Thursday, August 11, 2011

Pays to Know a Biologist: #29 Spottail Shiner

 While fishing in the Connecticutt River in Colbrook we hooked an interesting little minnow that was feeding in and around the rocks. We caught it on a small piece of worm intended for a round whitefish. This little guy had seen better days since half of his tail was nearly gone. 

Even with his injury, this fish could swim around and find food. 
We knew it was a minnow, but what species?  We tried to use a key to identify it but we thought maybe it was a creek chub or some kind of dace.  

At 3.5 inches this fish ranks close to the smallest fish we ever  caught. 
We knew we were way out of our league when it comes to identifying minnows, so we emailed the pictures to Matt Carpenter and Ben Nugent, the nongame fisheries biologists at NH Fish and Game.  We soon heard back that we had caught a spottail shiner (Notropis hudsonius)! It was like having a winning lotto ticket because that was a new fish for us.  We then sent another set of mystery fish pictures to the guys and heard back that it was a young fallfish - win some you lose some. 

The number of rays in a fish's dorsal fin is usually a distinguishing factor that leads to  identification. Sopttails have eight. rays.  
The key to identifying a spottail shiner is a combination of features and habitat. In a healthy specimen the dark spot on the tail is a sure giveaway, but ours was a bit beat up and so other features became important for identification  According to Ohio DNR webpage, " The dorsal fin is set rather far forward compared with most other shiners and is closer to the head than the tail. The rear edge of the dorsal and anal fins is concave and there are 8 rays in the anal fin. The mouth is slightly sub-terminal (ending below tip of snout) and the snout protrudes beyond the upper jaw. "
The mouth is slightly below the snout. 
We also bet that Ben and Matt had surveyed that section of the river and probably ran into many of these fish while netting or electoshocking.  The Connecticut River is cold and clear in Colebrook, supporting a rather narrowly defined assemblage of fish species. Also after catching and identifying thousands of fish, biologists often just know by looking at a fish what it is.

A good amount of the tail was gone, but enough to identify it. 
Big thanks to NH Fish and Game for the help. We accept whatever they say when it comes to fish identification.

A rather distinct head shape once you know what to look for. 
We are now 19 away from catching the 48 freshwater fish in New Hampshire listed at the NH Fish and Game website.  It is time to write the book about our adventures which will be a combination of our newspaper stories and detailed accounts. We are looking for a publisher, so let us know if you know one. 


  1. Nah, that's a Lake Chub. Scales are way too small for a spottail (a simple LL scale count would show that - ~40 for spottail, ~50 - ~70 for lake chub) and the mouth is terminal, not subterminal.

    1. We are out of our league with this type of fish ID so we rely on the experts... Maybe you are an expert too? Anyway we appreciate any help and will double check this fish with Fish and game... too bad we ate it so we don't have to actual fish for a real life comparison.

  2. Firstly, I love your site. I've always been curious as to the edibility of the "less targeted" species. I just happened to catch a bunch of decent fallfish yesterday. Your site makes me want to go back and keep them! But yeah, whoever is doing the fish ID for you at F&G needs to be fired. From what I can see from your pics, this is quite likely a lake chub. It is most certainly NOT a shiner species. And the other shiner that F&G originally pegged as a bridle shiner, then said it was a lake chub... they are way off. From the pics, it looks like it is a blackchin shiner (note the pic with it's mouth open - the bottom jaw is dark). Blacknose/bridle shiners are light.