BioKIDS home

Kids' Inquiry of Diverse Species

Southern redbelly dace

Chrosomus erythrogaster

What do they look like?

Southern redbelly dace are small fish, they are about 5.8 cm long, with a small mouth that opens horizontally. Their scales are so small they can be difficult to see. These fish are usually an olive green color, which blends into their environment, although they do have red and yellow stripes on their sides and black blotches on their dorsal fins. Males of this species are more brightly colored than females, especially on their fins and in their stripes. (Conservation Commission of Missouri, 2014a; Conservation Commission of Missouri, 2014b; Zehringer, 2012)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • sexes shaped differently
  • Range length
    5.08 to 10.16 cm
    2.00 to 4.00 in

Where do they live?

Southern redbelly dace (Chrosomus erythrogaster) live in the southeastern Michigan area, from Lake Erie to Ohio. Their range also includes areas of the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River basins, and the White Arkansas River drainage areas, all the way down to Tennessee. There are a few records of southern redbelly dace populations in the Kansas River system and the Upper Arkansas River drainages as well. (Froese, 1990)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Southern redbelly dace are found in small, clear, freshwater streams that are cool in temperature with a moderate to slow current. These fish prefer sand, gravel, or mud substrates along with areas where they can hide such as vegetation and overhangs. (Conservation Commission of Missouri, 2014b; Loan-Wisley, 2006)

  • These animals are found in the following types of habitat
  • freshwater
  • Aquatic Biomes
  • rivers and streams

How do they grow?

Within 8 to 10 days of being fertilized, the eggs hatch in water that is 20.6 to 26.7° C (69 to 80° F) and begin growing very quickly before becoming an adult in about one year. The fish begin feeding on newly hatched brine shrimp, and within two months, grow to a little over one inch in size. (Conservation Commission of Missouri, 2014a; Paulson and Hatch, 2013; Sternburg, 2005)

How do they reproduce?

Before the mating season begins, the coloration of sexually mature males becomes more vibrant, especially in their fins and in the stripes on their sides. This bright coloration helps them attract mates. Since one female will mate with several males, there is very little competition between male southern redbelly dace. (Hoyt and Settles, 1978; Stasiak, 2007)

When southern redbelly dace breed, multiple males press up against a female on the bottom of the stream; this causes her to release eggs for the males to fertilize. Males have pearl organs along their anal and pectoral fins that are used during breeding to stimulate the female to release her eggs. During the April to June mating period, about 200 to 6,000 eggs are released as males and females repeat the breeding ritual. This ritual can be repeated many times and only takes a few seconds to complete. (Hoyt and Settles, 1978; Stasiak, 2007)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Southern redbelly dace breed multiple times in the spring.
  • Breeding season
    These fish breed from April to June.
  • Range number of offspring
    200 to 6000
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Since one female mates with several males, the young from her eggs will have many different fathers. After breeding, the eggs are left in the nest with no parental care. Larger fish species found in their habitat, such as trout and sunfish, unintentionally protect their nests by keeping possible predators away. (Zehringer, 2012)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement

How long do they live?

Southern redbelly dace usually live about two years. (Conservation Commission of Missouri, 2014a)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    2 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    2 years

How do they behave?

When southern redbelly dace come across a threat, such as a predator, these fish school together instead of darting off alone, this improves their chances of survival. Southern redbelly dace are social and use a chemical alarm signal that warns others of threats in the area nearby; this chemical also signals fish to school together for protection. Since southern redbelly dace are so small and vulnerable, they usually try to stay hidden and avoid open areas. These fish forage for food during the daytime. (Stasiak, 2007; Zehringer, 2012)

Home Range

Southern redbelly dace live in stream banks or headwater streams. They avoid the faster currents towards the middle of the stream and as a result, the size of the headwater stream is also their territory size. This species moves to new areas when their territory floods, washing some of them out to other areas. Schools in this species include individuals of all ages and sizes, as the young and old live in the same area. Even though they live in the same area, these fish are not known to display any sort of territorial behavior. (Loan-Wisley, 2006; Stasiak, 2007)

How do they communicate with each other?

Southern redbelly dace are social and use a chemical alarm signal to warn others of nearby threats. This chemical also signals the fish to school together for protection. (Stasiak, 2007)

What do they eat?

Southern redbelly dace feed in schools at the bottom of streams, feeding on algae, aquatic invertebrates, and detritus. Feeding on the bottom of streams not only gives them access to their prey, but also protects them from being in immediate reach of predators. These fish are countershaded, which means the bottom of the fish is lighter in color than their top side, this can make them difficult to see, protecting them from predators. (Stasiak, 2007; Zehringer, 2012)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • other marine invertebrates
  • Plant Foods
  • algae

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Southern redbelly dace are preyed on by birds such as kingfishers and herons, and fish such as sunfish and trout. Other predators include reptiles such as snakes and turtles, amphibians such as bullfrogs and salamanders, and insects like diving beetles. (Stasiak, 2007)

  • These animal colors help protect them
  • aposematic

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Southern redbelly dace are not only prey for larger species in their habitat; they are also a predatory species, feeding on small invertebrates. These fish are an indicator species, which mean their presence or absence in their habitat helps determine the health of a stream. If the water is healthy, these fish, along with other species, will be thriving. However, if the water is unhealthy, populations of these fish will decline. This can help fishers find the healthiest populations of game fish. (Zehringer, 2012)

Do they cause problems?

Southern redbelly dace have no known negative economic impact on humans. (Conservation Commission of Missouri, 2014a)

How do they interact with us?

The bright colors and gentle nature of southern redbelly dace make them great aquarium pets. They are also used by fishers as bait fish. (Conservation Commission of Missouri, 2014a)

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • pet trade
  • research and education

Are they endangered?

Currently, there are no serious threats facing southern redbelly dace, they are listed as a species of least concern on the IUCN Redlist. (NatureServe, 2013)


Megan L. Morgan (author), Bridgewater College, Brittany L. Ripp (author), Bridgewater College, Stephanie N. Rubino (author), Bridgewater College, Tamara Johnstone-Yellin (editor), Bridgewater College, Leila Siciliano Martina (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.


Conservation Commission of Missouri, 2014. "Southern RedBelly Dace" (On-line). Xplor. Accessed March 01, 2014 at

Conservation Commission of Missouri, 2014. "Southern Redbelly Dace" (On-line). Missouri Department of Conversation. Accessed March 01, 2014 at

Froese, R. 1990. "Chrosomus erythrogaste" (On-line). Fishbase. Accessed March 01, 2014 at

Hoyt, R., W. Settles. 1978. The reproductive biology of the southern redbelly dace, Chrosomus erythrogaster Rafinesque, in a spring-fed stream in Kentucky. American Midland Naturalist, 99: 290-298.

Loan-Wisley, A. 2006. "Southern redbelly dace-Chrosomus erythrogaster Rafinesque." (On-line). Iowa Fish Atlas. Accessed March 01, 2014 at

NatureServe, 2013. "Chrosomus erythrogaster" (On-line). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed March 01, 2014 at

Paulson, N., J. Hatch. 2013. "Northern Redbelly Dace" (On-line). Lake Superior Streams. Accessed March 01, 2014 at

Stasiak, R. 2007. "Southern Redbelly Dace (Chrosomus erythrogaster): A Technical Conservation Assessment" (On-line). Prepared for the USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region, Species Conservation Project. Accessed July 18, 2014 at

Sternburg, J. 2005. "Spawning of the Southern and Northern Redbelly Dace Compared" (On-line). Northern American Native Fishes Association. Accessed March 01, 2014 at

Zehringer, J. 2012. "Southern Red Belly Dace" (On-line). Ohio department of natural resources. Accessed March 01, 2014 at

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

BioKIDS home  |  Questions?  |  Animal Diversity Web  |  Cybertracker Tools

Morgan, M.; B. Ripp and S. Rubino 2014. "Chrosomus erythrogaster" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed May 25, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
Copyright © 2002-2024, The Regents of the University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

University of Michigan