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How do I know if a small fish is a minnow?

Q: How do I know if a small fish is a minnow?

A: Not all small fishes are minnows; many are the young of other fish. A number of characteristics serve to separate small fish from true minnows. All minnows have naked heads except during breeding season when mature male develop many hornlike bumps, called tubercles. Some minnows also develop bright colors during breeding season, as suggested by such names as redside dace, redbelly dace, rosyface shiner, red shiner and redfin shiner. A single dorsal fin with fewer than 10 soft rays is characteristic of all native minnows. In carps and goldfish, the dorsal fin has a hard ray and more than 10 soft rays. Minnows lack teeth in their jaws, but have specialized teeth in their throat (pharynx) region. These pharyngeal teeth are useful in identifying the various minnow species.

Minnesota is currently home to 47 different minnow species, according to the Bell Museum of Natural History.

- Roland Sigurdson, DNR MinnAqua Program

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