(See Fish Gallery Below)
This is the largest and most ecologically diverse family of freshwater fishes. Over 290 species of minnows occur in North America; 67 species are known from Virginia. The term minnow commonly refers to any small fish, but rightly is reserved for fish in this family. Most are small (<6") shiners, dace, chubs, and minnows that like to school, feed on insects and algae, serve as prey for sport fish. They are found in a wide variety of habitats in streams, rivers and lakes throughout North America. |
The largest native American minnow is the endangered Colorado pikeminnow (up to 6 feet in length, 100 pounds in weight); the fallfish (to 15 inches) is the largest native minnow in Virginia. Some species such as the introduced European carp and grass carp grow large (up to 50 pounds) and can outcompete native species. Goldfish, another exotic fish that compete with native fishes, is continuously introduced into surface waters by misguided pet owners.
Minnows are prolific (2 million eggs/carp) spring-spawners that broadcast adhesive eggs over aquatic plants and other substrate. Some species of chubs build large gravel nest mounds to spawn over, while others are cavity spawners. Adult minnows feed widely on plant and animal material, using their characteristic pharyngeal teeth for grinding weeds, clams, and insect from bottom muds. Some species such as the stonerollers and chiselmouth feed almost exclusively on algae by scraping it from stream bottom rocks. Herbivorous species have long, coiled guts because digesting plant materials requires longer intestines than need by insect feeders. Bottom-rooting by carp destroys water plants, lowers water clarity and photosynthesis, and increases turbidity.
Some species such as the fathead minnow, golden shiners, goldfish, and others are farmed and sold as bait fish to anglers for recreational sport fishing. Because of their intermuscular bones carp and other minnows are not highly prized as food fish in the United States. However, the flesh of chubs and carp can be tasty, and carp is a preferred food fish in Asia and Europe. Many of these minnows are hardy, attractive, and lively for use in home aquaria.