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
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 midges.
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
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 populations
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 fairly easily.
Natural 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 Program