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Cutlip Minnow

Cutlip Minnow
   Photo: Erling Holm / ROM

Features: The Cutlip Minnow gets its unusual name from a tri-lobed lower jaw composed of soft and fleshy outside lobes and a boney central lobe. An unusual behaviour reported for the Cutlip is that it will attack and eat the eyes of other fish - hence a nickname "eye-picker" for this species. It lives in rivers and creeks, preferring slow-moving water, where it feeds on the bottom and catches mainly insect larvae. Cutlip Minnow breeds in gravelly areas of the stream. The male selects a site and excavates a depression in the bottom, clearing away sand and mud. He then lines the depression with fine gravel, which he selects from the surrounding area and carries to the site. When a female has laid eggs in the nest, the male covers them with the collected gravel, and guards the site. The gentle flow of water over the nest and the gravel substrate ensures the eggs are well oxgenated. The nest ensures the eggs do not get smothered by sand - a leading cause of egg mortality in stream fishes. When the eggs hatch, the parents will guard the fry and keep them together in a school, shepherding them around to feed. Cutlip Minnows are one of the few Cyprinids to care for their young this way.

Status: Threatened Provincially, Not at Risk Nationally

Range: The Cutlip Minnow is found in eastern North America, from Quebec and Ontario south to North Carolina, west to the Adirondacks. It is generally found in inland and upland sites, rather than on the coast. In Canada, it is found in the St. Lawrence River and tributaries, and populations have been reported in southern Quebec and eastern Ontario. In Ontario, the species has been recorded from a total of 12 sites since the 1930s, but the most recent surveys have confirmed it at fewer than six sites in Ontario. It is more widespread in Quebec.

Threats: The Cutlip Minnow prefers warm streams, so Canadian populations may represent the northern range limits of the species. They may never have been common in Ontario, and there is evidence of a decline here since the 1930s, when extensive surveys were first conducted. The species is more abundant in Pennsylvania and New York states. The species does best in clear streams, and is susceptible to siltation and flood damage, particularly during the spring spawning season, so watershed deforestation and agricultural development can affect the species. Fisheries biologists have suggested that nest-site competition with the Common Shiner (Luxilis cornutus) may be contributing to rarity and declines in Ontario.

Protection: The Cutlip Minnow is legally protected in Ontario by the Endangered Species Act, 2007. It also receives general protection from the Fisheries Act.

Text Sources: Crossman and Holm 1996

Last Modified Date: October 2008



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