Common name: River Darter
available through www.itis.gov
Identification: The body of the River Darter Percina shumardi is elongate and slightly compressed laterally. The back is brown to olive brown in color with lighter sides and a white belly. The snout is curved downwards and short. The mouth is slightly slanted and jaw protrudes past the eyes. River Darters are distinguished by 6-7 saddle marks on its back, 8-11 vertical bars along its side, and a black bar below the eyes. The spiny dorsal fin has a large black spot on tissue behind the last 3-4 spines. The caudal fins and second dorsal fins are lightly speckled and barred. Pelvic, pectoral, and anal fins are transparent to lightly pigmented. The species exhibits sexual dimorphism, males will normally have a line of modified scales from the anal fin to pelvic fin. Males will also have a thickened membrane on the edge of pelvic fins, while females lack this feature. Breeding males are typically darker and have more pronounced colors than females (Becker 1983).
Size: 7.8 cm.
Native Range: Hudson Bay basin, Ontario, Manitoba, North Dakota, and south in Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins to Louisiana; Gulf drainages from Mobile Bay, Alabama, to Neches River, Texas; isolated population in San Antonio drainage, Texas (Page and Burr 1991). Native to Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Erie. Absent from Lake Superior and Lake Ontario (Roth et al. 2013; Cudmore-Vokey and Crossman 2000). Although the species has been recorded from the Tennessee drainage in northeastern Tennessee, it has not been reported in Virginia (Jenkins and Burkhead 1994), North Carolina (Menhinick 1991), or Georgia (Dahlberg and Scott 1971a).
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 Percina shumardi are found here.
Table last updated 1/29/2023
† Populations may not be currently present.
Ecology: The River Darter inhabits deep riffles and chutes of medium to large rivers, in areas of moderate current and coarse gravel to rock substrates (Gilbert 1980). It is more frequently found in smaller streams during winter and spawning season in early spring. The species is also reportedly tolerant of stream impoundments (Etnier and Starnes 1993). River Darters can also be found in lakes along wave-swept shores with sand, gravel, or rubble, to depth of ~1 m (Becker 1983).
Spawning can occurs at 10°C and has been observed in February at the earliest. Larvae take 6-7 days to hatch at temperatures of 22°C and likely take longer to hatch at lower temperatures. Larvae are active during the day can be found drifting downstream near the surface. Once larvae have grown from the initial size of 4mm to 12-15mm they are considered juveniles. Juveniles are found in areas with sand or gravel substrate and moderate current (Etnier and Starnes 1993). Sexual maturity is reached at age 1 and the average lifespan of individuals is three years old (Dalton 1990).
River Darters are benthic invertivores, primarily consuming chironomids, trichopterans, and small crustaceans (Thomas 1970). Small zooplankton are the primary food source for juveniles (Becker 1983). It is also known to exploit pleurocerid snail populations (Haag and Warren 2006).
Means of Introduction: The River Darter may have found its way to Illinois waters of Lake Michigan through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. The species likely gained access to the Lake Michigan drainage in Wisconsin via the Wisconsin-Fox Canal at Portage, Wisconsin (Becker 1983). It was first reported from this area in 1963 from the western shore of Lake Winnebago (Becker 1983). This species was not found in this drainage in surveys conducted in the late 1920s (Becker 1983). See Remarks section for a possible alternate scenario.
Status: Failed in Lake Michigan, Illinois. Established in the Lake Michigan drainage, Wisconsin.
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.
References: (click for full references)
Becker, G.C. 1983. Fishes of Wisconsin. University of Madison Press, Madison, WI.
Cudmore-Vokey, B., and E.J. Crossman. 2000. Checklists of the fish fauna of the Laurentian Great Lakes and their connecting channels. Canadian Manuscript Report of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 2550. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Burlington, Ontario.
Dahlberg, M.D. and D.C. Scott. 1971. The freshwater fishes of Georgia. Bulletin of the Georgia Academy of Science 29:1-64.
Dalton, K.W. 1990. Status of the River Darter, Percina shumardi, in Canada. Canadian Field Naturalist 104(1):59-63.
Etnier, D.A. and W.C. Starnes. 1993. The fishes of Tennessee. Unversity of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, TN.
Gilbert, C.R. 1980. Percina shumardi (Girard), Dusky Darter. 741 in Lee, D.S., C.R. Gilbert, C.H. Hocutt, R.E. Jenkins, D.E. McAllister, and J.R. Stauffer, Jr., eds. Atlas of North American freshwater fishes. North Carolina State Museum of Natural History, Raleigh, NC.
GLMRIS. 2011. Inventory of Available Controls for Aquatic Nuisance Species of Concern, Chicago Area Waterway System. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Haag, W.R. and M.L. Warren. 2006. Seasonal Feeding Specialization on Snails by River Darters (Percina shumardi) with a Review of Snail Feeding by Other Darter Species. Copeia 4:604-612.
Jenkins, R.E. and N.M. Burkhead. 1994. Freshwater fishes of Virginia. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, MD.
Menhinick, E.F. 1991. The freshwater fishes of North Carolina. North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
Meronek, T.G., P.M. Bouchard, E.R. Buckner, T.M. Burri, K.K. Demmerly, D.C. Hatleli, R.A. Klumb, S.H. Schmidt, and D.W. Coble. 1996. A Review of Fish Control Projects. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 16:63-74.
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.
Patrick, P.H., A.E. Christie, D. Sager, C. Hocutt, and J. Stauffer, Jr. 1985. Responses of fish to a strobe light/air-bubble barrier. Fisheries Research 3:157-172.
Roth, B.M., N.E. Mandrak, T.R. Hrabik, G.G. Sass, and J. Peters. 2013. Fishes and decopod crustaceans of the Great Lakes Basin. Pages 105-135 in Taylor, W.W., A.J. Lynch, and N.J. Leonard, eds. Great Lakes fisheries policy and management: a binational perspective. 2nd edition. Michigan State University Press. East Lansing, MI.
Thomas, D.L. 1970. An ecological study of four darter species of genus Percina (Percidae) in the Kaskaskia River, Illinios. Illinois Natural History Survey, Biological Notes 70:1-18.
Pam Fuller, Matt Neilson and Kylan Hopper
Revision Date: 9/12/2019
Peer Review Date: 6/5/2012
Pam Fuller, Matt Neilson and Kylan Hopper, 2023, Percina shumardi (Girard, 1859): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=826, Revision Date: 9/12/2019, Peer Review Date: 6/5/2012, Access Date: 1/29/2023
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.