Gilt Darter Fact Sheet
New York Status: Endangered
The gilt darter is a small fish that reaches three inches in length. There is a row of specialized scales along the midline of the belly, and the gill membrane is joined forward of the breast. Like many darter species, the gilt darter is rather colorful with five to eight blotches (called saddle bands) along the back, and square blotches on its sides. The body ranges in color from olive to blue-green. Breeding males develop five to eight blue-green vertical bands, bright red blotches on the sides, and an orange breast, orange dorsal (back) fin, and dark blue pelvic and anal fins.
Few facts are known about the life history of this darter. Brightly colored males (indicating spawning activity) have been observed in riffle areas of large rivers in the spring. No food studies have been done of this species, but it is assumed that aquatic insects are important food items.
Distribution and Habitat
The gilt darter is found in large streams in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Missouri, and Arkansas. It prefers clear, fast-flowing gravel or rubble riffles where algae and other aquatic vegetation beds occur. In New York State, this darter is only found in the Allegheny River.
The gilt darter has declined in numbers throughout its range. This fish is quite intolerant of slow water and silt, and given this information, recent declines in New York's Allegheny River populations are being attributed to siltation of the river. Since the Kinzua dam in northern Pennsylvania prevents any upstream movement of that state's gilt darter populations, New York's population is now isolated from its historically broader genetic base.
The Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) goal is to maintain or secure self-sustaining populations of gilt darters in the Allegheny River basin. The gilt darter was last caught in New York State in 1937.