Little Colorado Spinedace

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Little Colorado Spinedace

Lepidomeda vittata

ListedMarch 11, 1967
FamilyCyprinidae (Minnows)
DescriptionSmall, olive and silver minnow with a small head and large eyes.
HabitatStreams with gravel or mudsilt bottoms.
FoodInsects, detritus.
ReproductionSpawns in early summer.
ThreatsDams, groundwater pumping, competition with introduced fish.


The Little Colorado spinedace, Lepidomeda vittata, is a small minnow, about 4 in (10 cm) long. It is olive above and silvery below, with a lateral band. The back is olive or bluish to lead gray. It has a small head and relatively large eyes.


This spinedace spawns primarily in early summer, continuing at a reduced rate until early fall. In courtship behavior, males pursue females, nibbling them about the vent. Like other minnows, the Little Colorado spinedace feeds on small insects and detritus.


This spinedace inhabits pools in narrow to moderately sized streams where the water flows over a fine gravel or silt-mud bottom. During droughts, it retreats to springs and intermittent stream bed pools. During flooding, it spreads throughout the stream once again.


The Little Colorado spinedace occurred throughout the upper portions of the Little Colorado River drainage in Arizona. It was first described in 1874, from specimens taken from the river between the mouth of the Zuni River and Sierra Blanca in Arizona.

It is now found only in portions of the Little Colorado River and East Clear, Chevelon, Silver, and Nutrioso creeks in Coconino, Navajo, and Apache Counties, Arizona.


The decline of the Little Colorado spinedace is the result of habitat alteration associated with human settlement. Dam building, water pumping, stream channeling, and road building have radically altered the water system within the spinedace's habitat. Introduced fish species also prey upon and compete with the spinedace.

Proposed water projects would further reduce viable habitat for this fish. For example, Wilkin's Dam at the confluence of Clear and East Clear Creeks is proposed as part of the Bureau of Reclamation's larger Mogollon Mesa project. Wilkin's Dam would inundate about 8 mi (13 km) of stream, significantly decreasing downstream flows. The project is currently inactive and is not expected to be reactivated in the near future. The best protection for spinedace at the moment is federal ownership of much of its habitat. The East Clear Creek population is located within the Coconino and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, as are portions of the Little Colorado River, Silver and Nutrioso creeks populations.

Conservation and Recovery

The Fish and Wildlife Service has declared portions of East Clear Creek, Chevelon Creek, and Nutrioso Creek as habitat critical to the continued existence of the Little Colorado spinedace.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Division of Endangered Species
P.O. Box 1306
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87103


Miller, R. R. 1983. "Distribution, Variation and Ecology of Lepidomeda vittata, a Rare Cyprinid Fish Endemic to Eastern Arizona." Copeia 1963:1-5.

Minckley, W. L. 1973. Fishes of Arizona. Sims Printing, Phoenix.