Species: Bleeding shiner

Scientific name: Luxilus zonatus

Nicknames: none

Claim to fame: Bleeding shiners are one of several species of minnows and darters that put on a miniature aquatic art show each spring in small Ozarks creeks and streams. The color display that the bleeding shiner and several other species of minnows (cardinal shiner, dusky-striped shiner, and red shiner are a few of the more common fish) put on is similar to what happens with birds in the spring: The males take on bright breeding colors to attract females. The colors of some species rival many of the fish found in pet store aquariums. When these species go into their spawning colors, they are often easy to spot; it’s just that few people ever look for them.

Species status: Bleeding shiners are found throughout much of southern Missouri and northeastern Arkansas.

First discovered: The first scientific description of the bleeding shiner was written by the American naturalist Louis Agassiz in 1863.

Family matters: Bleeding shiners belong to the fish family Cyprinidae, a group more commonly known as the minnows. The minnow family contains approximately 1,500 species and is one of the largest fish families on earth.

Length: Adult bleeding shiners usually attain lengths of between three and five inches.

Diet: insects and other small invertebrates found floating on the water’s surface

Weight: not available

Distinguishing characteristics: The back of the bleeding shiner is a light olive-brown with a broad, dark stripe running down each side. During the spring spawn, the dark markings of breeding males become very pronounced and are given additional highlight when parts of the head, body and fins turn bright red.

Life span: Few individuals live beyond three summers.

Habitat: Bleeding shiners inhabit clear, small creeks to moderately large rivers that have a persistently strong flow. They are typically found over a clean, gravelly or rocky bottom, near riffles or in pools that have a noticeable current.

Life cycle: In Missouri, spawning by bleeding shiners occurs from April to early July, but is most intense in May and early June. When spawning, bleeding shiners gather over the spawning sites in groups that range in number from a few fish to well over a hundred. The brilliant color of the males creates a patch of red that can often easily be seen from a distance of several yards. Like other species of minnows, bleeding shiners practice little parental care. They desert the eggs once spawning is completed. The bleeding shiner frequently shares spawning sites with the striped shiner, rosyface shiner, Ozark minnow and southern redbelly dace. Hybrids between these species are common. It may be tempting to net some of these fish for personal aquariums but that is a bad idea because these fish are not adapted to aquarium environments. In order to survive and thrive, these fish need moving water, gravelly bottoms and many of the other characteristics found in an Ozarks stream.