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Topeka shiner

Notropis topeka

What do they look like?

Most Topeka shiners have orangish heads and reddish-orange fins. Their bodies are silver with a dark grey-blue or black line along the middle of their body. Topeka shiners are usually around 34.6 mm long when they are 12 months old, 42.5 mm long when they are 24 months old, and 53.2 cm long when they are 36 months old. Males grow faster than females and are quite a bit bigger by the time they are adults. When males are 3 years old they are about 69 mm long, and females that are 3 years old are around 47 mm long. (Hatch, 2002; Minckley and Cross, 1959; Pflieger, 1971)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range length
    7.6 (high) cm
    2.99 (high) in
  • Average length
    4.5 cm
    1.77 in

Where do they live?

Topeka shiners live in streams in the central prairies of the United States. Today, they are found in only 20% of the area of streams they used to live in. Their numbers are declining in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa, which are most of the states where they live. They are also found in South Dakota and Minnesota. (Hatch, 2002)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Topeka shiners live in ponds or parts of streams that dry up a little bit with the weather. They prefer cool, clear ponds with lots of plants and soft, muddy bottoms. The streams they live in usually flow about 1.5 m^3 per second and have mostly gravel bottoms. They rarely live in places where the plants have roots, or ones that stop flowing for part of the year. In Missouri, they are now only found in streams that flow into the Missouri River where silt and sediments don't build up. Farther north and west, they live in water that does have silt or sediment on the bottom. Either way, they like to stay in calmer pools or edges of the stream instead of the the parts with the strongest current. They live in southwestern Minnesota in waters that drain into the Missouri River. (Dahle, 2001; Evermann and Cox, 1896; Hatch, 2002; Michl and Peters, 1993; Minckley and Cross, 1959; Pflieger, 1971)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams
  • temporary pools

How do they grow?

Wild Topeka shiners scatter and fertilize their eggs when the water gets to be 22°C. This is called spawning. In captivity, they start spawning at 21.1°C to 25.6°C. The eggs hatch after 5 days, and the newly hatched fish start eating brine shrimp larvae and other foods. (Katula, 1998)

How do they reproduce?

Topeka shiners spawn from late May through July in Kansas and Missouri. Farther north, they spawn from early June to mid-August. They spawn when the water temperature gets to 22°C. Topeka shiners spawn in pools over gravel and rubble substrates alongside green sunfish and orangespotted sunfish. Topeka shiners have small territories they defend. Their territories are usually smaller than 0.25 sq m, and located close to the nests of sunfish. Males defend their nests and only allow very persistent females to lay eggs in their nests. (Dahle, 2001; Hatch, 2001; Katula, 1998; Kerns, 1983; Pflieger, 1971)

Male and female Topeka shiners are mature by the time they are 12 to 14 months old. Whether they are mature or not depends more on their size than it does on their age. Females can release eggs when they are 37 mm long, and males can fertilize eggs when they are 47 mm long. Topeka shiners spawn more than once in each season so they can lay more eggs in a year without having to make their eggs smaller. Topeka shiners lay 453 eggs on average. They live about 3 years, though 90% of them die within the first year. (Cross, 1967; Dahle, 2001; Hatch, 2001; Hatch, 2002; Heins, 1990; Kerns, 1983; Pflieger, 1971)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Notropis topeka spawns once per year.
  • Breeding season
    Spawning in Notropis topeka occurs from mid-May to mid-August.
  • Range number of offspring
    351 to 559
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average time to hatching
    4 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    12 to 14 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    12 to 14 months

Topeka shiners don't invest time or energy into caring for their young after they scatter and fertilize their eggs.

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female

How long do they live?

Topeka shiners live a maximum of 3 years. (Cross, 1967; Dahle, 2001; Kerns, 1983; Pflieger, 1971)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    3 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    3 (high) years

How do they behave?

Topeka shiners are active during the day. They are very territorial.

Home Range

Scientists don't know the average home range size of Topeka shiners.

How do they communicate with each other?

Like all fish, Topeka shiners have a lateral line running from their head to tail that helps them pick up on changes in pressure and temperature in the water. Scientists don't know much about how Topeka shiners communicate or understand their environment.

What do they eat?

Topeka shiners are thought to eat mostly insects, but this is based mostly on people's observations. Topeka shiners eat insects from the bottom of the river or stream, but also eat some plants. Topeka shiners eat many kinds of microcrustaceans, animals without backbones, larvae of other fish, and larvae of insects that live in the water. They also eat algae, plant parts that surround the seeds, and bits of dead animals and plants called detritus. (Churchill and Over, 1933; Cross and Collins, 1995; Dahle, 2001; Hatch, 2002; Pflieger, 1971)

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • insects
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Scientists don't know much about the major predators of Topeka shiners. They are definitely eaten by largemouth bass. (Berry Jr., et al., 2004)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Topeka shiners help limit the number of insects by eating their larvae that live in the water. Because they eat dead bits of plants and animals, they break down nutrients that are then used by other organisms in the environment. Topeka shiners are probably important prey for nearby fish-eating fish. (Berry Jr., et al., 2004)

Do they cause problems?

There are no known adverse effects of Notropis topeka on humans.

How do they interact with us?

Topeka shiners are sometimes eaten by fish that are stocked in a river for humans to catch. (Berry Jr., et al., 2004)

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • food

Are they endangered?

Topeka shiners were listed as endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 1999, when the number of them declined by 80%. They are listed as "Near Threatened" by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They are affected by disruption of their habitat, including increased amounts of silt and sediment, digging channels through rivers, and too much fertilizer in the water. Part of this comes from all of the farming on the prairies. Farming also impacts water levels, decreases the amount of plants in the water, increases temperatures, and makes the water more cloudy. Topeka shiners are eaten by fish that are stocked in rivers for humans to catch. Their numbers in South Dakota and southwestern Minnesota are strong. Making maps of where they are likely to live in the future would help protect them. (Berry Jr., et al., 2004; Dahle, 2001; Hatch, 2002)


Jessica Sellner (author), Minnesota State University, Mankato, Robert Sorensen (editor), Minnesota State University, Mankato, John Berini (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff, Catherine Kent (editor), Special Projects.


Berry Jr., C., C. Blausey, J. Jenks, C. Kopplin, S. Wall. 2004. Fish-habitat modeling for gap analysis to conserve the endangered Topeka shiner (Notropis topeka). Canadian Journal of Fisheries & Aquatic Sciences, 61(6): 954-973.

Churchill, E., W. Over. 1933. Fishes of South Dakota. The South Dakota Department of Fish and Game: 87pp.

Cross, F. 1967. Handbook of fishes of Kansas. Miscellaneous Publications of the Museum of Natural History, University of Kansas, 45: 1-357.

Cross, F., J. Collins. 1995. Fishes in Kansas. University of Kansas Natural History Museum, Educational Series, 3: 315pp.

Dahle, S. 2001. Studies of Topeka shiner (Notropis topeka) life history and distribution in Minnesota. M. S. Thesis, University of Minnesota, St. Paul.

Elsen, D. 1977. Distribution of fishes in the James River in North Dakota and South Dakota prior to Garrison and Oahe Diversion Projects. M. S. Thesis, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks: 86pp.

Evermann, B., U. Cox. 1896. A report upon the fishes of the Missouri River basin. Report of United States Commision of Fish and Fisheries, 1894: 325-429.

Hatch, J. 2002. Topeka shiner (Notropis topeka). Fishes of Minnesota.

Hatch, J. 2001. What we know about Minnesota's first endangered fish species: the Topeka shiner. Journal of the Minnesota Academy of Science, 65(1): 39-46.

Heins, D. 1990. Field evidence for multiple clutches in the longnose shiner. Copeia, 1990: 579-582.

Katula, R. 1998. Eureka Topeka! (Shiners, that is). Tropical Fish Hobbyist.

Kerns, H. 1983. Aspects of the life history of the Topeka shiner, Notropis topeka (Gilbert), in Kansas. unpublished manuscript.

Michl, G., E. Peters. 1993. New distribution record of the Topeka shiner in Loup Drainage basin in Nebraska. Prairie Naturalist, 25: 51-54.

Minckley, W., F. Cross. 1959. Distribution, habitat, and abundance of the Topeka shiner Notropis topeka (Gilbert) in Kansas. American Midland Naturalist, 61: 210-217.

Pflieger, W. 1971. A distributional study of Missouri fishes. Museum of Natural History, 20: 225-570.

Robins, C. 1991. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States and Canada. Am. Fish. Soc. Spec. Pub., 20: 183.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Sellner, J. 2012. "Notropis topeka" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed February 23, 2024 at

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