Taillight Shiner

Notropis maculatus


Color illustration of Taillight Shiner
Joseph R. Tomelleri. Used with permission.
Species of Conservation Concern

Cyprinidae (minnows) in the order Cypriniformes (carps, minnows and loaches)


A very slender minnow with moderately large eyes and a small, slightly oblique mouth. Barbels absent. Front of dorsal fin base slightly closer to tip of snout than to base of tail fin. Tail fin with a large and prominent roundish black spot at base. Midside with a narrow dusky stripe that extends forward onto snout and chin. Snout blunt and rounded, projecting slightly beyond upper lip. Lateral line developed only on about 8 or 10 scales toward head.

Back pale olive-yellow, the scales prominently dark-edged. Sides silvery with a narrow dusky stripe. Belly silvery-white. Apart from the prominent black spot at base of tail fin, the fins otherwise plain or dusted with small dark specks.

Breeding males have considerable blackish pigment in the fins, and the body, head and fins are suffused with pink or red. Small tubercles are present on the head and upper surfaces of pectoral fins.


Adult length: about 2 to 2½ inches; maximum about 2¾ inches.

Habitat and conservation

An Arkansas study described this minnow’s habitat as “shallow, tannin-stained waters of low-gradient streams, sloughs, lakes, including oxbows and swamps”—which is how “Swampeast Missouri” used to be before nearly all of it was converted to agriculture. As suitable habitat disappeared, so has this minnow.


A midwater schooling species, the taillight shiner eats small crustaceans and aquatic insects, along with lesser quantities of algae.

image of Taillight Shiner distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Southeast Missouri lowlands. Recently has been found only in Allred Lake (Butler County) and Mcpherson Slough (Bollinger County). Formerly known from lower St. Francis and Black rivers and from the Little Black River. Probably more widespread in Southeast Missouri prior to ditching and draining.


State Endangered; a Species of Conservation Concern in Missouri. In Arkansas, where this species is more common, this species lives in swamps and other lowland habitats that used to characterize southeastern Missouri, before it was drained an converted to cropland. The small populations of taillight shiners in our state are probably the remnants of a former more widespread distribution, and the species seems on the verge of extirpation from our state.

Life cycle

Spawning apparently begins in March and extends into early summer, and might occur near large logs and similar objects. This short-lived species essentially has a 1-year life cycle, with the entire population consisting at any one time of young-of-the-year or yearlings.

Human connections

Missouri is home to a great variety of fish, including rare types like this minnow. There are more than 200 kinds of fish in our state. The diversity of fish types reflects the variety in our landscapes. This is a form of wealth that cannot be measured in dollars.

Ecosystem connections

The taillight shiner, and all the other organisms woven into its community, are brilliantly adapted to life not just “in water” but in a certain type of water, in a certain type of landscape. These plants and animals are interdependent not just with one another, but with their habitat, too.