Pimephales vigilax

bullhead minnow



Type Locality

Otter Creek, Oklahoma (Baird and Girard 1853).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Pimephales, Greek, “fat head;” vigilax, Latin, meaning “watchful” (Pflieger 1997).



Ceratichthys vigilax Baird and Girard 1853:391.

Alburnops taurocephalus Hay 1881:391.

Pimphales vigilax perspicuus Cook 1959:99.



Maximum size: 72 mm (2.83 in) SL (Boschung and Mayden 2004).


Life colors: Caudal spot separated from longitudinal streak by a clear area (Hubbs et al 1991). Light to dark olive above, scales darkly outlined (often appearing crosshatched); often a dusky to black stripe along silver-blue side, ending just before large black spot at caudal fin base; dusky stripe along underside of caudal peduncle; breeding male dark with black head, silver bar behind opercle (Page and Burr 1991).


Pharyngeal teeth count: 0,4-4,0 (Hubbs et al 1991).


Counts: 7 anal fin rays; fewer than 45 lateral line scales; fewer than 10 soft rays on dorsal fin (Hubbs et al 1991). There are 6-9 gillrakers, with 3-4 on the upper and 3-5 on the lower, 14-16 pectoral rays and 8 pelvic rays (Ross 2001).


Body shape:  Body stout, slightly compresses laterally (Becker 1983).


Mouth position: Subterminal, almost horizontal (Boschung and Mayden 2004).


Morphology: Predorsal scales crowded, much smaller than those on rest of body; first two obvious dorsal fin rays stout, well separated from the following well developed but unbranched ray by a membrane; lower lip thin without a fleshy lobe; lateral line usually not decurved, either straight or with a broad arch; premaxillaries protractile; upper lip separated  from skin of snout by a deep groove continuous across the midline; distance from origin of anal fin to end of caudal peduncle contained to and one-half or fewer times in distance from tip of snout to origin of anal fin (Hubbs et al 1991). Nuptial males with 9 large tubercles in 2 rows on snout; pectoral tubercles essentially absent (Boschung and Mayden 2004).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Mississippi River Basin from Minnesota and South Dakota south to Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, and east to Alabama and Georgia (Ross 2001).


Texas distribution: Occurs statewide; populations apparently introduced into the upper Rio Grande Basin and upper Red and Canadian basins in the state (Hubbs et al 1991).


[Additional literature noting collection of this species from Texas locations includes, but is not limited to the following: the upper, northwestern part of the lower Rio Grande River, in Zapata County (Robinson 1959); Brazos River (Winemiller et al. 2004); Allens Creek, a small tributary of the Brazos River in Austin County (Linam et al. 1994); Sister Grove Creek (Trinity River basin), north central Texas, (species being one of the most abundant in collections; Meador and Matthews 1992; Matthews et al. 1996); Plum Creek drainage basin, south central Texas (Whiteside and McNatt 1972); Big Sandy Creek, Polk and Hardin counties (Evans and Noble 1979); Little River, a large tributary of the Brazos River, central Texas (Rose and Echelle 1981); Guadalupe River (Edwards 1978); Cow Bayou (Sabine River basin), Orange County, southeast Texas (Linam and Kleinsasser 1987).]


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

Populations in the southern United States are currently secure (Warren 2000).


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Variety of low-gradient streams, in more sluggish pools, eddies, or backwaters over mud or silt substrata (Starrett 1950a); ditches, creeks, bayous; lakes and impoundments, as well as large rivers (Parker 1964).


Mesohabitat: Sedentary bottom-dwellers preferring quiet waters; sandy, muddy bottoms in eddies behind debris of logs and mats of floating vegetation. In their southern range, waters usually warm and turbid. Schooling in the daytime but not at night or during breeding periods (Parker 1964). Fairly tolerant of turbidity and siltation (Deacon 1961; Pflieger 1971), and high temperatures 32.1-33.1°C (89.7-91.6°F) and low oxygen levels (Rutledge and Beitinger 1989).



Spawning season: Summer; extending from the middle of May to early September in Oklahoma (Ross 2001; Taber 1969).


Spawning location: Speleophils; hole nesters (Simon 1999). Male will excavate nest under a variety of materials (boards, rocks, tree limbs/trunks, concrete chunks, pieces of metal and ceramic tiles) and defend the nest before and after spawning (Parker 1964).


Reproductive strategy: Egg-clustering; eggs are laid and fertilized in a single-layer cluster on the underside of the submerged object (so they can be directly attended to by the males, who guards and aerates them); the females leaves after spawning; other females may add to the male's egg mass (Page and Ceas 1989).


Fecundity: Fertilized eggs small, averaging 1.4 mm (0.06 in) in diameter, transparent, and difficult to see (Page and Ceas 1989). Parker (1964) noted 233 one-celled stage eggs found in a farm pond  as being spherical and 1-1.5 mm (0.04-0.06 in) in diameter; these were transferred to a laboratory and hatched in 4.5-6 days.


Age at maturation:  No information at this time.


Migration: No information at this time.


Longevity: Most fish do not live beyond three years, maximum of five (Starrett 1951).


Food habits: Herbivore/Invertivore; Omnivorous (Simon 1999). Young minnows feed primarily on bottom ooze diatoms (Parker 1964). Feeds on aquatic insect larvae: mayflies, caddisflies, and midges; crustaceans, such as cladocerans, are a major food item of pond-dwelling bullhead minnows. They also consume organic detritus, various plant materials, including grass and other seeds, diatoms, blue-green bacteria and green algae. As size of the fish increases, caddisfly larvae become a major prey, especially in summer. In the winter and spring, seeds are a major food item (Starrett 1950b; Parker 1964; Whitaker 1977).


Growth: In Wisconsin, fish reached an average of 49 mm TL after one year, and 69 mm TL after their second (Becker 1983).


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes

Pimephales vigilax may be distinguished from fathead minnows (P. promelas) by a silvery (as opposed to black) peritoneum which can be seen through the body wall. Breeding males of P. vigilax generally have 9 snout tubercles, whereas P. promelas has 16 or more (Boschung and Mayden 2004). The pugnose minnow Opsopoeodus emilae and silver chub Macrhybopsis storeriana are somewhat similar to P. vigilax, but both lack a caudal spot (Etnier and Starnes 1993).


Host Records:

Cestoda: Clinostomum marginatum, Hedruris, Posthodiplostomum minimum, (Mayberry et al., 2000). Protozoa: Myxobolus augustus, Thelohanellus notatus (Hoffman 1967).


Commercial or Environmental Importance

Commercial importance as bait fish and constitutes large portion of the food of commercial and game fishes (Parker 1964). Important forage for young largemouth bass (Ross 2001). Bullhead minnows transport and hold well in tanks, eat dry food readily, but are too nervous to be good bioassay animals (Gould and Irwin 1962).



Baird, S. F., and C. Girard. 1853. Description of new species of fishes, collected by Captains R. B. Marcy, and Geo. B. M'Clellum, in Arkansas. Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phil. 6(7):390-392.

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

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

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

Deacon, J. E. 1961. Fish populations, following a drought, in the Neosho and Marais des Cygnes Rivers of Kansas. Mus. Nat. Hist. Univ. Kans. 13(9):359-427.

Edwards, R. J. 1978. The effect of hypolimnion reservoir releases on fish distribution and species diversity. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 107(1):71-77.

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

Evans, J. W., and R. L. Noble. 1979. The longitudinal distribution of fishes in an East Texas stream. American Midland Naturalist 101(2):333-343.

Gould, W. R., III, and W. H. Irwin. 1962. The suitabilities and relative resistances of twelve species of fish as bioassay animals for oil refinery effluents. Proc. Southeast Assoc. Game Fish Commnrs. 16:333-348.

Hay, O. P. 1881. On a collection of fishes from eastern Mississippi. Proc. U.S. Nat. Mus. 3:488-515.

Hoffman, G. L. 1967. Parasites of North American Freshwater Fishes. University of California Press, Berkeley. 486 pp.

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

Linam, G. W., J. C. Henson, and M. A. Webb. 1994. A fisheries inventory and assessment of Allens Creek and the Brazos River, Austin County, Texas. River Studies Report No. 12, Resource Protection Division, Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept., Austin. 14 pp.

Linam, G. W., and L. J. Kleinsasser. 1987. Fisheries use attainability study for Cow Bayou (Segment 0511). River Studies Report No. 5, Resource Protection Division, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Austin. 14pp.

Matthews, W. J., M. S. Schorrs, and M. R. Meadors. 1996. Effects of experimentally enhanced flows on fishes of a small Texas (U.S.A.) stream: assessing the impact of interbasin transfer. Freshwater Biology 1996(35):349-362.

Mayberry, L. F., A. G. Canaris, and J. R. Bristol. 2000. Bibliography of parasites and vertebrate host in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas (1893-1984). University of Nebraska Harold W. Manter Laboratory of Parasitology Web Server pp. 1-100.

Meador, M. R., and W. J. Matthews. 1992. Spatial and temporal patterns in fish assemblage structure of an intermittent Texas stream. American Midland Naturalist 127(1):106-114.

Page, L. M. and P. A. Ceas. 1989. Egg attachment in Pimephales (Pisces: Cyprinidae). Copeia 1989(4):1074-1077.

Page, L. M., and B. M. Burr.  1991.  A Field Guide to the Freshwater Fishes of North America, north of Mexico.  Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 432 pp.

Parker, H. L. 1964. Natural history of Pimephales vigilax (Cyprinidae). Southwestern Naturalist 8(4):228-235.

Pflieger, W. L. 1971. A distributional study of Missouri fishes. Mus. Nat. Hist. Univ. Kans. 20(3):225-570.

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

Robinson, D. T. 1959. The ichthyofauna of the lower Rio Grande, Texas and Mexico. Copeia 1959(3):253-256.

Rose, D. R., and A. A. Echelle. 1981. Factor analysis of associations of fishes in Little River, central Texas, with an interdrainage comparison. American Midland Naturalist 106(2):379-391.

Ross, S. T. 2001. The Inland Fishes of Mississippi. University Press of Mississippi. 624 pp.

Rutledge, C. J., and T. L. Beitinger. 1989. The effects of dissolved oxygen and aquatic surface respiration on the critical thermal maxima of three intermittent-stream fishes. Env. Biol. Fish. 24(2):137-143.

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.

Starrett, W. C. 1950a. Distribution of the fishes of Boone County, Iowa, with special reference to the minnows and darters. Amer. Midl. Nat. 43:122-127.

Starrett, W. C. 1950b. Food relationships of the minnows of the Des Moines River, Iowa. Ecology 31(2):216-233.

Starrett, W. C. 1951. Some factors affecting the abundance of minnows in the Des Moines River, Iowa. Ecology 32(1):13-27.

Taber, C. A. 1969. The distribution and identification of larval fishes in the Buncombe Creek area of Lake Texoma, with observations on spawning habits and relative abundance. Ph.D. diss., Univ. Oklahoma, Norman.

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.

Whitaker, J. O., Jr. 1977. Seasonal changes in food habits of some cyprinid fishes from the White River at Petersburg, Indiana. Amer. Midl. Nat. 97(2):411-418.

Whiteside, B. G., and R. M. McNatt. 1972. Fish species diversity in relation to stream order and physicochemical conditions in the Plum Creek drainage basin. American Midland Naturalist 88(1):90-101.

Winemiller, K. O., F. P. Gelwick, T. H. Bonner, S. Zueg, and C. Williams. 2004. Response of oxbow lake biota to hydrologic exchanges with the Brazos River channel. Report to the Texas Water Development Board. 59 pp.