What's In a Name?
Northern redbelly dace: refers to their northern distribution and
the firey red breeding colors on the bellies of the male
Phoxinus (fox-een´-us) a Greek name for a small fish
eos (ee´-ohs) means "dawn" in Greek and refers to
the bright red and yellow breeding colors
Where Do They Live?
Northern redbelly dace live in all major drainages of Minnesota.
They are most common in the Rainy, Lake Superior, and upper Mississippi
drainages and less common in the Minnesota and lower Mississippi
drainages where a sister species (southern redbelly dace) is more
common. Northern redbellies inhabit small streams (fast or slow)
and bog lakes over a variety of bottom types. They most often are
in or near beds of emergent and floating plants. They commonly occur
with creek chubs, Johnny darters, white suckers, fathead minnows,
blacknose shiners, and brook sticklebacks.
How Big Do They Get?
How Long Do They Live?
Northern redbelly dace rarely exceed 75 mm (3 in) in length and
usually weigh under 2 g (0.07 oz). They live for up to 3 years.
What Do They Eat?
Northern redbelly dace are planktivores (eater of small plants and
animals that float in the water column). They primarily eat filamentous
algae and diatoms, which is unusual for a Minnesota fish species.
At times they also include waterfleas and small insect larvae like
What Eats Them?
We typically do not find many large predator fishes living where
northern redbelly dace do. They are probably eaten by yellow perch
and brook trout in some environments, and we have found their remains
inside large creek chubs. They probably are consumed by kingfishers
and mergansers and possibly by snapping turtles.
How Do They Reproduce?
In the Lake Itasca area of Minnesota, northern redbelly dace spawn
from late May into July. They may spawn earlier in southern Minnesota.
These fish have the unusual habit of spawning in masses of filamentous
algae. One to eight males will pursue a frantically swimming female
into an algal mass. There the female will thrash about and vibrate
laying 5-30 eggs that are fertilized by the males (we think that
most often 2 males and 1 female are involved). The female then darts
to another algal mass and lays more eggs. A single female may lay
2,000-6,500 eggs in a season depending on her size. There is no
parental care, and the embryos hatch in 8-10 days when water temperatures
are 21-27° C (69-80° F).
"Cool Fact": Northern redbelly dace hybridize (mate
with other species) frequently and sometimes they form all female
Conservation and Management
The northern redbelly dace is an abundant fish in Minnesota and
it has no special conservation status. They are an interesting and
beautiful fish to have in a school or home aquarium will reproduce
History of Minnesota Fishes
Photographs by Konrad P. Schmidt and Donald Biemborn
Text by Nicole Paulson & Jay T. Hatch in cooperation with
the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' MinnAqua Aquatic