Pimephales promelas
Fathead Minnow

Fathead Minnow

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The natural history of the northwoods



  • Pimephales, from the Greek, "fat head"
  • promelas, from the Greek, "before black", perhaps a reference to the darkened head of the original speciman.
  • Common name from the swollen, black head of the breeding male
  • Other common names include: Blackhead Minnow, Tuffy Minnow


  • Kingdom Animalia
    • Phylum Chordata, animals with a spinal chord
    • Subphylum Vertebrata, animals with a backbone
      • Superclass Osteichthyes, bony fishes
      • Class Actinopterygii, ray-finned and spiny rayed fishes
      • Subclass Neopterygii
      • Infraclass Teleostei
        • Superorder Ostariophysi
        • Order Cypriniformes, minnows and suckers
        • Family Cyprinidae, carps and minnows
          • Genus Pimephales, the bluntnose minnows


  • A common Minnesota minnow
  • Length
    • maximum length of about 3"
    • adult males grow larger than females.
  • Weight
  • Coloration
    • dark olive above
    • coppery tinge behind head and along sides
    • sides silvery
    • belly white
    • dusky band or blotch in front and rear rays of dorsal fin
    • light dusky stripe along the midside from head to the base of the tail fin The lateral band is faint in specimens from turbid waters and prominent in specimens from clear water.
    • Typical males are light silvery behind the opercle to the pectoral fins; then a dark bar extends to the insertion of the dorsal fin followed by a light bar to about mid-way along the dorsal fin. Breeding males assume a very dark color about the head and may exhibit dark vertical bands on the body.
  • Body
    • stout, cylindrical, moderately compressed laterally
    • small scales
    • back broad and flat in front of dorsal fin
    • incomplete lateral line of 42-48 scales, not extending from the head to the base of the tail
    • shortened and closely attached first ray in the dorsal fin and smaller, crowded scales in advance of the dorsal fin.
    • dorsal and pelvic fins of 8 rays
    • anal fin of 7 rays
    • pectoral fins of 15/16 rays
  • Head
    • mouth small, terminal, and oblique without a barbel; not overhung by the snout as others in this genus.
    • spawning males develop swollen, black head with breeding tubercles appearing in three rows on the snout.
    • slender, slightly hooked pharyngeal teeth in a 4-4 pattern


  • Distinguished from closely related Bluntnose Minnow (Pimephales notatus) by a dusky band or blotch in the front and rear rays of the dorsal fin.


  • Midwest and Great Plains states, through the Great Lakes basin to New York, south to Texas and New Mexico, and north into the Yukon.
  • Widely introduced elsewhere.


  • Lakes and streams
  • Often found in large schools around submerged structure
  • Very tolerant of muddy water, low oxygen, and a wide range of pH levels.


  • Primarily zooplankton (microscopic crustaceans); also microscopic plants, small insects and larvae, and occasionally fish.
  • Its small size and abundant reproduction make it an excellent forage fish.



  • One of the best known and most used of bait minnows. Very hardy.
  • Rapid rate of reproduction makes it an excellent choice for stocking where predatory fish are present.


  • Spawns from early May through August. The adhesive eggs are deposited on the under surface of floating objects, and the male guards them. The eggs hatch in 5 to 6 days.
  • One-year-old fish range in size from one-half inch to three inches.
  • Sexual maturity reached at 1 year of age.



Boreal border

Last updated on 17 October 1999