Photo credit: © FISHBIO
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Species at a Glance
The red shiner is in the genus Cyprinella, which is Greek for “small carp”. While this hardy, widespread shiner is native to the Midwestern U.S., its use as a baitfish has allowed its introduction into habitats outside of its native range.
The red shiner is a deep-bodied species with a highly arched back. Its flanks are mixed olive-green and silver, with bright orange fins and a large orange spot that sits between the eyes on its blunt, sloped brow. Spawning males become bluish on the sides and the fins redden. There are 7-8 rays in the dorsal fin and 8-10 (usually 9) rays in the anal fin. Maximum size is only 9 cm (3.5 in). The red shiner can crossbreed with other minnow species, such as the blacktail shiner (Cyprinella venusta) and the endangered blue shiner (Cyprinella caerulea), producing hybrids that may also have a faint caudal spot.
While easily confused with most other minnows, including the golden shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas), the redfin shiner (Lythrurus umbratilis), the rudd (Scardinius erythrophthalmus), and the roach (Rutilus rutilus), the outstanding characteristics of the red shiner are the vibrant orange fins and the orange spot between the eyes.
While it’s found in a variety of habitats, the red shiner prefers silt disturbed streams and muddy riverbeds where it doesn’t have to compete with other minnows for food.
The red shiner was most likely introduced through intentional release from both recreational fishing and more recently, through the aquarium trade. Its extended mating season, coupled with the versatile nature of the eggs, allows this species to spread quickly throughout habitats.
The red shiner is native to a large portion of the U.S. Midwest, reaching from central North Dakota to the southernmost point of Texas along the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Currently, the red shiner is established in the Mid-Atlantic region in Virginia and North Carolina.
Note: Distribution data for this species may have changed since the publication of the Mid-Atlantic Field Guide to Aquatic Invasive Species (2016), the source of information for this description.
Known to eat small invertebrates, the red shiner is in direct competition with native fish and invertebrates for food. The red shiner also has adaptive advantages over other cyprinids because it can lay eggs in tight crevices and attach adhesive eggs to rocks and plant life.
Information for this species profile comes from the Mid-Atlantic Field Guide to Aquatic Invasive Species (2016).