Picture by Chad Thomas, Texas State University-San Marcos



Notropis volucellus

mimic shiner



Type Locality

Detroit River, at Grosse Ile, Wayne Co., MI (Cope 1865).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Notropis, Greek, “back keel;” volucellus, Latin, meaning “winged” or “swift” Pflieger 1997).


Hybognathus volucellus Cope 1864:283.

Notropis volucellus Cook 1959:1110.



Maximum size: 66 mm (2.60 in) TL (Edwards 1997).


Coloration: Body dark, with pronounced dark lateral stripe (Hubbs et al 1991). Transparent gray to olive-yellow above, faintly to darkly outlined scales on back and upper side (Page and Burr 1991)


Pharyngeal teeth count: 0,4-4,0


Counts: Usually 8 anal fin soft rays (Hubbs et al 1991); 32-40 lateral line scales, 12-17 pectoral fin soft rays, 8-9 pelvic fin soft rays, dorsal fin soft rays 8, anal fin soft rays 7-9, 5-10 gill rakers (Hrabik 1996).


Body shape: Small, laterally compressed body; bluntly rounded snout; large eyes (Ross 2001).


Mouth position: Subterminal, slightly oblique (Ross 2001).


External morphology: Head length 3.5-4.0 times into standard length; eye diameter 2.6-3.5 times into head length; body depth at greatest point 20%-25% of standard length (Hrabik 1996).  Lateral line scales markedly elevated anteriorly (higher than wide), height two to five times width; lateral line complete (Hubbs et al 1991). Breeding males have dense patches of tubercles on the snout. Tubercles also occur on the head, primarily along orbits, lower jaw, internasal region, and preopercles. Tubercles also develop along the dorsal surface of pectoral fin soft rays 1-7. One row of tubercles occurs proximally and two rows on the distal half of the pectoral rays (Ross 2001).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Red River of the North drainage (Hudson Bay basin), Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River drainages to Lake Champlain system, throughout Mississippi Basin east of Great Plains and lower most Missouri River basin. Atlantic Slope drainages of Virginia and North Carolina, and Gulf drainages from Mobile Basin west to Nueces River in Texas. Tennessee River drainage and throughout Mobile Basin, except the Tallapoosa River system above Fall Line (Boschung and Mayden 2004).


Texas distribution: Found throughout the eastern half of the state from the Nueces Basin northward, but apparently not found in the Red River in Texas (Hubbs et al 1991).


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, Non-governmental organizations)

Populations in southern drainages are currently stable (Warren et al. 2000).


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Sandy pools of headwaters, creeks, and small to large rivers; quiet areas of lakes (Page and Burr 1991). Common in moderate-sized streams, oxbow lakes (Ross 2001). Avoids small, headwater streams (Hrabik 1996).


Mesohabitat: In small streams, N. volucellus are generally found in clear pools over gravel substrate in moderate current; large river forms found along shorelines over gravel, sand, and mud substrates usually in slow to moderate current (Hrabik 1996). Most abundant near riffles in current (Gilbert and Burgess 1980). Often observed schooling in mid-water or at the surface (Edwards 1997).



Spawning season: Occurs May to August in Minnesota and Wisconsin (Moyle 1973; Becker 1983), mid-April to early August in Alabama (Oliver 1986). Males produce nuptial tubercles from late May to early October, in Tennessee, suggesting a relatively long breeding season peaking in the summer (Etnier and Starnes 1993).


Spawning habitat: In lakes, fish spawn in large schools located over beds of aquatic plants (Moyle 1973). Spawning location in streams has not been documented (Ross 2001).


Spawning behavior: Black (1945) suggested the species is a nocturnal spawner in open water.


Fecundity: Fertilized eggs are demersal and adhesive (Ross 2001). Mature, unfertilized eggs average 0.90-0.95 mm (0.35-0.04 in) in diameter (Coburn 1986; Oliver 1986). Clutch sizes increases with the size of the female, ranging from 74 to 386 oocytes in fish of 36.4-45.1 mm (1.43-1.78 in) SL (Oliver 1986).


Age at maturation: Approximately one year of age (Edwards 1997; Etnier and Starnes 1993). Both sexes may reach maturity as small as 31 mm (1.22 in) SL, and all individuals mature by 35 mm (1.38 in) SL (females) or 37 mm (1.46 in)  (males; Oliver 1986).


Migration: In lake habitats, diurnal migrations to and from inshore areas, with night movement away from shore. Fish move in schools during the day, and at night break up into smaller groups to spend the night lying on the lake bottom (Black 1945, Moyle 1973; Helfman 1981). Hanych et al. (1983) reported the reverse, with N. volucellus making movements inshore at sunset, nearshore at night, offshore at sunrise; this behavior is thought to be a predator-response mechanism.


Growth and Population Structure: Females grow faster and attain a larger size than males; Length at age I was 48 mm (1.89 in) and at age II was 55 mm (2.17 in) in an Indiana lake (Black 1945). After one year, fish averaged 43-53 mm (1.69-2.10 in) TL; reaching 52-65 mm (2.05-2.56 in) TL at the end of the second year, in Wisconsin (Becker 1983). Two age-classes represented in collection from a Connecticut pond: individuals in their third summer (2-year-old) had a mean SL of 43.1 mm (1.70 in) and those in their second summer (1-year-old) averaged 27.7 mm (1.09 in) SL (Schmidt 2005).


Longevity: 2-3 years (Black 1945; Moyle 1973; Gilbert and Burgess 1980; Edwards 1997).


Food habits: Invertivore/Herbivore (Simon 1999). Diet includes macrocrustaceans, midge larvae and pupae, and some terrestrial insects; foods consumed tend to be small (Edwards 1997), but can include larval fishes such as the larval Alosa sapidissima (American shad), in the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania (Johnson and Dropkin 1992). Olmstead et al. (1979) found large variations in prey preference.


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes

The ghost shiner (N. buchanani) closest relative (Gilbert and Burgess 1980). N. buchanani differs from N. volucellus in having a deeper more compressed body; taller anterior lateral line scales; longer pelvic fins (reaching almost to anal fin); and more pallid color as well as lacking an infraorbital canal (Boschung and Mayden 2004). The sand shiner (Notropis stramineus) differs from N. volucellus in that it has only 7 anal fin rays, has well developed pre- and post dorsal streaks and a pale area under the dorsal fin origin followed by a distinct dash under the remainder of the fin (Etnier and Starnes 1993). N. volucellus differs from the silverband shiner (N. shumardi) in having elevated scales, 8 anal fin rays (rather than 9), more terminal mouth (as opposed to oblique), and no dark pigment along the lateral line. N. volucellus differs from the pallis shiner (N. amnis) in pharyngeal tooth count (1,4-4,1 in N. amnis); and in the mouth (upper lip) extending to the eye, being slightly more oblique, and level with the lower margin of the eye (Hrabik 1996).  N. atherinoides X N. volucellus hybrids reported from the Lower Monongahela River, Western Pennsylvania (Mayhew 1983).


The common name is based on the vexing similarity to numerous other shiners (Jenkins and Burkhead 1993).


Host Records

Larval form of the bird tapeworm, Ligula and two sporozoan parasites, one of an unidentified genus, the other a species of Myxobolus (Black 1945).


Commercial or Environmental Importance

This shiner has been used for bait (Black 1945), but was not found to be a good baitfish (Fuller et al. 1999). Environmental impacts of mimic shiner introductions are unclear (Schmidt 2005).



Becker, G. C. 1983.  Fishes of Wisconsin.  The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1052 pp.

Black, J. D. 1945. Natural history of the northern mimic shiner, Notropis volucellus volucellus Cope. Invest. Ind. Lakes Streams, 2:449-466.

Boschung, H. T., Jr., and R. L. Mayden. 2004. Fishes of Alabama. Smithsonian Books, Washington, 736 pp.

Coburn, M. M. 1986. Egg diameter variation in Eastern North American Minnows (Pisces:  Cyprinidae):  Correlation with Vertebral Number, Habitat, and Spawning Behavior. Ohio Journal of Science 86: 110-120.

Cook, F. A. 1959. Freshwater fishes in Mississippi. Mississippi Game and Fish Commission, Jackson. 239 pp.

Cope, E. D. 1965. Partial catalogue of the cold-blooded vertebrata of Michigan. Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phil. 17:78-88.

Edwards, R. J. 1997. Ecological profiles for selected stream-dwelling Texas Freshwater Fishes. A report to the Texas Water Development Board. The Texas Water Development Board March 3, 1997:1-89.

Etnier, D. A. and W. C. Starnes. 1993. The Fishes of Tennessee. University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, 681 pp.

Fuller, P.L., L. G. Nico, and J. D. Williams. 1999. Nonindigenous Fishes introduced into Inland Waters of the United States. American Fisheries Society Special Publication 27. 613 pp.

Gilbert, C. R. and G. H. Burgess. 1980. Notropis volucellus (Cope), Mimic shiner. pp. 322 in D. S. Lee, et al. Atlas of North American Freshwater Fishes. N. C. State Mus. Nat. Hist., Raleigh, i-r+854 pp.

Hanych, D. A., M. R. Ross, R. E. Magnien, and A. L. Suggars. 1983. Nocturnal inshore movement of the mimic shiner (Notropis volucellus): A possible predator avoidance behavior. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Scienes 40:888-894.

Helfman, G. S. 1981. Twilight activities and temporal structure in a freshwater fish community. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 38(11):1405-1420.

Hrabik, R. A. 1996. Taxonomic and distributional status of Notropis wickliffi in the Mississippi River drainage: a literature review. Long Term Resource Monitoring Program. Environmental Management Technical Center, Onalaska, Wisconsin, Special Report 96-S001. 15 pp.

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. The Texas Journal of Science, Supplement, 43(4):1-56.

Jenkins, R. E., and N. M. Burkhead. 1993. Freshwater Fishes of Virginia. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, Maryland. 1079 pp.

Johnson, J. H., and D. S. Dropkin. 1992. Predation on recently released larval American shad in the Susquehanna River basin. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 12:504-508.

Mayhew, D. A. 1983. A new hybrid cross, Notropis atherinoides X Notropis volucellus (Pisces: Cyprinidae), from the lower Monogahela River, western Pennsylvania. Copeia 1983(4):1077-1082.

Moyle, P. B. 1973. Ecological segregation among three species of minnows (Cyprinidae) in a Minnesota Lake. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc., 102:794-805.

Oliver, J. R. 1986. Comparative reproductive biology of the Cahaba shiner, Notropis sp., and the mimic shiner, Notropis volucellus (Cope), from the Cahaba River drainage, Alabama. Master's thesis, Samford Univ., Birmingham, Alabama.

Olmstead, L. R., S. Krater, G. E. Williams, and R. G. Jaeger. 1979. Foraging tactics of the mimic shiner in a two-prey system. Copeia 1979:437-441.

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

Schmidt, R. E., and R. Jacobs. 2005. The mimic shiner, Notropis volucellus (Cope), in Connecticut. Northeastern Naturalist 12(3):325-330.

Simon, T. P. 1999. Assessing the sustainability and biological integrity of water resources using fish communities. CRC Press. Boca Raton; London; New York; Washington. 671 pp.

Warren, L. W., 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 25(10):7-29.