The minnow is distributed almost throughout Europe and in the Asian part of Russia: these small fish can be found in large numbers in almost any river. They live near the bottom and feed on various small living creatures. They are found in flocks, so you can catch a lot at once in a short time, but fishermen prefer other prey, and they are more often used as bait.
Origin of the species and description
Fish are very ancient creatures, they appeared over 520 million years ago. The first of them looked more like worms than fish, but then, 420 million years ago, a class of ray-finned ones arose – the principle of the structure of their fins was the same as that of modern fish.
This is not surprising, because the vast majority of the fish inhabiting the planet now, including minnows, belong specifically to ray-finned fish. But over the past hundreds of millions of years, they have come a long evolutionary path, first those species that inhabited our planet in the Paleozoic era, and then the representatives of the Mesozoic fauna that replaced them died out.
Most modern species, with the exception of rare “living fossils”, arose already in the Cenozoic era, this fully applies to fish. It was they who began to dominate the water at that time, and first of all, the clade of bony ones – dominance passed to them from sharks.
Only then did the first cyprinids appear – namely, minnows belong to this family. This happened about 30 million years ago. It is not known for certain when minnows themselves arose, there are finds dating back 1 million years, but it is possible that this happened noticeably earlier.
The genus was described by Zh-L. de Cuvier in 1816, was named Gobio. It includes many species and new ones continue to be described. For example, only in 2015 a scientific description of the species tchangi was made, and a year later, artvinicus.
Appearance and features
In length, an adult gudgeon reaches 10-15 cm, but can grow to larger sizes – 20-22 cm. Its body is slightly flattened near the abdomen. A very characteristic sign is the antennae, one on each side. The mouth of this fish is located below – so it is more convenient for her to eat living creatures or plants, swimming above the very bottom.
There are two rows of teeth in the mouth, their tip is slightly curved. The head is flattened, the snout of the fish is long, its upper jaw protrudes above the lower one. The upper part of the body is brown with a greenish tint, the sides are silvery. The fish is covered with dark spots, sometimes there are so many of them that they merge into stripes.
This coloring allows you to remain inconspicuous when it swims near the bottom: from above, the fish may appear to be part of mud or a lump of algae. In the water, the minnow can be distinguished by its pectoral fins: they are large relative to the body and widely spaced, resulting in an almost triangular appearance when swimming.
Its dorsal and anal fins are short, without serrated rays. The fins are light gray, with a light brown tint, except for the caudal and dorsal fins – they are brown, but as if faded. As minnows grow older, they gradually darken more and more.
Interesting fact: minnows can communicate with each other using squeaks and creaks – for fish this is a rather rare skill, although not unique.
Where does the minnow live?
Distributed in northern parts of Europe: you can find it in almost every river that flows into the seas of the Arctic Ocean. All these rivers are united by the fact that their waters are relatively cold – this is exactly what minnows like. Therefore, they are less common in the warm rivers of southern Europe, carrying water to the Mediterranean Sea – they are more favorable for other fish.
However, they also live in some of the rivers of the Mediterranean basin, for example, in the Rhone. They also inhabit the rivers of the Black Sea basin: the Danube, the Dnieper, the Dniester. They live in most of the Russian rivers west of the Ural Mountains, such as the Volga, Don and Ural.
They live in the waters of Scandinavia. They were introduced in Scotland, Ireland and Italy, multiplied and now have become common inhabitants of water bodies there. In the Asian part of Russia, they are found right up to Primorye, and are also found in the reservoirs of Central Asia.
In addition to water temperature, the principles by which minnows settle have not been reliably established: these fish can be found in large calm rivers and stormy mountain ones, and even in streams, they are found in large lakes and in very small ponds. It is only known that the probability of meeting with them is higher, the cleaner and more oxygenated the water is.
They also like ponds with a bottom of rubble or sand. They live near the bottom in shallow water, and most often remain in the same place where they were born, if it is convenient enough and able to feed. Even if you have to migrate (usually the whole flock does it at once), they usually do not move long distances, but only a kilometer or a few.
Every autumn they go to deeper places, looking for where there is more silt to be warmer when the river is covered with ice. When the pond begins to freeze, groups of minnows can often be seen gathering near the springs, from which the water continues to gusher. To the last, they try to look for unfrozen areas with oxygenated water.
In winter, they try to find a place where the water is warmer: they go to lakes or ponds, they can swim in underground waters or look for hot springs. More often they simply lie in holes at the bottom and burrow under the silt. If minnows are settled in a lake with clean water, then they breed in it in a matter of years, but at the same time they do not reach the size of river ones.
What does a minnow eat?
The minnow's diet includes:
As you can see, this fish is a predator, and prefers to eat various small living creatures. Minnows can also eat vegetable food, but in rather small quantities, and basically they get their livelihood by hunting, which they can lead from morning to evening. Basically, they spend this time inspecting the bottom, diligently looking for prey, sometimes they start digging it, feeling everything with the help of sensitive antennae, from which nothing can hide.
Sometimes minnows can even ambush in a place where the current is fast enough and carries a lot of prey. They hide next to the current, near some stone, wait until a fry or some kind of mollusk swims past, and when they wait, they deftly snatch it.
In spring and early summer, when other fish come for spawning, minnows switch to feeding on caviar and fry, purposefully look for them and often swim up in these searches from the bottom, sometimes to the very surface. Minnows are attracted to movement, and therefore, to lure them, they usually stir up water.
An interesting fact: Although people rarely use minnows for food, they are useful: their meat contains a lot of vitamins and minerals, and frequent use has a good effect on the state of the cardiovascular system, bones and skin. They also contain a lot of iodine, which helps with problems with the thyroid gland. At the same time, the fat content of minnow meat is minimal, so that it can be consumed during a diet or when recovering from an illness.
Gudgeons are usually active in bright light time of day, they are constantly looking for prey, mainly at the bottom, but in shallow water. The chances of catching them are greatest near a rocky or sandy shore. At night, minnows rest, clinging to the bottom with their fins so that the current cannot carry them away during inactivity.
Usually, even before sunset, they hide among the plants near the riffles, so at this time it is convenient to catch them if you know such places. But this does not always happen: if predators have settled near minnows, hunting them and also active during the day, they try to hide, and go out in search of food later, at dusk.
In the dark, they see poorly, because in such cases they do not have much time left, and the second period of activity falls on the dawn hours. Such a change in the daily routine really helps to confuse predators, but it is only useful when there are no or few predatory fish in the reservoir, which are active at dusk.
Gingers can swim quite quickly, including against a strong current, but usually do not show the energy expected from such a small fish: they like to rest and usually swim lazily, so they can be caught with a net.
Interesting fact: On the hottest days of summer, minnows become lethargic and vulnerable. At the peak of the heat just after noon, they rest for a long time near some stone, remaining motionless, for which they were called columns.
Social structure and reproduction
On average, minnows are ready for breeding by the age of 3 years. At the same time, as at an earlier age, they continue to remain in the group. In such flocks of minnows, fish of all ages coexist, the association increases their chances of survival when attacked by a predator.
So it is more likely that one of them will notice the attack earlier, and predators will not be able to attack everyone at once, even if there are several of them, which means that most of the flock will be able to escape. But what the minnows don't know about is that some large predators are attracted precisely by their flocking lifestyle: it makes little sense for a large fish to hunt for the sake of one minnow, but you can catch several at a time.
They spawn once a year, spawning begins after the water warms up to 7-8 °C. In warmer latitudes, this can happen in April, and in the north only in June. Spawning does not take place at once, but in portions and can last up to two months. One female can lay from 8 to 13 thousand eggs. She does this near the place where she lives, also in shallow water. Due to the fact that minnows splash noisily during spawning, they attract the attention of predators, who begin to devour both caviar and minnows themselves, which is why this time is the most dangerous for them in the year.
The eggs are small, bluish. They have a sticky shell, and therefore quickly stick to snags, stones or plants near the bottom, they are covered with sand or silt, after which it becomes difficult for other fish to find them to eat. Therefore, the most dangerous time for them is immediately after postponing. The larvae immediately after emergence have disproportionately large pectoral fins and prominent eyes. For 3-4 days they simply lie at the bottom, they have no reaction to light at this time. After this period ends, they begin to actively feed on detritus and benthos: various small invertebrates that live near the bottom.
At first they grow very quickly and, if there is enough food around, they reach a length of 6 cm in just three months. Then growth slows down and the gudgeon grows to a size of 12-14 cm by 3-4 years, then it is already considered fully grown and, although continues to grow, but very slowly. Life expectancy can reach 8-10 years, but since there are too many who want to profit from minnows, a rare of them live to old age, most of them die no more than at 4-6 years old. Minnows caught in nature can live in an aquarium, but their lifespan in such conditions is reduced – even young fish are unlikely to live more than 3 years.
Natural enemies of minnows
Many predatory fish hunt minnows, which is why they need coloring that allows them to be hardly noticeable near the bottom.
Most often it becomes prey:
Burbots and asps are especially fond of minnows – they try to settle near the places where they live in abundance, and minnows often dominate their menus. To a lesser extent, this applies to pike. But more dangerous enemies for minnows are carps, even though they eat a wide variety of foods and do not specifically excrete minnows.
The point is their abundance: carps in some reservoirs multiply so strongly that they force out other predators, and of course, when there are so many of them, it is very difficult for minnows to escape from them. If even one minnow is enough for smaller fish, large predators often break into their flock and try to stun several at once with the help of tail blows, and after that they start eating.
Since minnows spend most of their time at the bottom, it is predatory fish that are the primary threat to them. But, since they swim in shallow water, waterfowl mammals and birds can also catch them, especially dangerous during spawning.
Another dangerous animal is cancer. They usually do not catch adult fish, because they are too slow for this, but poorly seeing larvae come across to them very often. Finally, minnow eggs are often eaten by the most diverse fish and other aquatic animals – there are so many of them that only a small part of the eggs escape this fate and survive at least to the larval stage.
Population and species status
Minnows are widespread, and they are definitely not in danger of extinction: in most of the rivers of Europe and Siberia, they can be found in abundance. It does not belong to a commercial species, but some fishermen catch it: despite their small size, minnows can be tasty when cooked properly.
But they are bony and there is little meat in them, so fuss is usually more than useless so they are rarely caught. Although they are also used as bait for larger fish: even taimen weighing 20-25 kg willingly peck at them, and therefore fishermen usually do not mind spending a minnow, especially if it is small.
Minnows are sensitive to water pollution – they leave unfavorable areas, swimming to cleaner ones. Therefore, in some areas, next to the operating enterprises of the chemical industry, and other wastes that also pollute water, they have practically disappeared, but so far there is no need to talk about the threat to the genus as a whole or its individual species.
Fun Fact: Minnows are sometimes kept in aquariums with cold water (22℃ or below). They do not need much time to adapt, so within a few days after being introduced into the aquarium, the minnow will behave as in its natural environment if the right conditions have been created. Even individuals caught by adults can be launched into the aquarium, and they can spawn right in it.
The most common inhabitant of fresh water, the gudgeon is a good indicator of their purity: if it disappeared from rivers, which means a lot of harmful “chemistry” gets into it, and soon other fish may begin to die out. Minnow can live in an aquarium and its behavior is very interesting to watch, besides they are very unpretentious.