildlife Resources Commission boat ramp.

Ponds like this are really interesting places to collect fishes, as they offer freshwater (or very low salinity water) directly adjacent to the saltwater sound. In these environments you can often find amphidromous fishes such as the Large-scaled Spinycheek Sleeper, various gobies, Sheepshead Minnows, as well as juvenile Atlantic Tarpon or Ladyfish. In an effort to see which species were calling this pond home, we left a camera recording for a bit amongst the plentiful algae pillars, and were surprised not so much at what we saw on the film, but rather at what we heard.

To be fair, we weren’t sure what exactly we were hearing at first, but it appeared to be coming from the Sheepshead Minnows, as the volume increased whenever they swam into the frame. It was a clicking sound that was similar to the grinding of teeth in short bursts. It turns out, Sheepshead minnows are known to be quite noisy little fish! In a 2008 paper titles “Sound production by the sheepshead minnow, Cyprinodon variegatus” authors Paul Nicoletto and Sommer Linscomb thoroughly documented these sounds noting:

Male sheespshead minnows produced acoustic signals in seven behavioral contexts including: patrolling the territory, chasing, hovering on the territory, courting, fighting, spawning, and during the startle response.

We aren’t sure if the sounds we are hearing in this video are mating signals, territorial disputes, or just water cooler chatter, either way we thought it neat enough to share! So check out the video below, listen carefully and maybe you can translate for us?

Nicoletto, Paul & Linscomb, Sommer. (2008). Sound production by the sheepshead minnow, Cyprinodon variegatus. Environmental Biology of Fishes. 81. 15-20. 10.1007/s10641-007-9189-6.

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