The taillight shiner is a very slender minnow with moderately large eyes and a small, slightly oblique mouth. Barbels are absent. The front of the dorsal fin base is slightly closer to the tip of the snout than to the base of the tail fin. The tail fin has a large and prominent roundish black spot at the base. The midside has a narrow dusky stripe that extends forward onto the snout and chin. The snout is blunt and rounded, projecting slightly beyond the upper lip. The lateral line is developed only on about 8 or 10 scales toward the head.
The back is pale olive yellow, the scales prominently dark-edged. The sides are silvery with a narrow dusky stripe. The belly is silvery white. Apart from the prominent black spot at the base of the tail fin, the fins otherwise are 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 the pectoral fins.
Adult length: about 2 to 2½ inches; maximum about 2¾ inches.
Southeast Missouri lowlands. Recently has been found only in Allred Lake (Butler County) and Mcpherson Slough (Bollinger County). Formerly known from the lower St. Francis and Black rivers and from the Little Black River. It was probably more widespread in southeast Missouri prior to ditching and draining.
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.” This basically describes how “Swampeast Missouri,” our Bootheel lowlands, 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.
State Endangered; a Species of Conservation Concern in Missouri. One of the rarest minnows 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.
Spawning apparently begins in March and extends into early summer, and it 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.
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.
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.