Nevada Fish & Wildlife Office
Pacific Southwest Region

Bonytail Chub
(Gila elegans)

Bonytail chub
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Cypriniformes
Family: Cyprinidae
Genus: Gila
Species: elegans
Length: over 2 feet
Lifespan: 30+ years
Feed: little known, probably insects, fishes, and plant matter
Habitat: main-stems of the Colorado River system

Official Status:


Life History:

A bonytail chub can grow to over 2 feet long. Like many other desert fishes, its coloring tends to be darker above and lighter below, serving as a camouflage. Breeding males have red fin bases. They have a streamlined body and a terminal mouth. Bonytail Chubs have bodies that sometimes arch into a smooth, predorsal hump (in adults). While their skull is quite concave, their caudal peduncle (tailside) is thin, and almost looks like a pencil (hence, “bony tail”). The coloration of Bonytail Chubs is usually dark dorsally and lighter ventrally, however, in very clear waters, they looks almost black all over. During breeding season, males and females have distinct coloration as well. Mature males have bright red-orange lateral bands between their paired fins; while females have a more subdued coloration that is described with the males.

Distribution and Habitat:

  The bonytail chub was once found in many states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. This fish species experienced the most abrupt decline of any of the long-lived fishes native to the main-stems of the Colorado River system and, because no young individuals have been found in recent years, has been called functionally extinct. Bonytail chubs were one of the first fish species to reflect the changes that occurred in the Colorado River basin after the construction of Hoover Dam; the fish was extirpated from the lower basin between 1926 and 1950.They may still be found in the Green River of Utah and perhaps in the larger Colorado River water bodies. Gila elegans was added to the US list of endangered species on April 23, 1980.

Bonytail chub prefer backwaters with rocky or muddy bottoms and flowing pools, although they have been reported in swiftly moving water. They are mostly restricted to rocky canyons today, but were historically abundant in the wide downstream sections of rivers.


  habitat alterations caused by dams, and predation and competition with nonnative fishes

Actions / Current Information:


  • Federal Fish and Wildlife Permit Application form (Form 3-200-54)
  • Landowner Cooperative Agreement Template (Microsoft Word document)
  • Environmental Action Statement Screening Form for Programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement Benefitting Razorback Sucker and Bonytail Chub on Private Lands
  • Programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement for Voluntary Enhancement/Restoration Activities Benefitting Razorback Sucker and Bonytail within Clark County, Nevada
  • Landowner Certificate of Inclusion Template (Microsoft Word document)
  • Map: Potential razorback sucker and boytail rearing pond and refuge sites within Las Vegas Valley, Clark County, NV
        Federal Register Notice: Programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement for Nevada Department of Wildlife, Clark County, NV
    Last updated: April 16, 2014