The Nonindigenous Occurrences section of the NAS species profiles has a new structure. The section is now dynamically updated from the NAS database to ensure that it contains the most current and accurate information. Occurrences are summarized in Table 1, alphabetically by state, with years of earliest and most recent observations, and the tally and names of drainages where the species was observed. The table contains hyperlinks to collections tables of specimens based on the states, years, and drainages selected. References to specimens that were not obtained through sighting reports and personal communications are found through the hyperlink in the Table 1 caption or through the individual specimens linked in the collections tables.

Etheostoma caeruleum
Etheostoma caeruleum
(Rainbow Darter)
Native Transplant

Copyright Info
Etheostoma caeruleum Storer, 1845

Common name: Rainbow Darter

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: Becker (1983); Page (1983); Page and Burr (1991); Etnier and Starnes (1993); Jenkins and Burkhead (1994). Similar to orangethroat darter Etheostoma spectabile, redline darter E. luteovinctum, and mud darter E. asprigine, but these three species lack red color on anal fin that is present in E. caeruleum.

Size: 7.7 cm.

Native Range: Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins from southern Ontario and western New York to Minnesota, and south to northern Alabama and Arkansas. Isolated populations in southwestern Mississippi and eastern Louisiana, and in upper Potomac River drainage (Atlantic Slope), West Virginia (Page and Burr 1991).

Native range data for this species provided in part by NatureServe NS logo
Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUCs) Explained
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences: The Rainbow Darter has been introduced into the Genesee River system of New York. The species is now common from Portageville to Caneadea and in Angelica and Caneadea creeks (Smith 1985). In 2009, more than a dozen Rainbow Darters were collected in Schoharie County in the Hudson drainage.  Hocutt et al. (1986) listed this species only as questionably native in the Potomac and the Kanawha drainage above the falls. Found throughout the Potomac River drainage in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia (Cessna et al. 2014).

Table 1. States with nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Etheostoma caeruleum are found here.

StateFirst ObservedLast ObservedTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
MD199620235Cacapon-Town; Conococheague-Opequon; Middle Potomac-Catoctin; Monocacy; North Branch Potomac
NY197820227Hudson-Hoosic; Lower Genesee; Mohawk; Salmon-Sandy; Schoharie; Seneca; Upper Genesee
PA199420104Cacapon-Town; Conococheague-Opequon; Upper Susquehanna-Lackawanna; Upper Susquehanna-Tunkhannock
VA199820152Conococheague-Opequon; Middle Potomac-Catoctin
WV197720104Cacapon-Town; Conococheague-Opequon; North Branch Potomac; South Branch Potomac

Table last updated 6/17/2024

† Populations may not be currently present.

Means of Introduction: Unknown. Dispersed throughout the Potomac River drainage (Cessna et al. 2014).

Status: The species is established in the Genesee River system, apparently due to a fairly recent introduction (late 1970s). The population was expanding explosively as of the early 1980s (Smith 1985). Also established in Fox Creek, Schoharie County. Established in the Potomac River drainage (Cessna et al. 2014).

Impact of Introduction: The impacts of this species are currently unknown, as no studies have been done to determine how it has affected ecosystems in the invaded range. The absence of data does not equate to lack of effects. It does, however, mean that research is required to evaluate effects before conclusions can be made.

Remarks: Cross et al. (1986) reported the Rainbow Darter as introduced into the Middle Arkansas drainage. No records of this species were found from this drainage in Arkansas (Robison and Buchanan 1988), Oklahoma (Miller and Robison 1973), or Kansas (Cross 1967; Cross and Collins 1995). However, Cross (1967) mentioned that E. caeruleum had been reported in Kansas previously, but those records were based on misidentified E. spectabile. Esmond and Stauffer (1983) argue that the Potomac River population is native based on morphometrics; Jenkins and Burkhead (1994) suggest that the population in the New River drainage is introduced due to its recent appearance and spread. Rainbow Darters are abundant in Walker Creek, a tributary of the New River (T. Crail, pers. comm.)

References: (click for full references)

Becker, G.C. 1983. Fishes of Wisconsin. University of Madison Press, Madison, WI.

Cessna, J.F., R.L. Raesly, J.V. Kilian, D.A. Cincotta, and R.H. Hilderbrand. 2014. Rapid colonization of the Potomac River drainage by the Rainbow Darter (Etheostoma caeruleum) following introduction. Northeastern Naturalist 21(1):1-11. http://www.bioone.org/doi/full/10.1656/045.021.0101

Crail, T. 2011. University of Toledo. Personal communication

Cross, F.B. 1967. Handbook of fishes of Kansas. State Biological Survey and University of Kansas Museum of Natural History Miscellaneous Publications, number 45. Topeka, KS.

Cross, F.B., and J.T. Collins. Fishes in Kansas. University of Kansas Natural History Museum, Lawrence, KS.

Cross, F.B. R.L. Mayden, and J.D. Stewart. 1986. Fishes in the western Mississippi Basin (Missouri, Arkansas, and Red Rivers). pp. 363-412 in C.H. Hocutt and E.O. Wiley, eds. The zoogeography of North American freshwater fishes. John Wiley and Sons, New York, NY.

Esmond, E.F., and J.R. Stauffer, Jr. 1983. Taxometric comparison of the Atlantic slope and Ohio River populations of Etheostoma caeruleum Storer. American Midland Naturalist 109:390-397.

Etnier, D.A., and W.C. Starnes. 1993. The fishes of Tennessee. University of Tennessee Press, Knowxville, TN.

Hocutt, C.H., R.E. Jenkins, and J.R. Stauffer, Jr. 1986. Zoogeography of the fishes of the central Appalachians and central Atlantic coastal plain. Pages 161-212 in Hocutt, C.H., and E.O. Wiley, eds. The zoogeography of North American freshwater fishes. John Wiley and Sons. New York, NY.

Jenkins, R.E., and N.M. Burkhead. 1994. Freshwater fishes of Virginia. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, MD.

Miller, R.J., and H.W. Robison. 1973. The fishes of Oklahoma. Oklahoma State University Press, Stillwater, OK.

Page, L.M. 1983. Handbook of darters. T.F.H., Inc., Neptune City, NJ.

Page, L.M., and B.M. Burr. 1991. A field guide to the freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. The Peterson Guide Series, vol. 42. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.

Robison, H.W., and T.M. Buchanan. 1988. Fishes of Arkansas. University of Arkansas Press, Fayetville, AR.

Smith, C.L. 1985. The inland fishes of New York State. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Albany, NY.

Other Resources:
Ohio A to Z Species Guide (Ohio Department of Natural Resources)

FishBase Summary

Author: Pam Fuller, and Matt Neilson

Revision Date: 4/30/2018

Peer Review Date: 5/18/2015

Citation Information:
Pam Fuller, and Matt Neilson, 2024, Etheostoma caeruleum Storer, 1845: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=809, Revision Date: 4/30/2018, Peer Review Date: 5/18/2015, Access Date: 6/17/2024

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.


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Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2024]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [6/17/2024].

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