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Longhead Darter

Longhead Darter
Percina macrocephala

New York Status: Threatened


Longhead Darter

Reaching 4.5-5 inches in length, the longhead darter is a small to medium-sized fish. It has a long, narrow head and snout with a groove (called a frenum) separating the tip of the upper lip from the snout. There is a row of modified belly scales found along its underside and the gill covers are connected, rather than split, across the isthmus. Like most darter species, the longhead darter is quite colorful. Its back is bright olive-yellow and there is a series of more than 12 somewhat square blotches along the back. On the sides are a chain of slightly connected blotches. Lighter colored pigment ribbons occur between the two bands of pigment. There is a dark spot at the base of the tail fin with a small vertical bar underneath. One to three dusky spots occur on each side of the bottom of the head. The last spot connects the bar-shaped blotch below the eye, forming a sickle-shaped teardrop.

Life History

Little information is known about the life history of the longhead darter. Biologists believe this darter spawns in the spring between March and May. Adult longheads eat crayfish and mayflies.

Distribution and Habitat

The longhead darter is found in the Ohio, Tennessee and Allegheny River drainage located in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. It occurs in moderate to large-sized clear streams with swift currents and bottoms of gravel and boulders. In New York State, the longhead darter only occurs in the Allegheny River, a few larger tributaries, and French Creek.

Population Status

Little historical information is available about population changes of the longhead darter. Throughout its range, this fish is uncommon and the American Fisheries Society lists the longhead darter as threatened in all states where it occurs. The distribution and abundance of this darter is restricted by its requirements for clear waters with gravel and boulder bottoms.

Management/Research Needs

The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will reassess the longhead's status.

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