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What is a Golden Shiner?

By Lynndee Molyneaux
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A golden shiner, or Notemigonus crysoleucas, is a species of minnow fish typically found in the warm, shallow waters of lakes, ponds, streams, reservoirs, and marshes throughout North America. It generally has a golden or silvery sheen with an olive-colored back. The fins are usually colorless, but breeding males may have yellow, orange, or red pelvic and anal fins. As is characteristic of minnows, golden shiners are usually very small, though some can reach lengths of over 10 in (260 mm), with females generally being larger than males. Fishermen commonly use golden shiners as bait when trying to catch larger fish.

The golden shiner is most often found near aquatic plants, but may be seen in open waters at night. It can survive in temperatures of up to 97°F (36°C). Although the golden shiner is most commonly found in warm waters, it may sometimes make its home in cold temperatures, as long as there is a warm area for breeding in the vicinity.

This fish is nearly always found in groups, or schools, even when breeding, which is also known as spawning. Breeding season for the golden shiner usually takes place between March and September, when water temperatures reach 68°F (20°C). Females typically deposit between 2,700 and 4,700 eggs in the debris of sandbars. They will sometimes deposit their eggs in the nests of largemouth bass, which may lead to a higher survival rate for the young golden shiners because the largemouth bass protect their nests. Males swim behind the females and fertilize the eggs as soon as they are deposited.

After the eggs are deposited and fertilized, they receive no further care from the parent fish. Generally, the eggs hatch within four or five days. The newly hatched golden shiners typically stick together in large schools near the shore, and feed on rotifers and algae. In cold waters, the young golden shiners generally grow to lengths of 1.4 to 1.8 in (36 to 46 mm) within a year. In warm waters, they can reach lengths of 3 in (76 mm). Young fish can grow to lengths of up to 5.5 in (140 mm) by their second year of life, but after this, their growth rate typically slows significantly.

Once the golden shiner reaches maturity, it begins to feed mainly on zooplankton, insects, small fish, mollusks, and crustaceans, such as water fleas and crayfish. In the event that food becomes scarce, adults have been known to eat algae. Its streamlined body, small head, and pointed snout aid in hunting. The fish mainly hunts by sight, so it is generally most active during the daytime.

The golden shiner is prey to larger fish, birds, and sea turtles. When predators are present, these fish often travel in schools, and, contrary to their typical behavior, avoid hunting during the daytime. Under these conditions, the golden shiner usually searches for food at night, when predators have a harder time seeing them.

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