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Contact information
For information on Wisconsin's rare vertebrate animals, contact:
Rich Staffen
Conservation Biologist
For information on Wisconsin's rare invertebrates, contact:
Jay Watson
Conservation Biologist

Starhead Topminnow (Fundulus dispar)



Starhead Topminnow (Fundulus dispar), listed as Endangered in Wisconsin, prefers quiet, clear-slightly turbid, shallow backwaters with an abundance of submerged aquatic plants. Spawning occurs from June through July.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - both state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Starhead Topminnow (Fundulus dispar). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where occurrences of this species meet NHI data standards and is not meant as a comprehensive map of all observations.

Note: Species recently added to the NHI Working List may temporarily have blank occurrence maps.

Documented locations of Fundulus dispar in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.
Summary Information
State StatusEND
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS2
Global RankG4
Tracked by NHIY

Species guidance

Note: a species guidance document is not available at this time. Information below was compiled from publication ER-091.

Identification: Back and upper sides light olive tan, lower sides and belly lighter to yellowish. Series of red to brown dots arranged horizontally along sides. Dorsal fin is mounted far down the posterior end on the back, prominent dark blotch ("teardrop") beneath eye. Adult length: 1.8-2.2 inches (47-55mm).

Habitat: Glacial lakes and clear, well-vegetated floodplain lakes, swamps and marshes. Prefer quiet, clear to slightly turbid (cloudy), shallow backwaters with an abundance of submergent vegetation.

State Distribution: Wisconsin River between Spring Green and Sauk City, lower Sugar River and Coon Creek of the Rock River Drainage, Mukwonago River in Fox River basin, and Black River near LaCrosse. A map outlining Pre-1977 and 1997 to Present Distribution is available.

Phenology: Occur singly or in pairs just beneath the water's surface, seldom diving deeper even to avoid predators. Spawn in dense beds of aquatic vegetation during late spring to early summer. When placed in unfamiliar locations, starheads have the ability to orient themselves with respect to the sun and attempt to return to familiar waters.

Diet: Starheads feed on terrestrial and aquatic insects, crustaceans, mollusks and delicate aquatic vegetation.

Management Guidelines: Watershed management to improve water clarity and reduce sedimentation, or conducting plantings to reestablish necessary vegetation beds for cover and spawning may benefit this species.



Starhead Topminnow

Side view adult.

Photo by John Lyons, WDNR.

Starhead Topminnow

Starhead topminnow is at the northernmost extent of its range in southern WI and one of many rare or otherwise sensitive species in the Mukwonago River system.

Photo by John Lyons, WDNR.

Starhead Topminnow

The female (top) shows thin lateral stripes, the male (bottom) shows thin vertical bars and a relatively large anal fin.

Photo by John Lyons, WDNR.

Wildlife Action Plan

Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

Natural community (habitat) associations

The table below lists the natural communities that are associated with Starhead Topminnow. Only natural communities for which Starhead Topminnow is "high" (score=3) or "moderate" (score=2) associated are shown. See the key to association scores for complete definitions. Please see the Wildlife Action Plan to learn how this information was developed.

Ecological landscape associations

The table below lists the ecological landscape association scores for Starhead Topminnow. The scores correspond to the map (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None). For more information, please see the Wildlife Action Plan.

This map shows the probability of Starhead Topminnow occurring in each of Wisconsin's Ecological Landscapes.  Actual scores can be found in the table to the left.

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Landscape-Community combinations of highest ecological priority*

Ecological priorities are the combinations of natural communities and ecological landscapes that provide Wisconsin's best opportunities to conserve important habitats for a given Species of Greatest Conservation Need. The 10 highest scoring combinations are considered ecological priorities and are listed below. More than 10 combinations are listed if multiple combinations tied for 10th place. For more information, please see the Wildlife Action Plan.

* Ecological priority score is a relative measure that is not meant for comparison between species. This score does not consider socio-economical factors that may dictate protection and/or management priorities differently than those determined solely by ecological analysis. Further, a low ecological priority score does not imply that management or preservation should not occur on a site if there are important reasons for doing so locally.

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Issues/threats and conservation actions

Conservation actions respond to issues or threats, which adversely affect species of greatest conservation need (SGCN) or their habitats. Besides actions such as restoring wetlands or planting resilient tree species in northern communities, research, surveys and monitoring are also among conservation actions described in the WWAP because lack of information can threaten our ability to successfully preserve and care for natural resources.

Threats/issues and conservations actions for rare animals

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Last revised: Thursday, October 08, 2020