Noel Burkhead

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: Susquehanna, Chemung, 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

Short-term trends are unknown at this time.

Long-term Trends

The decline varies by watershed in New York. The greatest decline is in the Chemung watershed that includes fewer locations and loss of known range (Carlson et al. 2016, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2005). Declines are noted in the Susquehanna watershed. Populations appear to be more stable in the Delaware watershed (Carlson et al. 2016). 

Conservation and Management


It has been difficult to determine specific threats to individual species, including swallowtail shiner, in medium-sized river systems (pers comm Douglas Carlson 2017). 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). General threats include: nutrient enrichment (i.e., from agricultural practices), municipal discharge, urban runoff and sewer discharge, and river modifications (e.g., dams, channelization, and bridge construction).

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

Management needs are difficult to recommend until additional research addresses reasons for population declines. It is assumed that any practices that reduce water pollution would benefit the aquatic community. Restoration of riparian vegetation will help control nonpoint pollution. Agricultural practices that reduce the amount of runoff from livestock and crops could reduce nutrient enrichment and excess sedimentation. It is possible that mimic shiners were introduced in different areas of the state by fishermen discarding unused bait. Public education may help reduce this practice.

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 shiners (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 shiners are native to three of the 18 watersheds in New York: Susquehanna, Chemung, and Delaware. It was introduced to the Upper Oswego and Lower Hudson watersheds, but has not been observed since 1972 and 1884, respectively (Carlson et al. 2016). 

Global Distribution

Swallowtail shiners are 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 shiners are 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 shiners are straw-yellow to silver that 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 shiners have 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.

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

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.

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

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

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.

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

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


About This Guide

This guide was authored by: Hollie Y. Shaw

Information for this guide was last updated on: June 26, 2017

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2023. Online Conservation Guide for Notropis procne. Available from: Accessed June 6, 2023.

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