Rhinichthys cataractaeGreat Lakes longnose dace(Also: Longnose dace)

Geographic Range

Longnose dace (Rhinichthys cataractae) have the widest geographic distribution of any member of the Cyprinidae family (Jenkins and Burkhead, 1994). The distribution spans much of North America, ranging from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific Ocean and from northern Mexico to the Arctic Circle in northern Canada. (Jenkins and Burkhead, 1994)


Populations of longnose dace use different niches based on local habitat conditions. Different habitat availability as well as the presence or absence of competing species drives populations into different patterns of niche use. Longnose dace are found in fast-flowing, cold water. Most populations are found in stream riffles. When in lakes, they are typically in the turbulent surge zone less than 10 m deep, where outflow from a river mixes with lake water (Brazo, Liston, and Anderson, 1978). Another characteristic of longnose dace habitat is rocky or gravel substrate (McPhail and Lindsey, 1970; Cooper, 1980). Brazo et al. (1978) reported similar substrate preferences in lake-dwelling populations, where longnose dace prefer gravel substrates over sandy habitats. Streams they inhabit tend to be small creeks and rivers with shallow pools as well as an abundance of fast-flowing riffles; similar to "trout streams" (Reed, 1959). Young longnose dace are found in shallow pools for the first four months following hatching (Reed 1959). Pools are also used by adults in the absence of competing species (Edwards, Li, and Schreck, 1983). (Brazo, et al., 1978; Cooper, 1980; Edwards, et al., 1983; McPhail and Lindsey, 1970; Reed, 1959)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • benthic
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams
  • Range depth
    <1 to 10 m
    to 32.81 ft
  • Average depth
    <1 m

Physical Description

Longnose dace are typically dark olive-brown with a lighter yellow-tan venter (Page and Burr, 1991). A dark lateral stripe, present in juveniles, fades as the fish matures. This is a good distinguishing characteristic between longnose dace and their close relatives, blacknose dace (Rhinichthys atratulus), which maintain their dark lateral stripe throughout their lifetime (Page and Burr, 1991). Other identifying characteristics include a sub-terminal mouth with a fleshy snout projecting far beyond the mouth. A small barbel is also present near the corner of the mouth (Goldstein and Simon, 1999). Total length is largely based on local habitat conditions; adults are usually 60 to 90 mm in length (Sigler and Miller, 1963) and reported maximum sizes are around 160 mm for stream dwelling individuals, slightly larger for lake-dwelling longnose dace (Page and Burr, 1991; Brazo, Liston, and Anderson, 1978). Longnose dace have been reported to get up to 225 mm in total length (Gerald 1966). (Brazo, et al., 1978; Gerald, 1966; Goldstein and Simon, 1999; Page and Burr, 1991; Sigler and Miller, 1963)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range length
    60 to 225 mm
    2.36 to 8.86 in


After fertilization, eggs develop for 3 to 4 days before hatching into protolarva. During this time, the head and tail separate from the yolk sac and the circulatory system begins to develop, as does the spinal cord. Pelagic protolarvae continue to develop, pigmentation begins, and early fin development occurs. By the 9th day after hatching, the sac is absorbed and the larvae are now considered mesolarvae. Fin rays become more defined and pigmentation continues to accumulate. As Rhinichthys cataractae metalarvae develop into juveniles, fin buds develop, the fish takes on the morphology of a juvenile (including an elongated fleshy snout), and pigmentation accumulation is completed (Fuiman and Loos, 1977; Cooper, 1980).

Juvenile longnose dace (Rhinichthys cataractae) continue to grow and develop in streams. Most longnose dace mature at age 2. A small percentage of adults are mature at age 1. This percentage increases slightly in lake-dwelling populations, where growth and maturation is accelerated (Brazo, Liston, and Anderson, 1978). Age 1 spawners are predominantly males, indicating possible shorter maturation times for males than females (Brazo, Liston, and Anderson, 1978). Mature individuals, both male and female, are approximately 75 mm in total length at the time of maturation (Roberts and Grossman, 2001). Females generally become the dominant sex and typically grow larger than males by age 3 (Gerald, 1966). (Brazo, et al., 1978; Cooper, 1980; Fuiman and Loos, 1977; Gerald, 1966; Roberts and Grossman, 2001)


Adult longnose dace are polygynandrous (promiscuous) because both mature males and females have multiple spawning partners. Males are territorial and breed with many females who visit their habitat (Bartnik, 1970). Female longnose dace are capable of spawning 6 or more times during their breeding season and will breed with multiple males during this time (Roberts and Grossman, 2001). (Bartnik, 1970; Roberts and Grossman, 2001)

Some longnose dace are capable of reproducing at age 1, all are mature by age 2 (Roberts and Grossman, 2001; Brazo, Liston, and Anderson, 1978). Mature individuals, both male and female, are approximately 75 mm in total length. While spawning typically occurs only in one year, females are capable of producing 6 or more clutches per year. Total potential fecundity ranged from 1155 to 2534 eggs for females in stream dwelling populations (Roberts and Grossman, 2001) and from 870 to 9,953 eggs per female in Lake Michigan populations (Brazo et al., 1978). Longnose dace larvae hatched 3 to 4 days after fertilization occurred; with an mean length of 5.9 mm (Fuiman and Loos, 1977; Cooper, 1980). Information on mass at the time of hatching was not available. Spawning typically occurs in summer but timing is dependent on latitude and water temperature (Edwards, Li, and Schreck, 1983). Typical spawning season takes place in late June and early July (Brazo, Liston, and Anderson, 1978) but occurs as early as late May (Reed, 1959) and as late as August (McPhail and Lindsey 1970). Peak spawning typically occurs at water temperatures between 14° and 19° C (Brazo, Liston, and Anderson, 1978). (Brazo, et al., 1978; Cooper, 1980; Edwards, et al., 1983; Fuiman and Loos, 1977; McPhail and Lindsey, 1970; Reed, 1959; Roberts and Grossman, 2001)

  • Breeding interval
    Female longnose dace are capable of having 6 or more clutches per year but typically only spawn for 1 season.
  • Breeding season
    Longnose dace reproduce between May and July.
  • Range number of offspring
    1155 to 2534
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range time to hatching
    3 to 4 days
  • Range time to independence
    3 to 4 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 to 2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 to 2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 years

In stream and lake-dwelling populations, spawning occurs over gravel. Male longnose dace construct a small nest in the pebbles where eggs are deposited (McPhail and Lindsey, 1970). Males are territorial and defend their spawning habitat, which is visited by multiple females (Brazo, Liston, and Anderson, 1978). After spawning, little or no parental care is given the eggs. They are are categorized as benthic spawners who broadcast their eggs over gravel. The eggs are not hidden (Helfman, Collette, and Facey, 1997). Embryos temporarily adhere to the gravel for 7 to 10 days and then the hatched fry become pelagic (McPhail and Lindsey, 1970; Cooper, 1980). (Brazo, et al., 1978; Cooper, 1980; Helfman, et al., 1997; McPhail and Lindsey, 1970)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • male


Longnose dace have a maximum reported lifespan of 5 years, but lifespan is typically only 3 years for male individuals (Reed and Moulton, 1973; Brazo, Liston, and Anderson, 1978). (Brazo, et al., 1978; Reed and Moultan, 1973)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    3 to 5 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    3 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    2 to 5 years


While faster areas of a riffle are typically inhabited by adults, both adult and juvenile longnose dace prefer fast velocity (40 to 50 cm/s) areas in the riffles they inhabit. Mullen and Burton (1998) found that, in the presence of adults, juveniles will generally use medium velocity (25 to 35 cm/s) areas, but show niche expansion into faster velocity areas when adults are removed from the site. Neither adults nor juveniles made use of riffles where the water velocity was below 10 cm/s (Mullen and Burton, 1998). This aspect of niche distribution is thought to be caused by intra-specific competition for faster velocity areas in the riffle and is referred to as size-specific habitat segregation (Mullen and Burton, 1995). Mullen and Burton (1995) suggested that this microhabitat segregation was a strategy to reduce intra-specific competition between individuals in different life history stages by reducing niche overlap. Grossman et al. (1998) also found that intra-specific competition, driven by food limitation, was the primary factor influencing habitat choice by longnose dace rather being dispersed due to inter-specific competition or predator avoidance. (Grossman, et al., 1998; Mullen and Burton, 1995; Mullen and Burton, 1998)

Home Range

During the breeding season, males are territorial and stay near their spawning area; females are more mobile during this time and move throughout the stream. Exact territory size has not been determined. (Bartnik, 1970; Brazo, et al., 1978)

Communication and Perception

Detailed information on Rhinichthys cataractae communication and perception is not available.

Food Habits

Longnose dace are primarily nocturnal feeders (Brazo, Liston, and Anderson, 1978). This nocturnal foraging strategy is different from most cyprinids, but Rhinichthys cataractae is well adapted for this method (Beers and Culp, 1990). Longnose dace have dark-adapted vision for night foraging. Beers and Culp (1990) studied how changes in light intensity changed foraging efficiency when predators were removed. All factors indicative of foraging ability were greatest under low light conditions, such as around dusk. However, most foraging occurs at night where they are slightly less efficient. Therefore, this nocturnal strategy is thought to be a combination of minimizing predation risks while still increasing efficiency in low-light conditions (Beers and Culp, 1990). (Beers and Culp, 1990; Gerald, 1966)

Longnose dace are well adapted for feeding on bottom dwelling insects (Gerald, 1966). At night, they use benthic-rooting behavior; it is thought they locate prey by olfaction using their barbels to probe into the substrate (Beers and Culp, 1990). Brazo et al. (1978) determined through stomach analysis that longnose dace depend primarily on invertebrates as their primary food source. As in previous studies, their invertebrate diet consisted of midges, black flies, and mayflies (Reed 1959) as well as leaf hoppers, aphids, and small cicadas. Small, juvenile longnose dace feed primarily on algae and diatoms until they were large enough to consume the same diets as adults. Larger adults shifted their diet toward larger terrestrial insects as well as fish eggs from other Cyprinidae (Brazo, Liston, and Anderson, 1978). (Beers and Culp, 1990; Brazo, et al., 1978; Gerald, 1966; Reed, 1959)


Longnose dace are potential prey species for fish-eating birds, such as herons, and predatory stream fishes including many salmonid species (Brazo, Liston, and Anderson, 1978). (Brazo, et al., 1978)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Rhinichthys cataractae is a wide-ranging freshwater minnow that is an important part of the food chain in many stream habitats. One of the important functions these fish provide are consuming terrestrial insects, bringing them into the aquatic food chain. Longnose dace are a potential prey species to predatory stream fishes including many salmonid species. This is especially believed to occur when alewives (Alosa pseudoharengus) undergo substantial population crashes (Brazo, Liston, and Anderson, 1978).

Longnose dace are also hosts to 13 parasitic species, including individuals from 6 larger taxonomic groups: 1 monogenean fluke, 2 flukes, 2 cestode species, 4 nematodes, 1 spiny-headed worm, and 3 protozoan species) (Muzzall, Whelan, and Taylor, 1992). (Brazo, et al., 1978; Muzzall, et al., 1992)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • monogenean flukes (Monogenea)
  • flukes (Digenea)
  • cestode species (Cestoda)
  • nematodes (Nematoda)
  • spiny-headed worms (Acanthocephala)
  • protozoan species (Protozoa)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Direct anthropogenic interactions are minimal with longnose dace, but in some areas they are used as bait for fishing (Scott and Crossman, 1998). (Scott and Crossman, 1998)

  • Positive Impacts
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known negative affects of Rhinichthys cataractae on humans.

Conservation Status

Longnose dace (Rhinichthys cataractae) are not listed as a species of special concern, endangered, threatened, or regionally extirpated in any of the following conservation lists: IUCN Red List, CITES appendices, or the United States Endangered Species Act.


Kevin Duby (author), Northern Michigan University, Rachelle Sterling (editor), Special Projects, Jill Leonard (editor), Northern Michigan University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



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


uses sound to communicate


Referring to an animal that lives on or near the bottom of a body of water. Also an aquatic biome consisting of the ocean bottom below the pelagic and coastal zones. Bottom habitats in the very deepest oceans (below 9000 m) are sometimes referred to as the abyssal zone. see also oceanic vent.

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


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

external fertilization

fertilization takes place outside the female's body


union of egg and spermatozoan


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

indeterminate growth

Animals with indeterminate growth continue to grow throughout their lives.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


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.


active during the night


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


photosynthetic or plant constituent of plankton; mainly unicellular algae. (Compare to zooplankton.)


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


offspring are all produced in a single group (litter, clutch, etc.), after which the parent usually dies. Semelparous organisms often only live through a single season/year (or other periodic change in conditions) but may live for many seasons. In both cases reproduction occurs as a single investment of energy in offspring, with no future chance for investment in reproduction.


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


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others


uses sight to communicate


animal constituent of plankton; mainly small crustaceans and fish larvae. (Compare to phytoplankton.)


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Beers, C., J. Culp. 1990. Plasticity in foraging behaviour of a lotic minnow (Rhinichthys cataractae) in response to different light intensities. Can. J. Zool, 68(1): 101–105.

Brazo, D., C. Liston, R. Anderson. 1978. Life History of the Longnose Dace, Rhinichthys cataractae, in the Surge Zone of Eastern Lake Michigan Near Ludington, Michigan. Trans. Am. Fish. Soc., 107(4): 550-556.

Cooper, J. 1980. Egg, Larval and Juvenile Development of Longnose Dace, Rhinichthys cataractae, and River Chub Nocomis micropogon with Notes on Their Hybridization. Copeia, 3: 469-478.

Edwards, E., H. Li, C. Schreck. 1983. Habitat suitability index models: Longnose dace. U.S. Dept. Int., Fish Wildl. Serv., FWS/OBS-82/10: 13.

Facey, D., G. Grossman. 1992. The relationship between water velocity, energetic costs, and microhabitat use in four North American stream fishes. Hydrobiologia, 239: 16.

Fuiman, L., J. Loos. 1977. Identifying Characters of the Early Development of the Daces Rhinichthys atratulus and R. cataractae. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 129: 23-32.

Gerald, J. 1966. Food Habits of the Longnose Dace, Rhinichthys cataractae. Copeia, 3: 478-485.

Goldstein, R., T. Simon. 1999. Toward a united definition of guild structure for feeding ecology of North American freshwater fishes.. New York, New York: CRC Press.

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Jenkins, R., N. Burkhead. 1994. Freshwater fishes of Virginia. Bethesda, Maryland: American Fisheries Society.

McPhail, J., C. Lindsey. 1970. Freshwater fishes of northwestern Canada and Alaska. Bull. Fish. Res. Board Can., 173: 1-373.

Mullen, D., T. Burton. 1998. Experimental tests of intraspecific competition in stream riffles between juvenile and adult longnose dace (Rhinichthys cataractae). Can. J. Zool., 76(5): 855-862.

Mullen, D., T. Burton. 1995. Size Related Habitat Use by Longnose Dace (Rhinichthys cataractae). American Midland Naturalist, 133(1): 177-183.

Muzzall, P., G. Whelan, W. Taylor. 1992. Host-Parasite Relationships of Longnose Dace, Rhinichthys cataractae, from the Ford River, Michigan. The Journal of Parasitology, 78(5): 837-844.

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Reed, R. 1959. Age, growth, and food of the longnose dace, Rhinichthys cataractae, in northwestern Pennsylvania. Copeia, 1959: 160-162.

Reed, R., J. Moultan. 1973. Age and growth of the blacknose dace, Rhinichthys atratulus and longnose dace, R. cataractae in Massachusetts.. American Midland Naturalist, (90)1: 206-210.

Roberts, J., G. Grossman. 2001. Reproductive characteristics of female longnose dace in the Coweeta Creek drainage, North Carolina, USA. Ecology of Freshwater Fish, 10: 184-190.

Scott, W., E. Crossman. 1998. Freshwater Fishes of Canada. Oakville, Ontario: Galt House Publications Ltd..

Sigler, W., R. Miller. 1963. Fishes of Utah. Salt Lake City: Utah State Deptartment of Fish Game.