The common shiner is a silvery, rather deep and slab-sided minnow with moderately large eyes and a terminal, oblique mouth lacking barbels. The front of the dorsal-fin base is much closer to the tip of the snout than to the base of the tail fin.
Back is light olive with a broad dark stripe along its midline. Sides silvery with scattered dark crescents and with an iridescent golden stripe visible at certain angles. Belly silvery white. Fins plain. Breeding males with head deep lead-blue; body and fins flushed with pink; a broad golden stripe extends along midline of back and another is present along upper side; also has breeding tubercles, mostly on the head.
Similar to striped shiner (L. chrysocephalus) except without dusky sprinkles of pigment on chin, or (except for breeding males) lines and V-shaped markings on back and upper sides.
Total length: 3-5 inches; maximum about 7 inches.
Principally in short, direct tributaries of the Missouri River in central and west-central Missouri, with isolated populations in a few tributaries of the upper Chariton.
Habitat and Conservation
Inhabits small, moderately clear streams having high gradients and a predominance of gravel, rubble, and bedrock pools. These streams typically are reduced to a series of isolated pools by late summer, but water continues to percolate through the gravel between pools. Occurs in schools in midwater, often with other shiner species.
Usually feeds at midlevel or at the surface. A generalist, it feeds on aquatic and terrestrial insects along with lesser quantities of fish, small crustaceans, plant material (mostly filamentous algae), and bottom ooze.
One of the most abundant minnows in the creeks of central Missouri. Since about 1980 it has been replaced by the striped shiner in streams from Montgomery County eastward. It also seems to be declining in other streams where it was formerly abundant, including Silver Fork of Perche Creek, Boone County.
Spawning extends from late April through early June, peaking in mid-May. In our state, they use spawning pits of creek chub as well as shallow pits excavated on fine gravel riffles by male common shiners, which move stones with their snouts. Frequently several males occupy a nest, although they are territorial and often fight. Males grow much larger than females.
There are about 1,500 species of minnows in the world, and about 60 of them live in Missouri. They make up about a third of our fish species. Minnows have many interesting habits and adaptations, and they can be very colorful, especially during breeding season. Also, many people use them for bait.
Setting aside their importance to human economics, minnows play a huge role in converting the basic productivity of streams and lakes — algae and the tiniest animals — into food for larger fish and other predators such as fish-eating birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals.