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NFC: Flagfin Shiner


The Flagfin Shiner (Pteronotropis signippinnis) as an Aquarium Species

by Robert Rice

Lying quietly back in the small tannic coastal springs of Florida and Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana is the Flagfin shiner . He lives as a virtual unknown to those who live around him. He is one of the most colorful and tolerant aquarium species around. He also is one of the most obscure. This common Southeastern shiner should be a shining star of the aquarium. He rivals all the well known tropicals in looks and he surpasses almost all of them in toughness. He takes flake , frozen and every other kind of food with relish. Once established in the tank he is gentle, almost disease free, and showy. He is an excellent community tank member. Unfortunately he has remained an unknown species to the Aquarist, and to a greater degree the general public. Only a few odd collectors, NFC members and fisheries personnel even know he's there.

In this country there has developed a shyness of sorts against keeping common native species. Why ? Who knows? Fortunately this species is one of literally hundreds of North American Native Species that are suitable aquarium species. They pass the Aquarist test they are colorful , durable and breedable. All the priorities a serious Aquarist should have . The only missing factor for most Aquarist is information . Is there public information on breeding habits, food requirements etc. ? In this case the answer is no. There are little or no public records available on most North American Native Species in general , and the Flagfin Shiner in specific. With the exception of the odd article this species has remained anonymous. While this lack of species documentation presents a challenge , it is not an insurmountable one .

Aquarist unique skills in breeding and rearing unusual species would change the published life history for this species and so many others in a heartbeat. Imagine the day when all the State agencies have full and complete life histories on this and other species without spending a dime . This input from Aquarist could help preserve the species. The agencies would know the how, when and why of breeding, they would know the intricacies of raising and rearing. In short they would know the Flagfin Shiner or any other species Aquarists set there sights on. How could the state agencies get all that information for free ? The answer is simple and can be summed up in one word , Communicate . Aquarist can do that ! If we can breed and raise and document habits of rare Discus and Cichlids , then unusual temperate water species should be a snap. We should share our results with the local fisheries personnel and Colleges then the whole country and the Flagfin shiner could benefit! Fisheries personnel would then take our requests for expanded legislated access to Native Fishes more seriously if we shared breeding, rearing and collecting data with the greater fisheries community.

You decide the Flagfin sounds like an interesting fish and you'd like to try this native species for your next tank. You have a few questions first. You want to know is it worth the time and effort to do a serious attempt at breeding and rearing ? Will it be colorful ? Will I be proud of my Native Species tank ? Basically , is this fish one I should spend my time, money and efforts on ? The answer to all the questions is yes. For a unbiased opinion here is what the benchmark of native fish guides Peterson's Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes by Larry M. Page and Brooks M. Burr says about the Flagfin Shiner (keep in mind this excellent book is written for the Scholar/Biologist in the field not the Aquarist ( page 118 ) " Identification : Olive Gold above; upper side yellow front red at rear: broad blue black stripe along side with vertical orange dashes; pale gold lower side; gold snout. Red orange edge on yellow dorsal, caudal, anal, and pelvic fins ; yellow pectoral fins deep compressed body, strongly tapering to caudical peduncle..........". Beautiful, common, unloved and unknown , a prime candidate for the efforts of the serious Aquarist .

Certainly the Flagfin Shiner is a colorful fish and when compared with the various tetra's and danios out there, it is defiantly worthy of a serious look . Let's say you are a Naturalist at heart . You have decided you want to take the challenge and rear and breed the Flagfin Shiner . Well first off, I congratulate you , and second off , I warn you. Most likely you will fail several times before you succeed. You are venturing into uncharted waters. There is scant documentation out there. Do not be discouraged that is part of the learning process. Here is my experience with this "Rose of the South". When I have collected this shiner it is always in coastal seepage springs. Seepage springs , are springs with no particular head to them. All along the bed of the spring are very small little seeps that bubble a small amount of spring water. What this does is equilibrate the temperature all along the small creek beds that this species occurs. You see , with no central concentration of spring water there is no hot or cold end to the spring. It bubbles along with a bit here , and a bit there , and in general maintains a very constant temperature , pH and salinity all the while remaining pretty insignificant (usually less than 6 feet across). During a creeks long ramblings it picks up large amounts of leaf litter and pine needles thus it maintains a tannic , acidic quality throughout it's stretch. This leaf litter gives it it's tannic nature. Typically these "springs" vary only slightly in temperature ( 65-71 degrees F) and pH (6.0.- 6.5) during a year. This constancy is the key to rearing this species .

The Flagfin is often the most common fish in the places it inhabits. It is easy to collect and a lot of fun . If you are able to collect the species yourself with a day or weekend trip, by all means do so. It is the type of collecting many people pay thousands of dollars for. It's tannic home and the variety of flora and fauna you encounter during your collecting trip will make you believe you are in a deep , dark foreign land. Luckily for you may be able to collect the Flagfin Shiner for the cost of gasoline, time, lunch and a fishing license. The streams in which it occurs are cool , comfortable and a pleasure to seine or dipnet. These tannic creeks usually carry few if any predatory species and a nice variety of Darters, Shiners and plants. Check your Peterson's Guide, your local Department of Natural Resources folks or a NFC member for suitable locations to collect and local regulations. With a bit of research you will find them an ease to find and collect.

Suddenly you realize you have caught the dreaded Native Fish fever . What now ? You sadly realize collecting this species is just not a possibility ? Perhaps your physical limitations preclude you from collecting this fish? What if you live in Alberta Canada or Des Moines Iowa ? Inspite of all this you are still burning with the fever to rear and breed this fish ! Relax, there are regular trading post sections on the NFC's Fishwish list which can help you get suitable specimens with little sweat ! If you are not a NFC member and would like to check them out go to nativefish.org , Trading posts are fast becoming the most economical way to acquire native species ! Make a trade , it is easy . Perhaps you are uncertain what you have to offer as a trade (many people love to trade tropicals for natives and vice versa) ! In many cases if you just have nothing to trade some people are happy to send you fish at no charge, of course you must be willing to pay the postage .I use priority mail with a very high success rate.

With a bit of elbow grease and bit of communication and a collecting trip or trade anyone can posses some Flagfin Shiners. If you are a wise soul you will adjust the water a bit before they arrive and take the liberty of taking a water sample from their home waters with you when you collected, Or asked your trading partner to send one along . Anyhow you have all it takes to make a go of this . You know a bit about the former home of these fish so you can match things in a reasonable manner. Unfortunately , you and I and most of the world are still are ignorant of the intricacies of their lifestyle, reproduction and rearing. Welcome to the club and by all means let me share with you what I know. This species is an egg scatterer , they spawn in gravel depressions in the stream bed. Contrary to published myth they will spawn all year around if conditions are right. I suspect temperature around 70 F will get them going but only in combination with other factors. What are those factors ? I don't know ! Aquarist could learn those factors . I have collect gravid females in the spring , fall and winter. So temperature must be a factor. Their diet consist mainly of small insects and crustaceans in the stream. The closer that you can mimic that the better off you will be. In my tank they thrive on bloodworms, earthworms and mosquito larvae. When I have collected gravid females they have quickly spawned . They young are durable and become free swimming in 6 days and feed mainly of "green water " and daphnia , then baby brine shrimp and finally bloodworms.

I know there is much to learn about this species and there are better Aquarist who should take up the torch. Their input will make the difference. Biologist just do not have the time and resources to further this species research. Their efforts are just spread too thin. Fisheries personnel have to many hats to wear. Aquarist are needed in the environmental fray more than ever . The breeding of these more common species with documented data is a very practical way to help our fishes and the knowledge about them. A last note of warning , Flagfin Shiners are very sensitive to temperature changes and chlorine so plan your tank maintenance accordingly and please by all means let us know of any success you may have . The states of Florida, Alabama , Louisiana , Mississippi and many of us out here await your results.


Robert Rice
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