Swallowtail Shiner

Notropis procne (Cope, 1865)

Noel Burkhead

Actinopterygii (Ray-finned Fishes)
Cyprinidae (minnows and carps)
State Protection
Not Listed
Not listed or protected by New York State.
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
Imperiled in New York - Very vulnerable to disappearing from New York due to rarity or other factors; typically 6 to 20 populations or locations in New York, very few individuals, very restricted range, few remaining acres (or miles of stream), and/or steep declines.
Global Conservation Status Rank
Secure globally - Common in the world; widespread and abundant (but may be rare in some parts of its range).


Did you know?

In the early 19th century, Swallowtail Shiners were a popular commercial aquarium species because of their small size, coloring, and somewhat docile behavior. Their popularity decreased as more colorful fishes became available (Estes and Gebhardt 1988).

State Ranking Justification

New York is the northern extent of the Swallowtail Shiner range. Native populations are found in three of the 18 watersheds in New York: Chemung, Susquehanna, and Delaware. Populations in the Susquehanna and Chemung watersheds appear to be in decline, possibly due to the introduction of Notropis volcellus (Mimic Shiner) (Carlson et al. 2016).

Short-term Trends

Swallowtail Shiner was last collected in the Chemung watershed in 2002 and 2003 (Carlson et al 2016) and may no longer occur there (Grasso 2023). It appears there has been a significant decline in Susquehanna watershed based on more recent surveys (Carlson et al 2016 and Grasso 2023). The declines in these two watersheds may be due to competition with Mimic Shiner (Stauffer et al. 2016). The Delaware watershed population appears to be stable where Mimic Shiner has not been documented (Carlson et al 2016).

Long-term Trends

This species is native to three watersheds in New York where declines are noted in two watersheds. The population size and range has significantly declined in the Chemung watershed. In 1937, Swallowtail Shiners were found at 14 sites in eight streams in the watershed and was considered uncommon. In the last 45-50 years, it was only been found at five sites in the watershed. They were considered moderately common in the Suquehanna watershed during surveys in the 1930s. Prior to 1950, they were found at 30 locations. Multiple extensive surveys in the watershed indicate a significant decline. Populations appear to be stable in the Delaware watershed (Carlson et al. 2016, Grasso 2023).

Conservation and Management


Any activity which might lead to water contamination, siltation, warming of waterways, or the alteration of natural hydrology could directly and indirectly impact riparian habitats and Swallowtail Shiner populations. Such threats might include roadway and agricultural runoff, industrial pollution, dams, bridge construction and maintenance, logging activities, and development near riparian habitats (NYS DEC 2005). In addition, siltation decreases the amount of sunlight that reaches aquatic plants (EPA 2005) and lowers the quality of habitats needed for a variety of aquatic species (NYS DEC 2005). Point source pollution, such as effluents from municipal and industrial facilities, contribute to the degradation and pollution of aquatic habitats (EPA 2022, NYS DEC 2005, Mahar and Landry 2013, Strayer et al. 2004).
Altering natural waterflow can degrade habitat and restrict species movement. Dams directly restrict or impede species movement, alter the flow of water, change the water temperature, and contribute to sedimentation (NYS DEC 2005, Zaidel et al. 2021).
While modern day agricultural and silvicultural practices are an important aspect of the New York State economy, it is important to consider the effects on ecosystems and species. As these practices move closer to rivers, the natural riparian buffers are often removed. Riparian buffers maintain stream temperature and slow or prevent runoff of sediments from upland soil disturbances. Furthermore, they slow or reduce runoff from farm fields and pastures, such as contaminants from pesticides, fertilizers, manure, and sludge, into waterways (EPA 2005, NYS DEC 2005, Souza et al. 2020). Excessive fertilizer use can lead to algal blooms that can be deadly to aquatic life and overgrazing of livestock in fields could introduce pathogens, oxygen-demanding organics and solids, and invasive species to aquatic ecosystems (EPA 2005).
Approximately 10% of introduced, non-native species could have an impact on the health of ecosystems (McCormick et al. 2009). Invasive plants tend to outcompete native plants and can change natural processes (NYS DEC 2005). There is an increased risk of runoff and erosion when these plants are along streams and rivers. Aquatic invasive plants and animals can alter the water chemistry, change the nutrient regime, or decrease the dissolved oxygen levels. Introduced fish can alter trophic relationships resulting in a change in native fish populations and decreased water quality (McCormick et al. 2009). Notropis volucellus (Mimic Shiner) has recently expanded its range in New York and may be outcompeting swallowtail shiners in some river systems (Stauffer et al. 2016).
Climate change is another threat that is likely to have lasting effects on riverine systems. Irregular weather patterns can cause extreme drought, flooding, and temperature fluctuations. Heat waves are expected to be more intense (Frankson et al. 2022). The Northeast Region of the United States is expected to experience an increase in precipitation, more frequent storms, and higher than normal temperatures (EPA 2016, EPA 2022). Precipitation is expected to increase 10% to 15% in southern New York and 15 to 20% in northern New York by 2050 (Frankson et al. 2022). Extreme flooding can cause widespread erosion and runoff with added risk of contamination if flooding occurs at remediation sites, industrial sites, or wastewater treatment facilities (EPA 2016, EPA 2022). Temperature increases can significantly alter ecosystems. As water temperatures rise, the amount of dissolved oxygen decreases and evaporation increases, potentially lowering lake and stream levels (EPA 2022). Any combination of these events could change species distributions (EPA 2022) and those that cannot adapt or migrate may be extirpated from some areas (NYS DEC 2005).

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

Protect water quality and reduce contamination and hydrological alteration (such as agricultural or road runoff, shoreline development, and damming) (NYS DEC 2005). Protect stream quality by maintaining both a riparian buffer that includes herbaceous and/or woody vegetation along the shoreline, and a significant forested buffer. These buffers reduce sediment and contaminant runoff (EPA 2005, NYS DEC 2005, Souza et al. 2020), provide shade, regulate temperature, and provide organic matter to animals (Hughes and Vadas 2021). Riparian zones with herbaceous and woody vegetation have high “indicator scores” for macroinvertebrates and fishes (Hughes and Vadas 2021).
Remove barriers to maintain or restore natural flow to waterways. Where removal is not possible, research alternatives that allow flow above and below a barrier.
In general, avoid stream crossings. If crossings are unavoidable, use Best Management Practices (BMP) to minimize disturbance to streams. Time periods of disturbance when water flow is low or normal and install stream-crossing structures at a right angle to the stream (Watershed Agricultural Council Forestry Program 2018). Temporary methods to reduce runoff include water bars, gravel, geotextile fabric, rubber belt deflectors, open top culverts, strawbales, silt fencing, control blankets, and straw wattles (Watershed Agricultural Council Forestry Program 2018). Restore the disturbed area with native species as soon as possible. Areas that have been logged may also need ruts to be smoothed to reduce surface runoff (Watershed Agricultural Council Forestry Program 2018). Hughes and Vadas (2021) suggest that Best Management Practices may need to be applied to entire stream lengths and catchments to fully restore an aquatic ecosystem. If this is not possible, restore or manage a larger area around the directly disturbed area.
In general, tailor agricultural management plans to local conditions (e.g., soils, slope, land use). Often these plans aim to reduce pollution and increase farm productivity, but incentives could also be used to encourage sustainable farming practices. Proper management typically reduces runoff by 20-90% (EPA 2005). Consider using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as an alternative to pesticide use. If pesticides and fertilizers are used, they should only be applied when needed, in the proper amount, and timed appropriately. In addition, rotate livestock to avoid overgrazing and to allow for vegetation regrowth. If needed, provide alternative water sources and shade to keep animals out of sensitive areas (EPA 2005).
Invasive species management can be time consuming and costly. Reduce the likelihood of non-native species being introduced into waterways. Boat-washing stations at boat launches can reduce transport of invasive plants and animals to new waterbodies. Educate anglers about the risk of releasing unused baitfish. If vulnerable species are present, consider a baitfish ban. Mechanical removal of some invasive plants may be needed in some rivers and streams. The use of pesticides to remove invasives can have a negative effect on ecosystems (McCormick et al. 2009) and should be a last resort to control invasive species.
Climate change is a global challenge. However, there are local actions that can help mitigate extreme weather events. Industrial and municipal infrastructure should be improved or replaced to be more resilient to flooding events (EPA 2016, NYS Comptroller 2023). Some suggested actions include installing or improving pumps to remove floodwater from facilities and installing protective structures, such as floodwalls. Ensure that existing bridges, dams, levees, seawalls, retaining walls, and wind barriers are prepared for extreme weather (NYS Comptroller 2023). Decrease runoff and erosion severity by installing large culverts, planting vegetation along riverbanks, and protecting and restoring wetlands (EPA 2016, NYS Comptroller 2023).

Research Needs

Little is known about the reasons for Swallowtail Shiner declines in New York. Additional research is needed to determine threats, habitat requirements, and best management practices. It appears that Notropis volucellus (Mimic Shiner) may be outcompeting Swallowtail Shiner (pers comm Douglas Carlson 2017). Research focusing on the effects of mimic shiner on native shiners may help guide management practices. Water quality requirements and pollution tolerance are unknown.



Swallowtail Shiner are typically found in upland streams, small river, (Smith 1985) and occasionally in lakes (Carlson et al. 2016). Spawning occurs in riffles that are 4 to 12 in deep (Smith 1985). This species is tolerant of turbidity and sandy substrates, but avoids deep pools and swift rapids. Schools of fish are usually observed near the bottom.

Associated Ecological Communities

  • Confined river (guide)
    The aquatic community of relatively large, fast flowing sections of streams with a moderate to gentle gradient.
  • Unconfined river (guide)
    The aquatic community of large, quiet, base level sections of streams with a very low gradient.


New York State Distribution

Swallowtail Shiner is native to three of the 18 watersheds in New York: Chemung, Susquehanna, and Delaware. It was introduced to the Oswego and Lower Hudson watersheds (Carlson 2016). A single fish was found in 2019 in the Oswego watershed (NYS DEC 2023). It has not been found in the Lower Hudson watershed since 1884 (Carlson et al. 2016).

Global Distribution

Swallowtail Shiner is found above and below the Fall Line, from Santee River Drainage (South Carolina) to Susquehanna and Delaware river drainages (New York) and the Lake Ontario drainage (New York). This species is generally common throughout its range, but can be localized at the northern and southern part of its range. Occurrences in the New River drainage and the Upper Oswego watershed are apparently introductions (Page and Burr 1991).

Best Places to See

  • Delaware River (Sullivan County)

Identification Comments

General Description

Swallowtail Shiner is pale olive to straw-yellow with a well-developed midlateral stripe. The midlateral stripe is interrupted on the side of the head behind the eye and there is a preorbital blotch between the eye and the snout.

Identifying Characteristics

Swallowtail Shiner is straw-yellow to silver and reach 46 to 78 mm (1.5 to 3 in) with an elongate body. The profile is equally curved. The mouth is subterminal. Scales of the middorsal region have a dark outline. There is a pale stripe above the dark midlateral stripe. Fish have a dark lateral line that is interrupted behind the eye and extends to the snout, but does not encircle the snout. There are dark spots above and below each pore in the anterior portion of the lateral line. The caudal fin is moderately forked with bluntly pointed lobes. There is a black spot at the base of the caudal rays. The breast and prepectoral area are usually unscaled. There are seven anal rays. The peritoneum is pale. Tooth count is 4-4. Males have longer pectoral and pelvic rays. Pectoral rays are thickened and bowed outward in breeding males. Both sexes have breeding tubercles, but they are larger in males. Tubercles are found on the top, side, and underside of the head, on the body scales, the dorsal and anal fins, and the tops of paired fins (Smith 1985).

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification

Adults are the easier life stage to identify.


This species matures after one year. Males guard a territory of 4 to 18 inches.


Swallowtail Shiners consume insects, worms, mites, micro crustaceans, and algae.

Best Time to See

Fish are typically found in schools near the bottom. They can be found in spawning habitat from late May through early July (Smith 1985).

  • Active
  • Reproducing

The time of year you would expect to find Swallowtail Shiner active and reproducing in New York.

Similar Species

  • Sand Shiner (Notropis stramineus)
    Swallowtail Shiner has a longer snout, more subterminal mouth, and a blacker caudal wedge. Sand shiner lacks a complete midlateral stripe.

Swallowtail Shiner Images


Swallowtail Shiner
Notropis procne (Cope, 1865)

  • Kingdom Animalia
    • Phylum Craniata
      • Class Actinopterygii (Ray-finned Fishes)
        • Order Cypriniformes (Minnows and Suckers)
          • Family Cyprinidae (minnows and carps)

Additional Resources


Carlson, Douglas M., Robert A. Daniels, and Jeremy J. Wright. 2016. Atlas of Inland Fishes of New York. New York State Museum Record 7. The New York State Education Department and Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, New York.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2005. Protecting water quality from agricultural runoff. https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2015-09/documents/ag_runoff_fact_sheet.pdf.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2016. Adapting to climate change northeast. https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2016-07/documents/northeast_fact_sheet.pdf.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2022. Region 2 climate adaptation implementation plan. https://www.epa.gov/system/files/documents/2022-10/bh508-R02%20Climate%20Adaptation%20Implementation%20Plan%209.19.2022%20HQ%20OP%20Copy.pdf

Estes, William and Bruce Gebhardt. 1988. Fishes of the Lower Susquehanna and Northern Chesapeake tributaries Part IV (Minnows). American Currents: March-June 1998.

Frankson, R., Kunkel, K.E., Champion, S.M., Stewart, B.C., Sweet, W, DeGaetano, A.T., & Spaccio, J. (2022). New York State Climate Summary 2022. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information. https://statesummaries.ncics.org/chapter/ny/

Hughes, Robert M., and Robert L. Vadas Jr. 2021. Agricultural Effects on Streams and Rivers: A Western USA Focus. Water 13, no. 14: 1901. https://doi.org/10.3390/w13141901

Lee, D. S., C. R. Gilbert, C. H. Hocutt, R. E. Jenkins, D. E. McAllister, and J. R. Stauffer, Jr. 1980. Atlas of North American freshwater fishes. North Carolina State Museum of Natural History, Raleigh, North Carolina. i-x + 854 pp.

Mahar, Amy and Jenny Landry. 2013. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation species status assessment for Lasmigona subviridis (Green Floater).

McCormick, Frank H., Glen C. Contreras, and Sherri L. Johnson. 2009. "Effects of nonindigenous invasive species on water quality and quantity." A dynamic invasive species research vision: opportunities and priorities 29 (2009): 111-120.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2023. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

New York State Comptroller. 2023. New York's local governments adapting to climate change: challenges, solutions, and costs. https://www.osc.state.ny.us/files/local-government/publications/pdf/climate-change-2023.pdf

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 2005. A strategy for conserving New York's fish and wildlife resources. Final submission draft.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 2023. NYS DEC Rare fishes shapefile 1850 to 2022 (updated August 9. 2023).

Page, L. M., and B. M. Burr. 1991. A field guide to freshwater fishes: North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. 432 pp.

Smith, C.L. 1985. The Inland Fishes of New York State. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, NY. 522pp.

Souza, Francine N., Rodolfo Mariano, Tassio Moreia, and Sofia Campiolo. 2020. Influence of the landscape in different scales on the EPT community (Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera and Trichoptera) in the Atlantic Forest region. Environmental monitoring and assessment 129: 391-391.

Stauffer, Jay R., Jr., Robert W. Criswell, and Douglas P. Fischer. 2016. The Fishes of Pennsylvania. El Paso, TX: Cichlid Press.

Strayer, David L., J.A. Dowling, W.R. Haag, T.L. King, J.B. Layzer, T.J. Newton and S.J. Nichols. 2004. Changing perspectives on Pearly Mussels, North America's most Imperiled Animals. BioScience 54:429-439.

Watershed Agricultural Council Forestry Program. 2018. New York State forestry voluntary best management practices for water quality. http://nysbmpguidelines.com/. Accessed on June 20, 2023.

Werner, R.G. 1980. Freshwater fishes of New York State. N.Y.: Syracuse University Press. 186 pp.

Zaidel, Peter A., A. H. Roy, K. M. Houle, B. Lambert, B. H. Letcher, K. H. Nislow, C. Smith. 2021. Impacts of small dams on stream temperature. Ecological indicators 120:6-11.


About This Guide

This guide was authored by: Hollie Y. Shaw

Information for this guide was last updated on: August 29, 2023

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2023. Online Conservation Guide for Notropis procne. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/swallowtail-shiner/. Accessed December 5, 2023.