Kanawha minnow (Phenacobius teretulus)

Kanawha minnow on the hand of a scientist
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Kanawha minnow fact file

Kanawha minnow description

GenusPhenacobius (1)

The Kanawha minnow is a rare fish named after the only place it is known to exist: the upper reaches of the Kanawha River (2). It is a long, slim fish, with a dark back, greenish sides, a pale, silvery underside and orange-tinged fins and tail. Belonging to a group of fish known as suckermouth minnows (3), it has a downward pointing mouth which enables it to feed on insects in the gravel on the river bottom (4). Its eyes are positioned supralaterally - seeing upwards, forwards, backwards and sideways, rather than being able to look down (4). This means that instead of using sight to detect food, the Kanawha minnow uses highly developed taste sensors in its lips and head (4).

Adult length: 6.5 - 10 cm (2)

Kanawha minnow biology

The Kanawha minnow is an insectivorous fish, plucking its prey from amongst the stones on the river bed (4). The young fish prefer to eat the larvae and pupae of some flies, mayflies and caddisflies, while adult Kanawha minnows also feed on small tubeworms and water snails (4). It appears to feed mainly at night or at dawn and dusk, perhaps to allow it to avoid predators by hiding during the day (4).

Although breeding in the Kanawha minnow has not been observed, it is thought that it has a primitive spawning mode much like other minnows, releasing eggs and sperm directly over the river gravel (6). The eggs are fertilised by the sperm, settling amongst the stones or being washed further downstream, and are not protected at all by the adults (2) (6).


Kanawha minnow range

This species occurs only in the United States in the New (upper Kanawha) River drainage, in the states of North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia (2) (4). Like many of the native fish species in this area, the Kanawha minnow occurs at only a few locations within its range (5).


Kanawha minnow habitat

A freshwater fish, the Kanawha minnow occurs in warm, clear streams and rivers with a width of between 10 and 100 metres and gravel, rubble or boulder bottoms (2) (4). It tends to remain near to the river bed rather than swimming high in the water (2), and prefers moving water, with the smaller juvenile fish being found in gentler currents and the adults and larger juveniles favouring faster water (4). Both adults and juveniles seem to prefer gravel and smaller stones to larger stones, and usually avoid sandy or silty habitats (4).


Kanawha minnow status

The Kanawha minnow is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Kanawha minnow threats

Already limited in its distribution, the Kanawha minnow is threatened by a number of factors. Changes to water courses, such as the construction of dams, slow the river flow or cause the silting up of streams, making habitats unsuitable (4). In addition, a number of non-native fish are expanding their range into the New River system, potentially threatening the Kanawha minnow and the other 45 native fish species (5). As the Kanawha minnow requires relatively soft water to survive, unsuitable natural water chemistry may limit its ability to expand its range into adjacent areas to escape these threats (4).


Kanawha minnow conservation

It is not known how many individuals of this species still occur in the wild as no research has been published since 1975, and changes to its habitat since then may have reduced numbers to very low levels (4).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.


This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

This species information was authored as part of the Arkive and Universities Scheme.


Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
Stage in an insect’s development when huge changes occur, which reorganise the larval form into the adult form.
The production or depositing of large quantities of eggs in water.


  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2010)
  2. FishBase (March, 2010)
  3. ITIS (March, 2010)
  4. Hambrick, P.S., Jenkins, R.E. and Wilson, J.H. (1975) Distribution, habitat and food of the cyprinid fish Phenacobius teretulus, a New River Drainage endemic. Copeia, 1975: 172-176.
  5. Paybins, K.S., Messinger, T., Eychaner, J.H., Chambers, D.B. and Kozar, M.D. (2000) Water Quality in the Kanawha–New River Basin West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina, 1996–98. U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1204. Available at:
  6. Johnston, C.E. (1999) The relationship of spawning mode to conservation of North American minnows (Cyprinidae). Environmental Biology ofFishes, 55: 21-30.

Image credit

Kanawha minnow on the hand of a scientist  
Kanawha minnow on the hand of a scientist

© Angela Burns

Angela Burns


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