Sheepshead minnow

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Sheepshead minnow
Cyprinodon variegatus variegatus.jpg
Sheepshead minnow
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Cyprinodontiformes
Family: Cyprinodontidae
Genus: Cyprinodon
Species: C. variegatus
Subspecies: C. v. variegatus
Trinomial name
Cyprinodon variegatus variegatus
  • Cyprinodon ellipsoidea (Lesueur, 1821)
  • Cyprinodon gibbosus Baird & Girard, 1853
  • Cyprinodon rhomboidalis (Valenciennes, 1821)
  • Cyprinodon variegatus Lacepède, 1803
  • Cyprinus variegatus Bosc, 1803
  • Lebia ellipsoidea Lesueur, 1821
  • Lebias rhomboidalis Valenciennes, 1821

The sheepshead minnow or sheepshead pupfish (Cyprinodon variegatus variegatus) is a subspecies of ray-finned fish in the family Cyprinodontidae, the pupfishes. It is found in salt marsh and estuary environments and is native to the eastern coasts of North and Central America.


The sheepshead minnow is a deep-bodied fish growing to a length of up to 75 mm (3 in) though a more normal length is 30 mm (1.2 in).[3] It is nearly half as deep as it is long, excluding its tail. It is laterally compressed with flat sides, an arched back and a small head with a flattened top. The small mouth is at the end of the snout and the teeth are large and wedge-shaped with three cusps. The pectoral fins are large and extend past the origins of the small pelvic fins. The origin of the anal fin hardly overlaps the trailing edge of the dorsal fin. The caudal peduncle is thick and the caudal fin is truncated and square-ended. The arrangement of the fins, the deep body and the tri-cuspid teeth help to distinguish this fish from the mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus), which is found in the same habitats. The body is covered by large, circular scales, the ones on the cheeks and the top of the head and a single scale just above the pectoral fin being the largest. The male is generally larger and more deep-bodied than the female, with larger dorsal, pelvic and anal fins.[4]

The color of the sheepshead minnow is olive green above and yellowish below. Juveniles have irregular transverse dark bars and the females keep these as they mature, while the males lose theirs. The dorsal fin is dark while the pectoral, pelvic and anal fins are orange. During the breeding season the male becomes very colorful with steel blue upper parts in front of the dorsal fin, lustrous green upper parts behind and deep salmon-pink underparts.[4]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The sheepshead minnow is native to the eastern coast of the United States. Its range extends from Cape Cod southwards to the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, also the West Indies. It is found in brackish water in bays, inlets, lagoons, saltmarshes and similar locations with little wave action and sandy or muddy bottoms.[1] It is tolerant of wide variations in salinity and is also found in hypersaline conditions.[3]


The sheepshead minnow is an omnivore, eating both animal and vegetable matter. Its diet mainly consists of detritus, microalgae, crustacean larvae and other small invertebrates.[3] It is aggressive and will attack fish larger than itself, slashing its prey with its sharp teeth and devouring it when it is subdued. Breeding takes place in shallow water between April and September, the males competing fiercely for the females. A few eggs are spawned at a time, and these are fertilised by the males which grasp the females with their fins. The eggs clump together and sink to the seabed, connected by sticky threads. They hatch after five or six days.[4] During the winter, this fish burrows into the soft substrate and remains dormant.[5]


The sheepshead minnow is commonly kept as an aquarium fish. It is easy to breed in captivity and is used as a forage fish in mariculture.[3]


The sheepshead minnow has a wide range and a large total population, divided up into a number of subpopulations. The total number of individuals seems stable and no particular threats to the fish have been identified, so the IUCN has listed it as being of "Least concern".[1]


  1. ^ a b c NatureServe (2013). "Cyprinodon variegatus". The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2013: e.T189823A15361737. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2013-1.RLTS.T189823A15361737.en. Retrieved 15 January 2018. 
  2. ^ a b Bailly, Nicholas (2014). "Cyprinodon variegatus variegatus Lacepède, 1803". World Register of Marine Species. Retrieved 2014-02-17. 
  3. ^ a b c d Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2011). "Cyprinodon variegatus" in FishBase. April 2011 version.
  4. ^ a b c "Sheepshead minnow Cyprinodon variegatus Lacépède 1803". Fishes of the Gulf of Maine: The mummichogs or killifishes: Family Poeciliidae. Fish and Wildlife Services. Retrieved 2014-02-17. 
  5. ^ "Sheepshead Minnow (Cyprinodon variegatus)". The Uncommon Guide to Common Life on Narragansett Bay. 1998. Retrieved 2014-02-17.