Red shiner, Cyprinella lutrensis


Jeremy Gay introduces what is probably the most colourful fish you can buy for the indoor coldwater aquarium - the stunning Red shiner or Rainbow dace.

Scientific name:

Cyprinella lutrensis.

Common name:

Red shiner, Rainbow dace


Widespread across North America and introduced to North Mexico. Originates in the Mississippi river basin. 


Up to 9cm/3.6” although usually smaller.


Feeds on terrestrial and aquatic insects in nature, and algae. In the aquarium it will accept a wide range of foods, from a staple flake food to live and frozen bloodworm, mosquito larvae, brineshrimp and Daphnia.


Prefers a temperature of 15-25°C/59-77°F. Great for the unheated indoor aquarium, but not for the outside pond.


Red shiners are an attractive cool water fish that will appeal to those wanting something completely different to goldfish. They could be mixed with other cool water, active fish like danios and White Cloud Mountain minnows, though should not be mixed with goldfish as they will out-compete them and are a fin-nipping risk.


Quite an active fish that should be kept in groups. Combine this with their maximum size of nearly 10cm/4” and a 90cm/35” tank should be considered the minimum length for a group long term.


Easy, as males are far more colourful when mature and when in spawning condition carry raised white breeding tubercles all over their heads.


There are 29 valid species of Cyprinella, all referred to as shiners. You’re unlikely to confuse them with anything else.


Red shiners have been in and out of availability recently, possibly due to confusion over its legal status in the UK. We saw them in several shops here in the spring/summer of 2009 and most retailers should be able to get them in for you.

Legal position:

The choice in coldwater fish these days is very limited and it is illegal to import or keep a wide range of fish due to the Import of Live Fish Act, which was amended in 1996. This is designed to protect native fish stocks from diseases and non-native fish species. Dealers need to apply for a special licence to handle many species. 

Some of the licenced fish can be kept by the public without any need to apply for their own licence, but others cannot, and we’d be surprised if Defra ever issued licences for some of the listed species. 

The Red shiner is a fish that shops need to hold a licence for in order to import and sell it legally. However, the general public are covered by something called a general licence. For this species, they don’t actually have to physically apply to Defra for permission to keep the fish. 

Store owners need to record where they buy these fish and who they sell them to, so expect to be vetted when you buy them. 

Defra say that the Import of Live Fish Act is under review and more species may be added later.


About £5 each.

This item was first published in the September 2009 issue of Practical Fishkeeping magazine. It may not be reproduced without written permission.