Raleigh Ecological Services Field Office
Conserving the Nature of America

Spotfin chub (Cyprinella monacha)

Spotfin chub. Credit: Ken Taylor

Spotfin chub. Credit: Ken Taylor

Federal Status: Threatened, September 9, 1977

Description: The spotfin chub is a small, slender fish, not exceeding 4 inches (10.2 centimeters) in length. Juveniles, females, and non-breeding males have tan, gray, or olive colored backs, bright silvery sides, and white bellies. A dark spot is sometimes visible at the base of the tail. Large breeding males have olive or tan backs, brilliant iridescent turquoise or cobalt blue on the upper sides of their bodies and mid-sides and bellies that are silvery cream. Their fins are satiny turquoise and sometimes have a gold glint. The spotfin chub spawns from mid-May to mid-August. Females deposit eggs in crevices between rocks. Males fertilize the eggs and stay to defend the eggs by swimming repeatedly over the nest site. Although some individuals may spawn at one year, most spotfin chubs reach sexual maturity at two years. Spotfins apparently do not live beyond three years of age. The spotfin chub feeds by sight and taste on tiny insect larvae on the stream bottom.

Habitat: Spotfin chubs inhabit clear water over gravel, boulders, and bedrock in large creeks and medium-sized rivers having moderate current. This fish is rarely seen over sand, and appears to avoid silty areas.

Distribution: The spotfin chub is known historically from twelve Tennessee River tributaries in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. However, much of the species’ historical habitat has been destroyed or seriously altered. Today it survives in four isolated tributary systems – the Buffalo River, Lewis County, Tennessee; Emory River (including the Obed River, Clear Creek, and Daddy’s Creek), Morgan, Cumberland, and Fentress counties, Tennessee; North Fork Holston River, Hawkins and Sullivan counties, Tennessee, and Scott and Washington counties, Virginia; and the Little Tennessee River, Macon and Swain counties, North Carolina.

Threats: Agriculture (both crop and livestock) and forestry operations, mining activities, highway and road construction, residential and industrial development, and other construction and land-clearing activities that do not adequately control soil erosion and storm-water run-off contribute excessive amounts of silt, pesticides, fertilizers, heavy metals, and other pollutants. The run-off of storm water from cleared areas, roads, rooftops, parking lots, and other developed areas, which is often ditched or piped directly into streams, not only results in stream pollution but also results in increased water volume and velocity during heavy rains. The high volume and velocity cause channel and stream-bank scouring that leads to the degradation and elimination of fish habitat. Construction and land-clearing operations are particularly detrimental when they result in the alteration of flood plains or the removal of forested stream buffers that ordinarily would help maintain water quality and the stability of stream banks and channels by absorbing, filtering, and slowly releasing rainwater. When storm water run-off increases from land-clearing activities, less water is absorbed to recharge ground water levels. Therefore, flows during dry months can decrease and adversely affect mussels and other aquatic organisms.

Critical Habitat: Critical Habitat for the Spotfin chub was designated on September 9, 1977 and revised on September 22, 1977. For specific information on areas designated as Critical Habitat and the primary constituent elements defined for this species, please refer to the Federal Register notice (42 FR 47840-47845).


LeGrand, Jr., H.E., J.T. Finnegan, S.E. McRae, S.P. Hall. 2010. Natural Heritage Program List of the Rare Animal Species of North Carolina. N.C. Natural Heritage Program, Raleigh, NC.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1983. Spotfin Chub Recovery Plan. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Atlanta, GA. 46 pp.

For More Information on Spotfin chub...

Species Contact:

Bot Butler, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, 828-258-3939 ext. 235

Species profile revised on October 4, 2011.

Last Updated: August 24, 2017