Fundulus kansae 

Northern plains killifish



Type Locality

Kansas (Garman 1895).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Fundulus, from the Latin name Fundus, meaning "bottom," the habitat (Pflieger 1997); kansae refers to the type locality.



Fundulus kansae Garman 1895:103-104.

Plancterus kansae Hubbs 1926:15.

Fundulus liancoe Miller 1955:11-12.

Fundulus zebrinus Hubbs et al. 1991:31-32.


Kreiser et al. (2001) and Kreiser (2001) presented data supporting the recognition of two species of plains killifish: Fundulus kansae and Fundulus zebrinus.



Maximum size: 100 mm TL (Shute and Allen 1980; Page and Burr 1991).


Coloration: Silvery, with a series of 12-26 thin dark vertical bars located along the sides and dorsum (bars narrower and more numerous in females than in males); back olive-brown, sides and belly silvery-white; fins plain or yellowish in females and immature individuals, bright yellowish-orange in breeding males (Koster 1957; Pflieger 1997; Hubbs et al. 2008).


Counts: 53 (47-60) scale rows in lateral series (Texas specimens; Hubbs et al. 2008). Poss and Miller (1983) reported that lateral scale row counts varied from 47-67 [based on specimens from the Canadian River (47-60); Cimarron River (47-59); Arkansas River (50-62); Missouri River (51-67); Republican, Saline, and Smoky Hill rivers (48-67); Platte River (50-67); Cheyenne River (60-67); Bighorn River (56-61) populations]; specimens from the Colorado River, Arizona had 41-54 lateral scale rows. Dorsal ray count varied from 12-17 [for specimens from the Canadian River, 15 (13-16); Cimarron River, 15 (14-16); Arkansas River, 15 (14-16); Missouri River, 15 (13-16); Republican, Saline, and Smoky Hill rivers, 15 (14-16); Platte River, 16 (15-17); and Bighorn River, 15 (12-16)]; anal fin ray counts varied from 11-16 [ for populations in the Canadian River, 13 (11-14); Cimarron River 13 (12-15); Arkansas River, 14 (12-15); Missouri River, 13 (12-15); Republican, Saline, and Smoky Hill rivers, 14 (12-15); Platte River, 14 (12-15); and Bighorn River, 14 (13-16; Poss and Miller 1983). 52-64 lateral scale rows (Hubbs 1926; Koster 1957).


Body shape: Compressed, moderately elongated body with large head, wide mouth, and projecting lower jaw (Koster 1957).


Mouth position: Terminal; lower lip large and fleshy (Sublette et al. 1990).


External morphology: Lateral scales small; gill slit not extending dorsal to uppermost pectoral fin ray; distance from origin of dorsal fin to end of hypural plate less than distance from origin of dorsal fin to preopercle or occasionally about equal to that distance (Hubbs et al 1991; Hubbs et al. 2008). The least width of the preorbital, the flat bone between the eye and the mouth, is only one-half to two-thirds as great as the diameter of the eye (Koster 1957). Dorsal fin long and rounded; pectoral and pelvic fins ovate, pectorals much larger than pelvics; anal fin elongate, sharply angulate; caudal fin truncate (Sublette et al. 1990). Male has slight depression in the region of the urogenital papilla; female has an oviducal sheath surrounding the urogenital region and the anterior edge of the anal fin (Bonham 1962). Males possess small slender contact organs, hooked forward, on the anal fin and adjacent portion of the body (Hubbs 1926).


Internal morphology: Both jaws with villiform bands of teeth, external row enlarged (Sublette et al. 1990).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Native to Mississippi River and Gulf Slope basins from north-central MO to central WY, and south to TX. Also present, and thought to be introduced, in upper Missouri River basin, SD, MT, and WY (Page and Burr 1991); introduced into Colorado drainage in Utah and Arizona (Poss and Miller 1983; Page and Burr 1991; Stone et al. 2007); also, occurring in the Colorado River, Colorado (Hughes 1981). In New Mexico, occurs in the Canadian River drainage and the Dry Cimarron (tributary of the Arkansas River of northeastern New Mexico) drainage (Sublette et al. 1990). Found in the Platte, Republican and Smoky Hill drainages; the Arkansas, Cimarron, North Canadian, and Canadian drainages (drainages north of but not including the Red River; Kreiser et al. 2001).


Texas distribution: Canadian River (Kreiser 2001).


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, NGO)

Populations in the southern United States are currently stable (Warren et al. 2000). Species is abundant throughout the southern Great Plains of the United States (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Ponds, streams, rivers (Cross and Moss 1987); found in small, loosely organized schools composed of fish of the same general size (Bonham 1962; Minckley and Klaassen 1969b).


Mesohabitat: Cross and Moss (1987) reported that species inhabits shallow, turbid waters over sandy-bottom, with slow to moderate current and elevated dissolved solids. Normally found in shallow (rarely deeper than 15 cm), sandy-bottomed streams; many localities highly alkaline or saline (Minckley and Klaassen 1969; Shute and Allen 1980). Griffith (1974) reported a high salinity tolerance of 89% for the species, this in accordance with its occurrence in inland saline waters; Bonham (1962) provided data showing that the species is well suited to a saline environment. Fish observed in pools when water temperature was as high as 35°C.  During periods of inactivity, it often lies buried in the sand with only its head showing. This behavior may allow the fish protection from the effects of high temperature by allowing a decrease in metabolism; also, the sand is considerably cooler than the water (Bonham 1962). Minckley and Klaassen (1969a) noted that schooling F. kansae, when alarmed, will respond as a unit in flight or concealment; the latter achieved by burying in the substrate.



Spawning season: Occurs from June – August (Hubbs and Ortenburger 1929; Koster 1948); spawning observed at water temperature of 27.7°C (Koster 1948). In Missouri, during the spawning period from early June to early August, there may be three or more separate periods of spawning activity during the spawning season. In Salt Creek, Missouri, each spawning period follows a moderate or heavy rain, which suggests that spawning activity is stimulated by a sudden freshening of the water or a change in water temperature (Bonham 1962).


Spawning habitat: Occurs in small pools over sand and gravel bottom in water 6-10 cm depth (Koster 1948; Carlander 1969).


Spawning Behavior: Males do not establish territories but become aggressive toward each other while spawning and compete vigorously for the attentions of the females; spawning occurs during a brief pairing of a single male and female (Koster 1948). The eggs are deposited over sand or gravel and rubble in water less than 10 cm deep; eggs are left unguarded (Koster 1948; Minckley and Kaassen 1969b). Bonham (1962) found eggs are buried beneath the sand (Bonham 1962).


Fecundity: Bonham (1962) provided data for a population in Missouri: the average number of mature eggs in the ovary of the most dominant length group, 35-65 mm TL, was 25 eggs; a 75 mm TL female contained 106 mature eggs; smaller females, 35-40 mm TL, rarely contained over 20 eggs, and some females had only 3-5 mature eggs in the ovary with approximately the same number of immature eggs; average number of eggs produced by an individual during the spawning season was 15.


Age/size at maturation: In Missouri, fish attained sexual maturity at one year of age, and at a length of approximately 35 mm TL. In the Smokey Hill River, Kansas, fish became sexually mature in the 2nd summer of life (smallest mature female was 41 mm TL); age group II was the major spawning group, as they were larger and more vigorous (Minckley and Klaassen 1969b).




Growth and Population structure:  In a Missouri population, there appeared to be two age groups present in May: age group I fish measured 31-45 mm TL, and age group II fish measured from 52-62 mm TL; in June, there was a new peak in the 8-18 mm TL range which represented recruitment of young-of-the-year (Bonham 1962). In the Smokey Hill River, Kansas, main age classes were I and II, with young-of-the-year (0) making up a third class in early summer: young-of-the-year measured about 35 mm TL at the end of their first year, and reached 50 mm TL by the following summer; maximum observed size of two-year-old fish was 76 mm TL (Minckley and Klaassen 1969b).


Longevity: Most individuals do not live past 2nd year (Minckley and Klassen 1969b).


Food habits: Omnivorous (Shute and Allen 1980). Generalist feeder, in Salt Creek, Missouri, with bulk of diet composed of insects and other aquatic invertebrates; fish consumed diatoms and other plant material when invertebrates are difficult to obtain; when diatoms were few in number, fish consumed large amounts of sand as they fed on the available layer of diatoms that grew over the sandy bottom (Bonham 1962). While adapted for top-feeding, this species will feed on the bottom in shallow sandy streams, primarily ingesting insect larvae, especially those of Chironomidae and Ephemeroptera (Minckley and Klaassen 1969b). Bottom-feeding is achieved when the head is tilted downwards and forced into the substratum past the eye (referred to as “digging” or “nipping”; Echelle 1971).


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes

Fundulus kansae differs from F. zebrinus (plains killifish) in having smaller scales, smaller eyes, and a less robust body; F. kansae with 53 (47-60) scale rows in lateral series and yellow orange fins on large male; F. zebrinus with 47 (42-50) scale rows in lateral series and bright red fins on large male (Hubbs 1926; Page and Burr 1991; Hubbs et al. 2008). Fundulus zebrinus is found in the Pecos, Red, and Brazos rivers (Kreiser 2001; Kreiser et al. 2001). F. kansae has 12 or more vertical dark bands marking the sides; these bars will distinguish this species from live-bearers of similar shape

(Koster 1957).


A genetic survey revealed that Fundulus kansae populations from the Colorado River (site: Grand Junction, Mesa County, Colorado) and Yampa River (sites: Morgan Gulch, Stinking Gulch and Lay Creek, Colorado) drainages grouped with F. kansae populations from the East Arkansas, West Arkansas, Cimarron, Canadian and North Canadian rivers (Kreiser et al. 2000); the study also revealed that introduced Fundulus kansae in the San Juan River drainage (site: Cross Creek Canyon, San Juan Co., Utah) grouped with populations of F. zebrinus from the Brazos, Red and Pecos rivers (Kreiser et al. 2000).


Host Records

Myxosoma funduli Kudo 1918 (Protozoa: Myxosporida) reported from the South Platte River, Nebraska (Knight et al. 1980). The copepod Lernaea cyprinacea Linnaeus 1758 reported from the South Platte River, Nebraska (Adams 1984).


Commercial or Environmental Importance

In Kansas, populations have decreased or been eliminated in western streams due to highly intermittent flow resulting from irrigation withdrawals (Cross and Collins 1995).



Adams, A.M. Infestation of Fundulus kansae (Garman) (Pisces: Cyprinodontidae) by the copepod Lernaea cyprinacea Linnaeus, 1758, in the South Platte River, Nebraska. American Midland Naturalist 112(1):131-137.

Bonham, L.E. 1962. Ecology of a saline spring, Boone's Lick. M.A. Thesis, Univ. Mo., Columbia. 89 pp.

Carlander, K.D. 1969. Handbook of Freshwater Fishery Biology. Volume 1. Iowa State University Press, Ames. 752 pp.

Cross, F.B., and R.E. Moss. 1987. Historic changes in fish communities and aquatic habitats in plains streams of Kansas, pp. 155-165. In: Matthews, W.J., and D.C. Heins (Eds.), Community and evolutionary ecology of North American stream fishes. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. 299 pp.

Cross, F.B., and J.T. Collins. 1995. Fishes in Kansas. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence. 315 pp.

Echelle, A.A. 1971. Diurnal periodicity of activities in the plains killifish, Fundulus zebrinus kansae. Proc. Oklahoma Acad. Sci. 51:3-7.

Garman, S. 1895. The Cyprinodonts. Mem. Mus. Comp. Zool. 19:1-179.

Griffith, R.W. 1974. Environment and salinity tolerance in the genus Fundulus. Copeia 1974(2):319-331.

Hubbs, C., and A.I. Ortenburger. 1929. Further notes on the fishes of Oklahoma with descriptions of new species of Cyprinidae. Publ. Oklahoma. Biol. Surv. 1(2):17-43.


Hubbs, C., R.J. Edwards, and G.P. Garrett. 1991. An annotated checklist of the freshwater fishes of Texas, with keys to identification of species. Texas Journal of Science, Supplement 43(4):1-56.


Hubbs, C., R.J. Edwards, and G.P. Garrett. 2008. An annotated checklist of the freshwater fishes of Texas, with keys to identification of species. Texas Journal of Science, Supplement, 2nd edition 43(4):1-87.

Hubbs, C. L. 1926. Studies of the fishes of the order Cyprinodontes. VI. Material for a revision of the American genera and species. Misc. Publ. Mus. Zool. Univ. Mich. 16:1-86.


Knight, S.A., J. Janovy, Jr., and W.L. Current. 1980. Myxosoma funduli Kudo 1918 (Protozoa: Myxosporida) in Fundulus kansae (Pisces: Cyprinodontidae): Annual prevalence and geographic distribution. The Journal of Parasitology 66(5):806-810.

Koster, W.J. 1948. Notes on the spawning activities and the young stages of Plancterus kansae (Garman). Copeia 1948(1):25-33.


Koster, W.J. 1957. Guide to the Fishes of New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque. 116 pp.

Kreiser, B.R. 2001. Mitochondrial cytochrome b sequences support recognition of two   cryptic species of plains killifish, Fundulus zebrinus and Fundulus kansae. American Midland Naturalist 146:199-209.


Kreiser, B.R., J.B. Mitton, and J.D. Woodling. 2000. Single versus multiple sources of introduced populations identified with molecular markers: a case study of a freshwater fish. Biological Invasions 2:295-304.

Kreiser, B.R., J.B. Mitton, and J.D. Woodling. 2001. Phylogeography of the plains killifish, Fundulus zebrinus. Evolution 55(2):339-350.

Miller, R.R. 1955. An annotated list of the American cyprinodontid fishes of the genus Fundulus, with the description of Fundulus persimilis from Yucatan. Occ. Papers Mus. Zool. Univ. Mich. 568:1-25.

Miller, R.J., and H.W. Robison. 2004. Fishes of Oklahoma. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. 450 pp.

Minckley, C.O., and H.E. Klaassen. 1969. Burying behavior of the plains killifish, Fundulus kansae. Copeia 1969:200-201.

Minckley, C.O., and H.E. Klaassen. 1969b. Life history of the plains killifish, Fundulus kansae (Garman), in the Smokey Hill River, Kansas. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 98:460-465.

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Pflieger, W.L.  1997.  The Fishes of Missouri.  Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City. 372 pp.

Poss, S.G., and R.R. Miller. 1983. Taxonomic status of the plains killifish, Fundulus zebrinus. Copeia 1983(1):55-67.

Shute, J.R., and A.W. Allen. 1980.  Fundulus zebrinus (Jordan and Gilbert), Plains killifish. pp. 531 in D. S. Lee et al., Atlas of North American Freshwater Fishes. N. C. State Mus. Nat. Hist., Raleigh, i-r+854 pp.

Stone, D.M., D.R. Van Haverbeke, D.L.Ward, and T.A. Hunt. 2007. Dispersal of nonnative fishes and parasites in the intermittent Little Colorado River, Arizona. The Southwestern Naturalist 52(1):130-137.

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Warren, M.L., Jr., B.M. Burr, S.J. Walsh, H.L. Bart, Jr., R.C. Cashner, D.A. Etnier, B.J. Freeman, B.R. Kuhajda, R.L. Mayden, H.W. Robison, S.T. Ross, and W.C. Starnes. 2000. Diversity, Distribution, and Conservation status of the native freshwater fishes of the southern United States. Fisheries, Conservation 25(10):7-29.