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Tiny fish swim out of a plastic bag aand into a stream
Information icon Barrens topminnows being released into Short Springs. Photo, Erin Johnson, USFWS.

Final listing of Barrens topminnow as endangered under Endangered Species Act

What is the Barrens topminnow?

The Barrens topminnow is a small, colorful fish that reaches up to four inches in length native only to Tennessee. Barrens topminnows have upturned mouths, flattened heads and backs, and rounded fins with dorsal and anal fins set far back on the body. Males are very showy during the spawning season, with bodies displaying bright, iridescent background colors of greens, blues and reddish orange spots, and their fins colored yellow. Females, juveniles and non-reproductive males are less colorful, with pale brown bodies sprinkled with darker spots on the sides.

Where does the Barrens topminnow live?

The Barrens topminnow is found only in five sites on the Barrens Plateau in central Tennessee, in Cannon, Coffee, Dekalb, and Warren counties.

What is the Barrens topminnow’s status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)?

In January 2018, the Service proposed listing the topminnow as endangered under the ESA. Based on the best available science and information, the Service is now making that rule final, establishing the Barrens topminnow as an endangered species.

What does it mean when a species is listed as endangered?

Species are protected under the ESA as either endangered or threatened. An endangered species is one that is currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. A threatened species is one that is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

What are the criteria for deciding whether to add a species to the list of endangered or threatened species?

A species is added to the list when it is determined to be endangered or threatened because of the following factors:

  • The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range
  • Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes
  • Disease or predation
  • The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms
  • Other natural manmade factors affecting its survival

Is the Service designating critical habitat for the Barrens topminnow?

The Service plans to designate critical habitat in the future. Under the ESA, critical habitat is a specific geographic area that contains features essential for the conservation of federally protected species and that may require special management and protection.

What conservation work has already been undertaken on behalf of the Barrens topminnow?

Efforts to artificially propagate the Barrens topminnow began in the 1970s and have proved very successful at producing fish for stocking. In addition, the Service has worked with landowners to protect and improve Barrens topminnow habitat through fencing-out livestock and increasing the amount of suitable habitat at certain sites by widening and deepening pools. Starting in the 1990s, a concerted effort was made to restock topminnows into 27 springs throughout their historic range with the cooperation of many landowners.

These conservation actions were coordinated by the Barrens Topminnow Working Group, a partnership of the Service’s National Fish Hatcheries and Ecological Services Field Offices, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, researchers from Tennessee Tech University, the Tennessee Aquarium and Conservation Fisheries, Inc. This partnership has worked to conserve the Barrens topminnow and monitor its populations, including rescuing fish from springs at risk of drying up during droughts.

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