Pugnose shiner (Notropis anogenus)

GenusNotropis (1)
SizeTotal length: up to 6 cm (2) (3)

The pugnose shiner is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

A small, poorly-known freshwater fish, the pugnose shiner (Notropis anogenus) is named for its extremely small, sharply upturned mouth, which gives it a distinctive ‘pug-nosed’ appearance (2) (3) (4) (5) (6). The body of the pugnose shiner is relatively slender and compressed (2) (3) (7), and its eyes are large (3).

The pugnose shiner has a mainly silver body, with a slightly darker or olive-coloured back and a dark band running from the snout, through the eye to the base of the tail (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7). The chin and lower lip are also dark (2) (4) (7), and the belly may be white (2). Male pugnose shiners in breeding condition have a more yellowish body and fins (2). The female pugnose shiner generally grows to a slightly larger size than the male (3).

Although it can be difficult to identify Notropis species (5), the pugnose shiner can be distinguished from its close relatives primarily by its distinctive mouth and, internally, by the black lining to its body cavity (the peritoneum) (2) (4) (6) (7). The latter feature also helps to distinguish it from the very similar looking pugnose minnow (Opsopoeodus emiliae), which has a silvery-white peritoneum and also nine rather than eight rays in its dorsal fin (6) (8) (9).

The pugnose shiner occurs in the United States and Canada, where it is largely restricted to the Great Lakes region and Mississippi River basin, as well as the Red River drainage (1) (2) (3) (8) (10).

Although relatively widespread, the pugnose shiner has a rather patchy distribution (7) (10), being recorded from Ontario and western New York, west to North Dakota, and south to Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio (1) (2) (5) (8) (10). The main part of this species’ distribution is in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota (1) (7).

The pugnose shiner may no longer occur in some peripheral parts of its range, such as in Illinois, Ohio and North Dakota (1) (7) (10).

The pugnose shiner is found only in clear, well-vegetated glacial lakes, as well as in vegetated pools and runs of small, low-gradient creeks and rivers (1) (2) (6) (10). It can be found over substrates of sand, mud, clay or gravel (1) (3) (10) (11).

During the summer, the pugnose shiner is generally found in shallow waters, while in winter it moves to deeper areas (1) (9) (10).

Relatively little is known about the biology of the pugnose shiner (3) (8). It is thought to feed on green algae, plant material and minute organisms such as cladocerans (tiny crustaceans in the order Cladocera) (3) (8) (9) (10), with its distinctive small mouth suggesting a specialised mode of feeding, probably restricted to very small plants and animals (8) (12). Like other species in the Cyprinidae family, the pugnose shiner lacks teeth, instead processing food using modified bones in the throat, known as ‘pharyngeal teeth’ (13).

Although little information is available on the breeding behaviour of the pugnose shiner, it is thought to spawn from around June to July (3) (8) (9) (10) (11). The female pugnose shiner is likely to scatter the eggs over the substrate, and neither the male nor the female guard the eggs (3). The presence of submerged aquatic vegetation may be an important factor in the spawning behaviour of this species (9).

Very little is known about the movements of the pugnose shiner (8), but it is thought that its weak swimming ability means that it only travels relatively short distances (3).

The pugnose shiner appears to have strict habitat requirements and a narrow tolerance for environmental conditions, making it particularly vulnerable to habitat degradation (3) (5). The population of the pugnose shiner is declining as a result of increased turbidity and a reduction in aquatic vegetation, caused mainly by siltation, pollution, boating activities, development and agriculture (1) (3) (9) (10) (11). The removal of waterside vegetation to create swimming beaches or improve boat access can also affect this species (10) (11).

A further threat to the pugnose shiner may come from the introduction of non-native species, including fish and aquatic plants (9). Introduced plants such as the Eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum) may potentially alter the habitat of the pugnose shiner (3). This rare fish may also be negatively affected by the use of herbicides (1) (8) (10), and the isolated nature of its preferred habitat may prevent interbreeding between fragmented populations (14).

Although the pugnose shiner is believed to be naturally rare throughout its range, its abundance may be underestimated due to difficulties in surveying its habitat effectively (1) (8) (10). Climate change could potentially have both direct and indirect impacts on the pugnose shiner (9), although models have suggested that it could in fact allow the species to expand its range northward into Canada (15).

There are no specific conservation measures currently targeted at this small, poorly-known fish (1). Conservation efforts for the pugnose shiner should include the protection of its habitat, in particular maintaining water quality and preserving aquatic vegetation (1) (10) (11), as well as monitoring non-native species and studying the pugnose shiner’s interactions with predators and competitors (1) (9) (10).

It will also be important to clarify the pugnose shiner’s current distribution and abundance, as well as to determine the minimum viable population size for this species (1) (10). In addition, studies are needed into the pugnose shiner’s biology, habitat requirements and life history (8) (11).

In Canada, the pugnose shiner is listed as ‘Endangered’ by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) (14) and is on Schedule 1 of the Canadian Species at Risk Act (SARA), meaning that it is illegal to kill, capture or harm this species in any way. It also means that critical habitat for the pugnose shiner is protected (3). A requirement of the Species at Risk Act is that recovery and management plans are put in place for the species (3), and as part of this a recovery assessment has been developed (9).

A number of general conservation measures have been put in place for some of the river systems inhabited by the pugnose shiner. These include public awareness programmes and working with landowners to reduce the impacts of agricultural activities on river ecosystems (3).

Find out more about the pugnose shiner and its conservation:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2012)
  2. Simon, T.P. (2011) Fishes of Indiana: A Field Guide. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.
  3. Government of Canada: Species at Risk Public Registry (January, 2012)
  4. Eddy, S. and Underhill, J.C. (1974) Northern Fishes. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.
  5. Werner, R.G. (2004) Freshwater Fishes of the Northeastern United States. Syracuse University Press, New York.
  6. Smith, P.W. (2002) The Fishes of Illinois. University of Illinois Press, Champaign, Illinois.
  7. Bailey, R.M. (1959) Distribution of the American cyprinid fish Notropis anogenus. Copeia, 1959(2): 119-123.
  8. Derosier, A.L. (2004) Special animal abstract for Notropis anogenus (pugnose shiner). Michigan Natural Features Inventory, Lansing, Michigan. Available at:
  9. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) (2010) Recovery Potential Assessment of Pugnose Shiner (Notropis anogenus) in Canada. DFO, Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat Science Advisory Report 2010/025, Canada. Available at:
  10. NatureServe Explorer - Notropis anogenus (January, 2012)
  11. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - Pugnose shiner (January, 2012)
  12. Parker, B., McKee, P. and Campbell, R.R. (1987) Status of the pugnose shiner, Notropis anogenus, in Canada. Canadian Field-Naturalist, 101(2): 203-207.
  13. Campbell, A. and Dawes, J. (2004) Encyclopedia of Underwater Life. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  14. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (January, 2012)
  15. Chu, C., Mandrak, N.E. and Minns, C.K. (2005) Potential impacts of climate change on the distributions of several common and rare freshwater fishes in Canada. Diversity and Distributions, 11: 299-310.