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NFC: Captive Propagation of Topeka Shiner (fwd)

J. L. Wiegert                                    ICQ UIN: 1918889
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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 2 Feb 1999 00:25:24 -0500 (EST)
From: Konrad Schmidt <flier at uswest_net>
To: nfc at actwin_com
Subject: Captive Propagation of Topeka Shiner

          EUREKA, TOPEKA! (Shiners, that is)
                    by Ray Katula

          Tropical Fish Hobbyist: December 1998

	One magnificent aspect of the fish keeping hobby is that 
with all the biodiversity mother Earth has to offer, there is 
little danger about becoming jaded about it. An enlightened 
surprise always seems to appear around the next bend, stream, or 
pet shop. After thirty years of keeping and breeding North Ameri
can fishes, they have not diminished my enthusiasm, and the 
Topeka shiner, Notropis topeka, is an endearing case in point.
	Little known even to the avid North American fish hobby
ist, the Topeka shiner possesses several endearing qualities for 
the hobbyist to contemplate. Due to the Topeka's potential pro
posed protective status, however, they may not be available for 
the average hobbyist any time soon. They have disappeared from 
considerable portions of their historic range, which is rather 
surprising, since these colorful minnows appear to be incredibly 
hardy within the aquarium (where at temperatures of 74xF to 78xF 
the males exhibit magnificent colors). It is their disappearance 
from a considerable portion of their range which is prompting the 
United States Fish and Wildlife Service to consider federal 
protective status. Hopefully this will monitor and control any 
further desecration of habitat.
	In 1996 active North American Native Fishes Association 
member (now editor of the Native Fish Conservancy) Konrad 
Schmidt, sent me a baker's dozen of young of the year Topeka 
shiners, which he caught in the Rock River basin of Minnesota. At 
the time of this writing, Minnesota has not needed any protection 
for their populations, which evidently are still common. Up to 
that point, the only photographs and illustrations I had seen of 
Topekas showed a fair amount of red in their fins, but nothing 
like the color the live specimens I had been sent. In recent 
years, the situation has improved dramatically, but it is often 
difficult finding a good color representation of our North Ameri
can ichthyofauna.
	The Topeka shiner is found primarily throughout reaches 
of the Lower Missouri River system, from southeastern South 
Dakota, extreme southwestern Minnesota south to Kansas and Cen
tral Missouri. A few populations are located in the upper Arkan
sas River drainages of southern Kansas, and recently a population 
was discovered in extreme northwestern Missouri--a Mississippi 
River tributary--the first time they have been caught outside a 
Missouri River tributary.
	Generally they occupy small clear streams that drain 
prairie regions. The stream substrate consists of sand, gravel 
bedrock, and rubble, but the fish evidently avoids silty bottoms. 
Increased siltation and turbidity are considered to be the lead
ing causes of their decline. Some streams they inhabit dry up 
during the driest summer months. The Topekas survive these 
droughts by residing Iow-lying pools, where spring water would 
still percolate through the substrate. Tramer (1977) reported 
that Topeka shiners survive prolonged drought conditions better 
then any other resident species. Other plausible reasons for the 
Topekas decline is species competition from introduced black
stripe topminnows and western mosquitofish; urbanization also has 
reduced or eliminated some populations.
	Female and juvenile Topekas are rather nondescript, with 
mostly silver covering their sides and a faint lateral black 
line. For a minnow (family Cyprinidae), they are slab sided and 
chubby, while most minnows are long and slender. The fins are 
usually clear. Males on the other hand can become quite colorful 
and quite reminiscent of the more common and well-known red 
shiner (Cyprinella lutrensis). Fins of male Topekas can be a 
bright cherry red with the fin bases usually clear. Nuptial males 
display more red within the fins and display a faint blue lateral 
stripe replacing the black lateral stripe. Also, there is a rosy 
cheek displayed. During peak coloration, the whole side displays 
a blue luminance. Nuptial males--as in most minnows-develop small 
breeding tubercles on their forehead. One last marking worthy of 
mention is a small black wedge mark, located at the caudal fin 
base. Typical of many North American minnow species, males can 
attain chromatic nuptial colors then fade to varying degrees 
outside of the spawning season. Also typical of these minnows, 
Topekas can be coaxed into prolonging their nuptial colors by 
maintaining a rich diet, (glassworms, mosquito larvae, Daphne, 
quality flake foods, etc.) and either maintaining an optimum 
temperature or fluctuating from cooler temps and rising up to 
prime breeding temps of 76 to 78 degrees F.
	Some variation is expected within a wide-ranging species 
such as the Topeka shiner, but apparently Topekas show little 
diversity. Harold Kerns, a Missouri Department of Conservation 
biologist who has studied the life history of Topekas, conducted 
DNA analysis over a large range and discovered they are nearly 
identical genetically. Evidence indicates they are relatively 
recently evolved. Through his DNA test he noted that they appear 
to be most closely related to the sand shiner, (Notropis stra
mineus). This is rather surprising, given the fact that sand 
shiners possess no nuptial coloration whatsoever, and sand shin
ers tend to be slender rather than slab-sided like the Topekas. 
The scientific name of Topekas has been confusing in recent 
years. They have been listed as Notropis tristis, though for the 
most part have been called N. topeka. For the purpose of this 
article, I am using this more common scientific name.
	To breed Topekas presents no real challenges, though this 
account is likely the first written report of their captive 
spawning and subsequent culture. It was the fall of 1996 when my 
friend Konrad Schmidt sent me the specimens he had captured from 
the Rock River basin of Minnesota. At one inch in size they were 
rather nondescript, but one male was displaying hints of red at 
their halfgrown size. In May of 1997 I prepared a breeding aquar
ium which had a 26-gallon capacity. Fine black gravel overlay 
undergravel filter plates. A powerhead supplied the water cur
rent, which the Topekas displayed an affinity for. In nature, 
Topekas were observed spawning over the nest of orangespotted 
sunfish, ( Lepomis humilis) and green sunfish, (L, cyanellus) 
(Plieger, Fishes of Missouri, 1997). No details of egg deposition 
placement were observed. While preparing the spawning tank, it 
was not feasible for me to provide host (sunfish) spawners, and 
that proved unnecessary. I did provide a simulated pebbled sun
fish nest and also provided other forms of potential spawning 
substrates, including plastic aquarium plants, green yarn spawn
ing mops, and even a cave on the outside chance the Topekas 
proved to be spatial spawners. The Topekas were fed both freeze 
dried and frozen bloodworms, live mosquito larvae, whiteworms and 
various flake foods. The females quickly assumed a distended 
appearance, but after a month of waiting, no spawning had com
menced. The aquarium was initially maintained at a temperature of 
70-xF, and this proved to be the limiting factor. After slowly 
increasing the temperature to 76-xF, eggs started to appear. On 
July 4, the first eggs were discovered. The eggs were adhesive 
and were scattered about the substrate with the vast majority 
being found within the pebbled nest, though small numbers were 
found virtually throughout the aquarium.
	Males were extremely aggressive while spawning. An alpha 
male assumes the prime spawning location, (in this case over the 
sunfish nest) and allows no other fish to intrude upon its terri
tory. He even chases away willing females, but if a female per
sists on intruding the male's turf, spawning soon commences. The 
male would swim alongside of the female, head to head, and vi
brate. Several eggs would then fall to the substrate well below 
the midwater spawning Topekas. A female would repeat this process 
two to four times, and once disinterested in spawning, would 
resume swimming with the other females and non-spawning males. 
While spawning other species of minnows, I have often seen sever
al males spawning with a single female, even in territorial 
species, but this was never evident in my observations of Tope
kas. Male Topekas were very adamant about spawning alone.
	The eggs hatched in five days at 72xF. On July 13, about 
75 Topeka shiner fry were observed free swimming. Two subsequent 
attempts to induce spawning succeeded later in the summer. The 
aquarium was cooled off for several weeks, reheated to 76-xF to 
78xF, and optimum spawning ensued. For the last two spawning 
attempts, only one male was introduced to the spawning tank each 
time to keep him focused on breeding activity rather than chasing 
away competing males.
	The fry were fed microworms and prepared powdered dry 
foods, In another 16 days, the first fry began accepting live 
brine shrimp nauplii, They grew rather slowly due primarily to a 
Iow culture temperature of 70F. By December, they had achieved a 
size of one inch, slightly less than half their adult size. The 
fry, much like the adults, proved to be quite hardy once the 
first several weeks of life were behind them. At weekly intervals 
larval and young fry were preserved and sent to the University of 
Minnesota for their life history studies.
	The Topeka shiner is a colorful minnow that is hardy, 
peaceful, and ideal candidate for not only the native fish commu
nity aquarium but some tropical fish setups as well. However, due 
to its wide range reductions, it is currently being reviewed by 
the United States Fish and Wildlife Service for possible federal 
threatened status, which would help provide it with needed habi
tat protection. The down side to federal listing will be the 
prohibition of maintaining the species in the average aquarists 
home, and this would be a shame. Some problems exist with the 
well-intentioned laws intended to protect endangered and threat
ened species, and they sometimes leave little leeway for the 
procurement of species for hobbyists to study and breed in the 
	While the most needed laws are for habitat preservation 
and protection, unfortunately such laws are often lacking, and 
there is often less desire to protect nongame fishes of North 
America. Several sates are becoming more actively involved in the 
captive culture of non-game fishes, but due to the sheer numbers 
of species listed, these good faith efforts are merely a drop in 
the bucket of what is needed. As mentioned, very few states have 
such programs.
	Many species are relatively common but have an extremely 
limited range and therefore are often listed. Procurement of 
small numbers for captive culture would likely do very little to 
harm the wild populations yet would provide a means for some 
qualified hobbyist to study culture techniques. Some species, are 
extremely rare, and those of extremely small spring habitats, 
e.g. southwestern pupfishes, are better off left alone except for 
the well-qualified scientist or aquarist. The removal of speci
mens from the vast majority of freshwater habitats impacts native 
populations slightly if at all, (Robison and Buchanan, 1988). 
While a few opinions might oppose this view, all the scientists 
and researchers I've talked to hold this same opinion. Careful 
and reasonable collection of rare or listed fishes does not 
impact the native populations. It is habitat change which is the 
primary cause of decline.
	Note: I do not endorse the improper collection of species 
without proper permits. I endorse lobbying for laws to allow 
aquarists to use the better knowledge and technology we have 
nowadays to culture such endangered species. A population of 
species, even if only captive, is better than no population at 
	If interested in preserving and studying rare fishes of 
North America join the Native Fish Conservancy, 1663 Iowa Ave. 
E., St. Paul, MN 56106. Special thanks goes out to Konrad 
Schmidt, Harold Kerns, Larry Page, and Richard Mayden for help in 
preparlng this article.