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NFC: North American Killies


The North American Killies

Robert Rice

Battered and abused, unknown and unloved. Sounds like a movie of the week doesn't it? Well in fact it describes our North American Killies. North American Killies? I didn't know we had any you may say. You are not alone in thinking that, and nothing could be farther from the truth! We have an excellent variety of Killies on this continent, brackish and freshwater, they possess a multitude of dramatic sizes, shapes and colors and are a hit oversees. Here sadly they are a flop relegated to use as an occasional bait minnow!

C'mon folks we can do SO much better than that! While we talk about the rain forest and other ecological crisis we let our ignorance of local flora and fauna and thus our local Killies go unchallenged. These poor guys lie waiting for SOMEONE, anyone to notice them. Why not you ! If tomorrow your local newspaper ran a story saying XYZ Killi was now extinct. Would you be surprised ? Would you know what they were talking about ? Would you be ashamed ? Maybe we all should be at least a little !

For those of you unfamiliar with our native Killies they are a broad family of small (under six inches) minnow like fishes. With a large degree of color variation and temperaments with in the species. Almost all of them however are suitable aquarium specimens. They have several characteristics that make them something your average Aquarist should look into. First and foremost they are tough as nails. Their tolerances to heat cold, poor water conditions and jumping on the floor are legendary. I've had individuals who jumped from the tank and have been unnoticed for hours when I finally find the dry, dusty, pitiful looking victim he flip just a bit in my hand. So back in the tank he went and by the end of the day was back to normal ! Second they are colorful, no not a neon tetra type of colorful, but they are colorful, as colorful as a great many tropical's out there and a heck of a lot easier and cheaper to keep. Finally they are very interesting behaviorally speaking. Your average Aquarist has an excellent chance at successfully spawning most Killies. Sadly so little is known about the triggers to spawning that well documented breeding data is not generally available. On the positive side when you discover how to breed these gems the data would be a real bonus to the University or Department of Natural Resources folks out there. Who by the way are finding it is the Killies not the Gambusia family that are the real mosquito fish. A Killi will eat 5-10 times more mosquitoes than a Gambusia. They are truly mosquito munching machines ! With all that going for them they still have been virtually ignored by Sportsmen, Naturalist, and most Aquarist. Only a few of us Nuts out here keeping the faith and the Killies!

That's been the hurdle our native fishes have had to conquer ! They don't lack in durability , they don't lack in looks , they certainly don't lack in interesting behaviors. What they lack in is advocates ! Very few people care enough about them to speak up for them. That is their downfall. Book after book contains no relevant breeding or rearing information. They all say the dreaded, see species description. Why is that ? Is it possible that all Killies, Sunfish , Darters and Shiners are alike ? Needing the same water , conditions, food, and temperature requirements? Is it possible that the entire continent is inhabited by only a single species of Killi, Darter Sunfish etc.? Of course not . It's just there is not enough information available.

There is great diversity out there and for the Aquarist there is great opportunity to work with species of which little or nothing is known. Imagine you could be first one to document breeding conditions of a seldom studied Killi and you would not even have to fly to Africa. You could begin to document the range of a species that has been passed over in the past as only a unnamed Killi ! It's not SCI FI it's reality! All it takes is for folks all across the continent to get busy investing their time and resources into studying the world around them. You cou make a great difference, without significantly changing your hobby. Keep doing what your doing just change subjects a bit. It matters it really does !

OK, OK, you say, you've convinced me I'll try a few Killies now where do I start? First check out your local library and see if you can Find Peterson's Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes by Brooks M. Burr and Larry Page. This resource book will give you a real good idea of what Killies are available locally. You should also check out and see if any people in your area are involved in keeping native Killies. Check with your' local Fish club or find out if there is a local Chapter of NANFA (North American Native Fish Association) or the AKA (American Killifish Association) both clubs are active across the country in keeping and rearing Native Killies and are great places to start (see side bar).

So what Killies do I recommend you ask . I recommend a ton of them but for brevity's sake and to help the cause I'll cut my list down to five . Based on overall beauty, durability , availability and authors bias. Here's my top five in NO particular order.

The Plains Killifish (Fundulus zebrinus)

This charming fellow looks like an escaped convict with his vertical bars and golden backdrop. In the tank he is very hardy and I have had them spawn in both the pond and the tank. He takes to food like he takes to life, with hardy abandon. One of the finer specimens of a fish you can keep. It occurs in the midwest. Sporadically from Colorado to Texas.

Lined Topminnow (Fundulus linnelatus)

Hard to find but easy to love this guy is cool. The male takes on horizontal striping on a light gray background while the female takes on the vertical stripes. Which makes them a striking pair to say the least. They are as hardy as you can believe and make an excellent species for study or home enjoyment.

Golden Topminnow (Fundulus chrysotus)

The Classic North American Killi . Large, Colorful, exceedingly tolerant of poor conditions and a bit on the mean side. Readily available in the pet trade or through fish clubs.

Bluefin Killie (Lucania goodei)

Probably the most well known of the American Killies this small Killi is an excellent pond or aquarium species . The male is strikingly colorful with fins of blue and red. It's small size and excellent temperament make it suitable for small tanks and jars. Occurs in southern regions but is available commonly in the pet trade or through fish clubs.

Blackstripe Topminnow (Fundulus euryzonus)

An excellent addition to any community tank. This small colorful Killi has a shy temperament and an unusual habit of living almost exclusively in the top three inches of a tank. Very common across the midwest and south. Very easy to collect my five year old daughter has caught them on many occasions.


Robert Rice
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