Notropis mekistocholas

Cape Fear Shiner

FWS Focus



The Cape Fear shiner is a North American species of freshwater fish in the minnow family. It is only found in the central part of North Carolina, in the Upper Cape Fear River Basin. Listed as endangered on September 26,1987, the species has benefited from successful captive breeding and augmentation, and the removal of dams that once hindered sub-population connectivity within the Deep and Rocky Rivers.  Experts are hopeful that by implementing strategic efforts and habitat conservation, the Cape Fear shiner can be recovered throughout its range. 


Segmentation, or separation of sub-populations, by dams resulting in the loss of free-flowing river habitat to impoundments are major concerns.  Increased sedimentation and deteriorating water quality at some previously occupied sites make those sites unsuitable for shiners today. Other potential threats to the species and its habitat are caused by changes in streamflow and impoundments, runoff from agriculture and residential communities, road construction, wastewater discharge, and other development projects in the watershed that reduce the forested landscape. The shiner is also threatened by numerous predators, such as crappie, bass, and the invasive flathead catfish. 

Video url: Collecting Cape Fear shiner 

What you can do to help 

  • Support measures related to keeping our streams clean, such as land-use planning that maintains naturally forested river shore buffers and high water quality. 

  • Maintain native forests along streams and creeks. These forested buffers prevent the erosion of soil and sediments into the water after heavy rains, keeping the stream clear and clean. 

  • Do not dispose of toxic substances such as motor oil, pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals near creeks and streams. Always follow the instructions for chemical use, and properly dispose of any remaining material and the container. 

  • Keep livestock out of rivers and streams. Livestock can damage the stream banks by eating the bank vegetation and causing erosion of the bank. Livestock and their waste can also pollute the water. 

  • Watch for fish kills, illegal dumping of waste, unusual water color or smell, and other changes in the river’s condition. Report environmental emergencies (e.g., fish kills, oil or chemical spills) affecting water resources to the N.C. Division of Emergency Management at 1-800-858-0368. 

Scientific Name

Notropis mekistocholas
Common Name
Cape Fear shiner
FWS Category

Location in Taxonomic Tree

Identification Numbers



Characteristic category



The shiner’s intestines are uniquely adapted to help the fish digest plant material. This makes the Cape Fear shiner stand out within the minnow family - it can eat plant material that other minnows cannot. It has a convoluted gut, kind of like a cow has several stomachs, to help it digest the plant material. The shiner was originally thought to be herbivorous, but recent studies have shown that it eats a variety of both plant and animal matter. It is known to eat detritus, bacteria, phytoplankton, diatoms, and algae. 

Characteristic category

Physical Characteristics

Size & Shape

The Cape Fear shiner is a small (about 2 inches long), yellowish minnow with black bands along the sides of its body. The shiner’s fins are yellow and somewhat pointed. It has a black upper lip, and the lower lip bears a thin black bar along its margin. The Cape Fear shiner is known to consume plant and animal material. However, unlike most other minnows in the genus Notropis, the Cape Fear shiner’s digestive tract is modified primarily for a plant diet by having an elongated, convoluted intestine. 

Characteristic category




Habitat (500 characters max) 

The Cape Fear shiner is generally associated with gravel, cobble, and boulder substrates, and has been observed in slow pools, riffles, and slow runs, often with water willow, which may be used as cover or protection from predators (e.g. flathead catfish, bass and crappie). The Cape Fear shiner can be found swimming in schools of other minnow species but is never the most abundant species. During the spawning season, May through July, adult shiners move to slower flowing pools to lay eggs on the rocky substrate. Juveniles are often found in slack water, among large rock outcrops of the midstream, and in flooded side channels and pools. Cape Fear shiners are sexually mature after their first year and are known to live up to nine years in captivity. 

Video url: Cape Fear shiners 

Designated Critical Habitat 

Critical habitat is defined under the Endangered Species Act as the specific areas within the geographical area occupied by a species which have physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the species and that may require special management considerations or protection, or specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by a species but for which those areas are essential for the conservation of the species. 

  • Chatham County, NC. Approximately 4.1 miles of the Rocky River from North Carolina State Highway 902 Bridge downstream to Chatham County Road 1010 Bridge; 

  • Chatham and Lee Counties, NC. Approximately 0.5 river mile of Bear Creek, from Chatham County Road 2156 Bridge downstream to the Rocky River, then downstream in the Rocky River (approximately 4.2 river miles) to the Deep River, then downstream in the Deep River (approximately 2.6 river miles) to a point 0.3 river mile below the Moncure, North Carolina, U.S. Geological Survey Gaging Station; and, 

  • Randolph and Moore Counties, NC. Approximately 1.5 miles of Fork Creek, from a point 0.1 river mile upstream of Randolph County Road 2873 Bridge downstream to the Deep River then downstream approximately 4.1 river miles of the Deep River in Randolph and Moore Counties, North Carolina, to a point 2.5 river miles below Moore County Road 1456 Bridge.


River or Stream

A natural body of running water.



The species is endemic to the upper Cape Fear River Basin in the Central Piedmont of North Carolina. It is known from tributaries and mainstreams of the Deep, Haw, Rocky, and upper Cape Fear rivers in Chatham, Harnett, Lee, Moore and Randolph counties. The precise number of shiners in each population is not known, but recent range wide survey efforts provided biologists with a better understanding of the current distribution and numbers of individuals. The data shows that the Deep and Rocky Rivers are the most populated reaches in the shiner’s range as of 2020.  


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