Pimephales promelas
Pimephales promelas
(Fathead Minnow)
Native Transplant
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Pimephales promelas Rafinesque, 1820

Common name: Fathead Minnow

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: Moyle (1976a); Becker (1983); Page and Burr (1991); Etnier and Starnes (1993); Pflieger (1997).

Size: 10 cm.

Native Range: Over much of North America from Quebec to Northern Territories, and south to Alabama, Texas, and New Mexico (Page and Burr 1991).

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Puerto Rico &
Virgin Islands
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Guam Saipan
Native range data for this species provided in part by NatureServe NS logo
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences: This species is known from the Mobile Bay basin and the Chattahoochee and Tennessee river drainages in Alabama (Smith-Vaniz 1968; Lee et al. 1980 et seq.; Boschung 1992; Mettee et al. 1996); the Colorado River basin, Paria Rive, and Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Arizona (Miller and Lowe 1967; Minckley 1973; Lee et al. 1980 et seq.; Tilmant 1999) and Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge (USFWS 2005); various drainages in Arkansas including the Red, White, Ouachita, and St. Francis, and other Mississippi River tributaries (Lee et al. 1980 et seq.; Cross et al. 1986); various sites in California including the lower Colorado River in southern part of state and the Klamath, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Suisun Bay and Pajaro drainages in central and northern part of state and the Presidio of San Francisco Park (Shapovalov et al. 1959; Moyle 1976a; Bell 1978; Lee et al. 1980 et seq.; Smith 1982; Swift et al. 1993; Dill and Cordone 1997; Tilmant 1999; Sommer et al. 2001; Matern et al. 2002); the upper Colorado River basin in Colorado (Vanicek et al. 1970; Tyus et al. 1982; Woodling 1985; Walker 1993); all of the major and most of the coastal drainages in Connecticut (Whitworth et al. 1968; Lee et al. 1980 et seq.; Whitworth 1996); Mill Creek in Delaware (Raasch and Altemus 1991; C. Martin, personal communication); Stiles Pond, Jackson Lake (Ochlocknee drainage), Lake Hollingsworth, Hillsborough River, Lake Okeechobee, and Mill Dam in Florida (Swift et al. 1977; FLMNH database); the Coosawattee River, Atlantic Slope and upper Mobile Bay basin drainages in Georgia (Miller and Jorgenson 1969; Dahlberg and Scott 1971a, 1971b; Walters 1997; Mettee 1996); various Pacific Northwest drainages in Idaho (Linder 1963; Simpson and Wallace 1978; Idaho Fish and Game 1990); various sites (most unspecified) in Kentucky (Branson and Batch 1983; Burr and Warren 1986); the Ouachita River drainage and other lower Mississippi River tributaries in Louisiana (Douglas 1974; Lee et al. 1980 et seq.) and an unnamed tributary to Big Branch Bayou, St. Tammany Parish in 2005 (Piller, pers. comm.); the Penobscot and (possibly) Kennebec river drainages in Maine (Schmidt 1986; museum specimen) and numerous upland waters throughout the state (Halliwell 2003); Maryland including the Potomac and upper Chesapeake drainages amd Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park (Schwartz 1963; Lee et al. 1976; Tilmant 1999) and the Youghiogheny River system (Monongahela River drainage) (Hendricks et al. 1979); several water bodies in Massachusetts including the Housatonic River drainage, the Concord system, the Connecticut River drainage, and a pond in Amherst (Hartel 1992; Hartel et al. 1996); unspecified sites in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota (Eddy and Underhill 1974; Phillips et al. 1982; Becker 1983); several river drainages in Mississippi including the Pearl, Pascagoula, and Yazoo (Lee et al. 1980 et seq.; Ross and Brenneman 1991); various sites in the Ozarks of Missouri (Pflieger 1975, 1997); portions of the upper Missouri River drainage and a site in the Flathead River system (Columbia River drainage) in Montana (Lee et al. 1980 et seq.), Stillwater River (Mann 2004) and Benton Lake Wetland Management District (USFWS 2005); unspecified sites in Nebraska (Bouc 1987); several river drainages in North Carolina including the New, Broad, Dan, Catawba, Roanoke, and Tennessee (Hocutt et al. 1986; Menhinick 1991); the Androscoggin River system (Kennebec River drainage) in New Hampshire (Scarola 1973; Schmidt 1986); several tributaries of the Colorado River basin in New Mexico (Koster 1957; Lee et al. 1980 et seq.; Tyus et al. 1982; Sublette et al. 1990); the lower Colorado River, Virgin River, Washoe Lake, Lake Mead and Moapa River in Nevada (Bradley and Deacon 1967; Lee et al. 1980 et seq.; Deacon and Williams 1984; Vinyard 2001; Tilmant 1999); various sites in Ohio including waters east of the Allegheny Front Escarpment and possibly elsewhere (Trautman 1981); various water bodies in southeastern Oklahoma (Miller and Robison 1973; Lee et al. 1980 et seq.); Oregon including the Upper Klamath Lake basin and a site in the Snake River drainage (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1993e; Bond 1994; DeLong 1997; Simon and Markle 1997); several river drainages in Pennsylvania including the Monongahela (Ohio River basin) and the Delaware, Sinnemahoning, Pine, Juniata, Bald Eagle, and Susquehanna (Hendricks et al. 1979; Cooper 1983; Hocutt et al. 1986); found in the Saluda River, Broad River, and Wateree River in South Carolina (Rhode et al. 2009); scattered areas in Tennessee (Ryon and Loar 1988; Etnier and Starnes 1993); portions of river drainages in Texas including the lower Rio Grande, the lower Brazos, the Sabine, the San Antonio Bay, the Nueces, and a tributary of the Red River (Lee et al. 1980 et seq.; Conner and Suttkus 1986); the upper Colorado River basin and Utah Lake (Great Basin), Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Dinosaur National Monument, and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and White River in Utah (Sigler and Miller 1963; Vanicek et al. 1970; Lee et al. 1980 et seq.; Lanigan et al. 1981; Tyus et al. 1982; Sigler and Sigler 1987, 1996; Tilmant 1999); various drainages in Virginia including three in the Atlantic Slope, the Potomac, York, and Roanoke, and as many as four major drainages in the Ohio River basin, the New, Holston, Clinch-Powell, and Big Sandy (Hocutt et al. 1986; Jenkins and Burkhead 1994, Starnes et al. 2011); an unspecified site in Washington (Fletcher, personal communication); Atlantic Slope and Ohio River basin drainages in West Virginia (Hocutt et al. 1986; Stauffer et al. 1995); and Colorado River basin and tributaries of the Missouri River drainage in Wyoming (Lee et al. 1980 et seq.; Tyus et al. 1982).

The Fathead Minnow is also estblished in four reservoirs and several ponds in Puerto Rico (Erdsman 1984).  Specimens have been reported in non-specific locations in Puerto Rico (Lee et al 1983).

Means of Introduction: The popularity of this species as a baitfish and forage fish has led to widespread introductions. For example, Smith-Vaniz (1968) noted that this species is commonly used as a bait minnow and as a forage species in many farm ponds throughout Alabama; he concluded that records from that state's streams and impoundments were probably the result of introductions by anglers or escapes from nearby ponds. First recorded in Arizona in 1952, Minckley (1973) noted that the morphology of introduced populations in that state indicates a southwestern origin, most likely New Mexico or Texas. According to Shapovalov et al. (1959), the first record of Pimephales promelas in California is from a bait tank near the Colorado River in 1950. Shortly thereafter private interests, and also the Department of Fish and Game, imported the species for propagation. The resulting fish were distributed to a number of California waters to serve as forage for sport fishes (Shapovalov et al. 1959). Moyle (1976a) noted that as the bait industry grew, the species spread throughout California. According to Bell, the species may have spread into the Santa Clara River system, California, in imported water. Native to east slope rivers of Colorado, this species apparently was introduced to western parts of the state via bait bucket releases or as fish stock contaminants, or both (Woodling 1985). Pimephales promelas was found in Mill Creek, Delaware, in 1988, where it was probably introduced as a bait bucket release (Raasch and Altemus 1991). Swift et al. (1977) noted that specimens taken from two sites in Leon County, Florida, including Stiles Pond in 1958 and Jackson Lake in 1968, "are unquestionably the result of bait fish introductions." In Idaho, this species was introduced to two sites as a forage fish for bass, including ponds on the Perrine Trout Farm in Twin Falls County in about 1945 and Quayle Lake in Jefferson County in 1955 (Simpson and Wallace 1978). Burr and Warren (1986) noted that many Kentucky records are probably the result of deliberate introduction, but they did not provide details. Branson and Batch (1983) attributed the occurrence of Pimephales promelas in Meadow Creek, Kentucky, to a probable bait bucket release. Douglas (1974) noted that P. promelas has been transported from northern states and used as a forage fish in state and private fish hatcheries in Louisiana. He also reported the discovery of specimens in waters adjacent to some hatcheries and suspected that increased numbers entering Louisiana as a commercial bait import will, perhaps, result in wider distribution. Hendricks et al. (1979) remarked that the presence of this species in the Youghiogheny River drainage in Maryland may be the result of bait bucket introduction. Similarly, Hartel et al. (1996) attributed Massachusetts records to probable bait bucket releases. Eddy and Underhill (1974) noted that this species was important in the Minnesota bait industry and sold to local dealers and to out-of-state customers as far away as Florida and New Mexico. It also has been introduced to various water bodies in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota as a mosquito control agent (Eddy and Underhill 1974; Phillips et al. 1982). Ross and Brenneman (1991) considered its occurrence in parts of Mississippi to be due to introduction, most apparently the result of bait fish release; however, they noted that P. promelas in the Bogue Chitto system was "unfortunately released in a restoration effort by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks following a fish kill." Pflieger (1997) stated that most records from the Missouri Ozarks are probably the result of bait bucket releases or individuals that have escaped from minnow hatcheries. Although native to much of Nebraska, this species also has been introduced as food for gamefish in that state (Bouc 1987). Scarola (1973) stated that the single New Hampshire record, from a tributary of the Androscoggin River, may well be traced to the importation of this species as a bait fish. In their book on New Mexico fishes, Sublette et al. (1990) stated that it was introduced (apparently as a bait release) into the San Juan and Gila drainages by at least the 1950s, and into the Zuni and San Francisco drainages by the 1960s. Trautman (1981) remarked that the species was introduced to parts of Ohio outside its native range as a result of plantings by the conservation department and escapes from minnow buckets of anglers. Hendricks et al. (1979) stated that the presence of this species in the Youghiogheny drainage of Pennsylvania may be the result of bait bucket introductions. Ryon and Loar (1988) noted that a reproducing population in the White Oak Creek area (Clinch River system) of Tennessee resulted from escaped fish that had been used as food in various experiments and as test species for toxicological evaluations (also see Simon and Markle 1997). The presence of this species in one or more other areas in Tennessee may have been the result of bait bucket release (Etnier and Starnes 1993). Hubbs et al. (1991) presumed that the presence of this minnow throughout much of Texas is a result of bait releases. Sigler and Sigler (1987) stated that it was introduced in Utah Lake, Utah, as forage in 1969. Jenkins and Burkhead (1994) stated that the earliest record of capture in Virginia is 1950 and that Virginia populations likely are the result of bait bucket release or hatchery escapes. For example, these researchers noted that the York drainage record in Virginia may represent an escape from the Stevensville Hatchery and that the probable source of the South Fork Holston records is ponds at Buller Hatchery. According to Pearson and Krumholz (1984), reports of this species from the upper 300 miles of the Ohio River are possibly the result of bait bucket releases since the fathead is imported and sold extensively throughout the Ohio River basin. Becker (1983) reported the stocking of Pimephales promelas in sewage treatment ponds in Wisconsin and presumably elsewhere; however, he did not make clear reference to introductions into open waters of that state.

Red roseys, the aquarium variant of this species, have also been collected from an unnamed tributary to Big Branch Bayou in Lacombe, Louisiana, near a tropical fish farm in 2004 (K. Piller, pers. comm.).

Status: Established in most states where introduced. Pflieger (1997) noted that few self-sustaining populations occur in natural waters of the Missouri Ozarks. Jenkins and Burkhead (1994) remarked that it is unknown how many, if any, Virginia populations are stable. They commented that the species probably exists in numerous reservoirs and farm ponds. Swift et al. (1977) remarked that the establishment of this species in Florida is uncertain (Swift et al. 1977). Gilbert (personal communication) informed us that the species has never become established in Florida, even though it is sold in bait shops throughout that state. Starnes et al. (2011) suggest that this species rarely becomes established where introduced, and that records sporadic records from the Potomac drainage represent survivors from bait releases rather than breeding populations.

Impact of Introduction: Largely unknown. This species has been implicated as an adverse threat to young of the Colorado Pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus lucius), an endangered species (Karp and Tyus 1990). There is also concern that this species, as well as other introduced fishes, may compete with or prey on young suckers and thereby contribute to the decline of imperiled species including the Lost River Sucker (Deltistes luxatus) and Shortnose Sucker (Chasmistes brevirostris) in Oregon and northern California (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1993e). Fathead Minnow has a similar diet composition to juvenile Bluehead (Catostomus discobolus) and Flannelmouth (Catostomus latipinnis) Suckers, indicating the potential for competition over food resources (Zahn Seegert et al. 2014).

Introduced fishes, including Pimephales promelas, are likely at least partially responsible for the decline of the Chiracahua leopard frog Rana chiricahuensis in southeastern Arizona (Rosen et al. 1995).

Remarks: The popularity of Pimephales promelas as a bait fish and the ease with which it is propagated have led to widespread introductions both within and outside its native range. However, because the species has been so widely introduced, its natural range is somewhat obscure. Consequently, the literature is somewhat confusing and, in part, contradictory concerning the native versus nonnative distribution. For instance, Boschung (1992) noted that it apparently is not native to Alabama, and Etnier and Starnes (1993) indicated that its status as native in Tennessee also is uncertain. In addition, some early reports of this species actually pertain to Pimephales notatus (Jenkins and Burkhead 1994). Schmidt (1986) listed this species as introduced to several river drainages in the northern Appalachians including the Delaware, Hudson, Connecticut, Kennebec, and St. John; however, he stated that the "status of P. promelas as native or introduced in the Hudson River is problematic." Based on their dot distribution map, Lee et al. (1980 et seq.) considered records from the Hudson River drainage in New York and a record from the Androscoggin River system (Kennebec drainage) in northern New Hampshire to be part of its native distribution. Hocutt et al. (1986) listed Pimephales promelas as introduced to nine river drainages in the Central Appalachians and Central Atlantic coastal plain including the Pee Dee, Roanoke, York, Potomac, Susquehanna, Muskingum, Allegheny, Monongahela, and Little Kanawha; they listed it as introduced (but possibly native) to the Kanawha above and below the falls. In their summary table of West Virginia fishes, Stauffer et al. (1995) listed it as introduced to several river drainages including the Potomac, Monongahela, Little Kanawha, and the Kanawha above and below the falls. Jenkins and Burkhead (1994) noted that it was native to the Tennessee and Big Sandy drainages, but they considered all populations in Virginia as well as those in extralimital parts of the New drainage to have been introduced. In their summary table of Virginia fishes, Jenkin and Burkhead listed Pimephales promelas as introduced to the Potomac, York, Roanoke, and York river drainages, and introduced (but possibly native) to the Holston, Clinch-Powell, and Big Sandy river drainages. In his summary table on fishes introduced to North Carolina, Menhinick (1991) listed this species as introduced to the New, Broad, Catawba, and Roanoke river drainages, and probably introduced to the Tennessee River drainage. Etnier and Starnes (1993) indicated that substantial reproducing populations are not known from natural habitats in Tennessee and "suggests the fathead may not be indigenous to the region." Although currently widespread in Tennessee, Etnier and Starnes also remarked that the species was not reported or collected during early fish surveys and reports. Walters (1997) listed this species as introduced to the Conasauga River system in Georgia. Ross and Brenneman (1991) considered it to be introduced to two systems (Leaf River and Bogue Chitto systems) that are part of the Gulf of Mexico Basin in Mississippi and likely introduced to the Yazoo River drainage (Mississippi River basin).

On a broad geographic scale, Minnesota and Nebraska are well within the boundaries of the native range of Pimephales promelas. Nevertheless, it is likely that this minnow was introduced to sites within parts of one or more sites in these state where it was previously absent. Cross et al. (1986) listed it as introduced to several river drainages in the western Mississippi River basin including Ouachita, the lower Arkansas, the White, and the St. Francis-Little. In their summary of fishes of the western Gulf Slope, Conner and Suttkus (1986) listed Pimephales promelas as introduced to several drainages including the Nueces, San Antonio Bay, and Sabine Lake; they listed it as native to the Colorado, Brazos, and Galveston Bay drainages. Lee et al. (1980) indicated that the species was native to eastern Montana and introduced to many sites in the central part of the state; however, Holton (1990) listed it as native to Montana and did not discuss the possibility of introduction. Tyus et al. (1982) gave a map showing the distribution of this species in the upper Colorado basin. Lee et al. (1980 et seq.) provided a dot distribution map distinguishing between what was considered native records versus those thought to represent introduced records.

References: (click for full references)

Bradley, W. G. and J. E. Deacon. 1967. The biotic communities of southern Nevada. Nevada State Museum Anthropological Papers No. 13, Part 4. 201-273.

Erdsman, D.S.  1984.  Exotic fishes in Puerto Rico, p 162-176, In:  W.R.Jr. Courtenay and J.R.Jr. Stauffer, eds. Distribution, Biology, and Management of Exotic Fishes. John Hopkins. Baltimore and London.

Karp, C.A. and H.M. Tyus. 1990. Behavioral interactions between young Colorado squawfish and six fish species. Copeia 1990(1):25-34.

Lanigan, S. H. and C. R. Berry Jr. 1981. Distribution of Fishes in the White River, Utah. The Southwestern Naturalist, 26(4): 389-393.

Matern, S.A., P.B. Moyle, and L.C. Pierce. 2002. Native and alien fishes in a California estuarine marsh: twenty-one years of changing assemblages. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society. 131: 797-816.

Miller, R.R. and C.H. Lowe. 1967. Part 2. Fishes of Arizona, p 133-151, In: C.H. Lowe, ed. The Vertebrates of Arizona. University of Arizona Press. Tucson.

Piller, K. - Southeastern Louisiana University.

Rohde, F. C., R. G. Arndt, J. W. Foltz, and J. M. Quattro.  2009.  Freshwater Fishes of South Carolina.  University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, SC. 430 pp.

Rosen, P.C., C.R. Schwalbe, D.A. Parizek, Jr., P.A. Holm, and C.H. Lowe. 1995. Introduced aquatic vertebrates in the Chiricahua region: effects on declining native ranid frogs. Pages 251-261 in DeBano, L.H., P.H. Folliott, A. Ortega-Rubio, G.J. Gottfried, R.H. Hamre, and C.B. Edminster, eds. Biodiversity and management of the Madrean Archipelago: the sky islands of southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. US Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. Fort Collins, CO.

Starnes, W.C., J. Odenkirk, and M.J. Ashton. 2011. Update and analysis of fish occurrences in the lower Potomac River drainage in the vicinity of Plummers Island, Maryland—Contribution XXXI to the natural history of Plummers Island, Maryland. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 124(4):280-309.

Sommer, T, B. Harrell, M. Nobriga, R. Brown, P. Moyle, W. Kimmerer, and L. Schemel. 2001. California's Yolo Bypass: Evidence that flood control can be compatible with fisheries, wetlands, wildlife, and agriculture. Fisheries. American Fisheries Society. 26 (8): 6-16.

Tilmant, J.T. 1999. Management of nonindigenous aquatic fish in the U.S. National Park System. National Park Service. 50 pp.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1993. Lost River (Deltistes luxatus) and shortnose (Chamistes brevirostris) sucker recoery plan. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, Portland, Oregon.

Vinyard, G.L. 2001. Fish Species Recorded from Nevada. Biological Resources Research Center. University of Nevada, Reno. 5 pp.

Zahn Seegert, S.E., E.J. Rosi-Marshall, C.V. Baxter, T.A. Kennedy, R.O. Hall, and W.F. Cross. 2014. High diet overlap between native small-bodied fishes and nonnative Fathead Minnow in the Colorado River, Grand Canyon, Arizona. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 143(4):1072-1083.

Other Resources:
Florida Museum of Natural History - Ichthyology Collection Database.  University of Florida.  http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/Collection/collection.htm

FishBase Summary

Author: Leo Nico, Pam Fuller, and Matt Neilson

Revision Date: 2/17/2015

Peer Review Date: 4/1/2016

Citation Information:
Leo Nico, Pam Fuller, and Matt Neilson, 2018, Pimephales promelas Rafinesque, 1820: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=621, Revision Date: 2/17/2015, Peer Review Date: 4/1/2016, Access Date: 3/25/2018

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Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2018]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [3/25/2018].

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