Chrosomus erythrogasterSouthern redbelly dace

Geographic Range

Southern redbelly dace (Chrosomus erythrogaster) live in the southeastern Michigan area, from Lake Erie to Ohio. Their range also includes areas of the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River basins, and the White Arkansas River drainage areas, all the way down to Tennessee. There are a few records of southern redbelly dace populations in the Kansas River system and the Upper Arkansas River drainages as well. (Froese, 1990)


Southern redbelly dace prefer small, clear, freshwater streams that are cool in temperature with a moderate to slow current. They prefer sand, gravel, or mud substrates along with vegetation and overhangs on the stream banks for hiding. (Conservation Commission of Missouri, 2014a; Loan-Wisley, 2006)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • rivers and streams

Physical Description

Southern redbelly dace are small fish, approximately 5.8 cm in length, with a small mouth that opens horizontally. Their scales are so small they are nearly unrecognizable to a casual observer. These fish tend to be an olive green color, which blends into their environment, although they do have red and yellow stripes on their sides and black blotches on their dorsal fins. This species has sexually dimorphic coloration; males are more vibrantly colored, especially on their fins and in their stripes. (Conservation Commission of Missouri, 2014b; Conservation Commission of Missouri, 2014a; Zehringer, 2012)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • sexes shaped differently
  • Range length
    5.08 to 10.16 cm
    2.00 to 4.00 in


Within 8 to 10 days of being fertilized, the embryos hatch in water that is 20.6 to 26.7° C (69 to 80° F) and begin a rapid period of growth into adulthood, which lasts about a year. The fish begin feeding on newly hatched brine shrimp, and within two months, grow to a little over one inch in size. (Conservation Commission of Missouri, 2014b; Paulson and Hatch, 2013; Sternburg, 2005)


As mating season approaches, the coloration of sexually mature males becomes more vibrant, particularly in their fins and in the stripes located on their sides. This vibrant coloration helps them attract mates. Since southern redbelly dace participate in polyandrous mating, there is little or no competition between male suitors. (Hoyt and Settles, 1978; Stasiak, 2007)

Breeding takes place when multiple males press up against the female on the bottom of the stream to stimulate the release of eggs for the males to fertilize. Males have pearl organs, also known as breeding tubercles, along their anal and pectoral fins that are used during breeding to stimulate the female to release her eggs. During the April to June mating period, approximately 200 to 6,000 eggs are expelled as males and females repeat the breeding ritual. This ritual can be repeated several times and only takes a few seconds to complete. (Hoyt and Settles, 1978; Stasiak, 2007)

  • Breeding interval
    Southern redbelly dace breed multiple times in the spring.
  • Breeding season
    These fish breed from April to June.
  • Range number of offspring
    200 to 6000
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Polyandrous breeding results in mixed paternity, leading to increased variation in the young. After breeding takes place, the eggs are left in the nest with no parental care. Larger fish species in their habitat, such as trout and sunfish, serve as unintentional protectors of the nest by keeping possible predators away. (Zehringer, 2012)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement


The average lifespan of this fish is about two years, with only one recorded maximum lifespan of three years. (Conservation Commission of Missouri, 2014b)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    2 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    2 years


When southern redbelly dace encounter a threat, such as a predator, these fish school together rather than dart off alone, improving their chances of survival. Southern redbelly dace are social and use a chemical alarm signal that warns others of threats in the area nearby; this chemical also signals fish to school together for protection. Since southern redbelly dace are so small and vulnerable, this species avoids exposure. These fish are diurnal feeders. (Zehringer, 2012; Stasiak, 2007; Zehringer, 2012)

Home Range

Southern redbelly dace inhabit any headwater stream (the source of a stream) or stream bank, as they avoid the faster currents that occur towards the middle of the stream. As a result, the size of the headwater stream is also their territory size because they do not travel in faster moving water. This species disperses based on seasonal flooding that washes some of them out to other areas. Schools in this species include individuals of all ages and sizes, as the young and old inhabit the same area. Even though they inhabit the same area, these fish have not been observed displaying any sort of territorial behavior. (Loan-Wisley, 2006; Stasiak, 2007)

Communication and Perception

Southern redbelly dace are social creatures and will use a chemical alarm signal that warns others of threats in the area nearby; this chemical also signals the fish to school together for protection. (Stasiak, 2007)

Food Habits

Southern redbelly dace tend to feed in schools at the bottom of streams, feeding on algae, aquatic invertebrates, and detritus. Feeding on the bottom of streams not only allows them access to their prey, but also protects them from being in immediate reach of predators. These fish are countershaded, which means the bottom of the fish is lighter in color than the top side, this helps them avoid predators. (Stasiak, 2007; Zehringer, 2012)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • other marine invertebrates
  • Plant Foods
  • algae


Southern redbelly dace are preyed on by birds such as kingfishers and herons, and fish such as sunfish and trout. Other predators include reptiles such as snakes and turtles, amphibians such as bullfrogs and salamanders, and insects like diving beetles. (Stasiak, 2007)

Ecosystem Roles

Southern redbelly dace are not only prey for larger species in their habitat; they are also a predatory species, feeding on small invertebrates. As an indicator species, the presence or absence of southern redbelly dace in streams helps determine the relative health of a stream. If the water is healthy, these fish, along with other species, will be thriving. However, if the water is unhealthy, populations of these fish will show a noticeable decline. This not only works as a pollution indicator, but also directs fishers to the healthiest populations of game fish. (Zehringer, 2012)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The bright colors and docile temperament of southern redbelly dace make them great aquarium pets. They are also used by fishers as bait fish. (Conservation Commission of Missouri, 2014b)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Southern redbelly dace have no known negative economic impact on humans. (Conservation Commission of Missouri, 2014b)

Conservation Status

Currently, there are no serious threats facing southern redbelly dace, they are listed as a species of least concern on the IUCN Redlist. (NatureServe, 2013)


Megan L. Morgan (author), Bridgewater College, Brittany L. Ripp (author), Bridgewater College, Stephanie N. Rubino (author), Bridgewater College, Tamara Johnstone-Yellin (editor), Bridgewater College, Leila Siciliano Martina (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


having coloration that serves a protective function for the animal, usually used to refer to animals with colors that warn predators of their toxicity. For example: animals with bright red or yellow coloration are often toxic or distasteful.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


an animal that mainly eats decomposed plants and/or animals


particles of organic material from dead and decomposing organisms. Detritus is the result of the activity of decomposers (organisms that decompose organic material).

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
external fertilization

fertilization takes place outside the female's body


union of egg and spermatozoan


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

keystone species

a species whose presence or absence strongly affects populations of other species in that area such that the extirpation of the keystone species in an area will result in the ultimate extirpation of many more species in that area (Example: sea otter).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


Referring to a mating system in which a female mates with several males during one breeding season (compare polygynous).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


uses sight to communicate


Conservation Commission of Missouri, 2014. "Southern RedBelly Dace" (On-line). Xplor. Accessed March 01, 2014 at

Conservation Commission of Missouri, 2014. "Southern Redbelly Dace" (On-line). Missouri Department of Conversation. Accessed March 01, 2014 at

Froese, R. 1990. "Chrosomus erythrogaste" (On-line). Fishbase. Accessed March 01, 2014 at

Hoyt, R., W. Settles. 1978. The reproductive biology of the southern redbelly dace, Chrosomus erythrogaster Rafinesque, in a spring-fed stream in Kentucky. American Midland Naturalist, 99: 290-298.

Loan-Wisley, A. 2006. "Southern redbelly dace-Chrosomus erythrogaster Rafinesque." (On-line). Iowa Fish Atlas. Accessed March 01, 2014 at

NatureServe, 2013. "Chrosomus erythrogaster" (On-line). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed March 01, 2014 at

Paulson, N., J. Hatch. 2013. "Northern Redbelly Dace" (On-line). Lake Superior Streams. Accessed March 01, 2014 at

Stasiak, R. 2007. "Southern Redbelly Dace (Chrosomus erythrogaster): A Technical Conservation Assessment" (On-line). Prepared for the USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region, Species Conservation Project. Accessed July 18, 2014 at

Sternburg, J. 2005. "Spawning of the Southern and Northern Redbelly Dace Compared" (On-line). Northern American Native Fishes Association. Accessed March 01, 2014 at

Zehringer, J. 2012. "Southern Red Belly Dace" (On-line). Ohio department of natural resources. Accessed March 01, 2014 at