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Spotted Darter

Spotted Darter
Etheostoma maculatum

New York Status: Threatened


spotted darter image

Like other darter species, the spotted darter is quite colorful. The male has many small bright spots and both sexes have a series of dusky blotches on the sides. The fins are olive to reddish with dark spots and the edges are pale white or occasionally yellow to orange. Its back is dark olive brown with lighter sides. A small fish, the spotted darter only reaches 2-3 inches in length. It has a pointed snout, longer than the eye, with a groove (called a frenum) separating the tip of the upper lip from the snout. Its gill membranes are narrowly joined at the isthmus.

Life History

The spotted darter spawns from May to early June in riffles 6-24 inches deep. The eggs are deposited in a wedge-shaped mass under flat stones 3-9 inches in diameter. The nests, guarded by males, are at least 4 feet apart. Females begin spawning at age 2 and spawn 2-4 times in a single five week season. The primary food items are aquatic insects including stoneflies, mayflies and beetles.

Distribution and Habitat

The spotted darter is found in southwest New York and western Pennsylvania. Its range in the Mississippi basin includes a small patchwork of areas from western New York to northern Indiana, to southwestern North Carolina and to eastern Tennessee. In New York State, it is only found in French Creek, in the extreme southwest part of the state. The spotted darter prefers fast rocky riffles in small to medium-sized streams. It is easiest to locate in the fastest riffles and it is expert at swimming back under rocks.

Population Status

Although long-term population trends are unknown for this species, studies conducted in French Creek from 1991-92 indicated a healthy, self-supporting population. However, stream bank changes from road work in the 1990's are reasons for great concern for this species. Population levels have been much lower based on samples in 1994 and 2000. Other threats to the spotted darter's habitat include: 1) siltation from over grazing, row cropping and land clearing, and 2) runoff with cow manure, sewage, fertilizer and pesticides.

Management/Research Needs

In response to the threats identified above, both the Nature Conservancy and NYSDEC are emphasizing public education and stream protection as a means to help protect New York's spotted darter population.

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