The Whitetail Shiner occurs in two disjunct areas west and east of the Former Mississippi Embayment. Range includes the Tennessee and Cumberland river drainages of Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Kentucky; Atlantic slope headwaters (upper Savannah and Santee river systems, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia); upper New River drainage, West Virginia and Virginia; Ozark Plateau and Ouachita Mountains portions of the White and St. Francis river systems, Missouri and Arkansas (Page and Burr 2011). The Whitetail Shiner was propagated at CFI for use as a mussel host fish. Many of you are aware that many freshwater mussels found throughout southeastern rivers and streams are imperiled as are many of our freshwater fishes. All North American species of mussels have a complex life cycle involving fish as an intermediate host for the larval mussel (known as Glochidia). These larval mussels attach to the gills, fins and skin of fishes and live as parasites for the first stages of their life. In this way, many of our freshwater mussels and fishes are closely tied to one another in the wild.
As CFI propagates imperiled fishes, a number of facilities dedicated to the propagation of rare mussels have been established in recent years. Those propagating mussels must use appropriate host fishes for the larval mussels to complete their early life history. In some cases, only one or a few fishes can be used as hosts for particular mussel species. This is where these whitetail shiners come into play!
Some potential host fish are abundant enough that wild collected individuals can be used in the mussel culture facilities. Some are quite rare and collecting sufficient numbers from the wild might jeopardize the fish population. But, even for some of the common species, hatchery raised individuals often prove more suitable for this work. They can be available in larger numbers, a more uniform size and are often hardier in captivity than their wild counterparts. There is also the suggestion that since these fish have never been exposed to these larval mussels (essentially parasites!) that they have never developed immunities to them.
Initial research has demonstrated that in some cases, hatchery produced host fish have indeed proven to be much better mussel hosts! CFI has propagated several species intended specifically as mussel hosts. We hope to be able to expand this service as other appropriate host fishes are identified.
Whitetail Shiners spawn throughout much of the spring and summer and deposit eggs in crevices in rocks or sometimes woody debris. CFI employs ceramic floor tiles in stacks to accommodate the eggs of this potentially prolific species. In 2006, CFI was able to produce a couple thousand white tail shiners for mussel hosts!