Minnows

Most of our minnows, like our songbirds, breed in spring and many male minnows, like male songbirds, advertise their reproductive fitness with brilliant colours.

June 8, 2021 | | Notes from the Wild

Minnows, to most of us, are any small fish. But scientifically, minnows are a family unto themselves, the Cyprinidae. Forty species live in Ontario.

Minnows swim well below the radar of even the most seasoned naturalists. Birders revel in the springtime appearance of beautiful warblers, grosbeaks and tanagers. Wildflower fanciers get misty-eyed over trilliums and bloodroot.

Redside dace are exquisite, especially in spring, when the males are daubed crimson along their flanks. Photo by Don Scallen.

But overlooked is the concealed beauty that flourishes under the surface of our ponds and streams. Most of our minnows, like our songbirds, breed in spring and many male minnows, like male songbirds, advertise their reproductive fitness with brilliant colours.

One video in this blog features redside dace, an endangered minnow species found in Headwaters. Redside dace are exquisite, especially in spring, when the males are daubed crimson along their flanks.

As sight feeders, with a penchant for leaping out of the water to capture low flying insects, redside dace need clear streams. Muddy run-off caused by erosion imperils their survival.

The second video features three species of minnows far more common than redside dace. They are gathered, in an exuberance of mating, on a gravel nest.

The large minnow with the strange bulbous head in the middle of the swarm is a river chub. The nest is his work, constructed by picking up stones in his mouth. After female chub mate with him, their eggs fall into cracks between the stones.

The lovely pink-hued fish dominating the video are male common shiners. Female shiners take advantage of the chub’s hard work by laying their eggs in his nest.

Common shiner. Photo by Don Scallen.

Longnose dace are also present. They are the smaller minnows with bold black stripes on their flanks. Alas, the interest of these dace is not reproductive but gastronomic. They eat the eggs laid by the larger minnows.

Minnows are worthy of notice. They offer beauty and wonder to discerning naturalists willing to get their feet wet.

About the Author More by Don Scallen

Don Scallen enjoys sharing his love of nature through his writing and presentations. Check out his blog "Notes from the Wild".

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