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Arkansas River Darter

Arkansas Darter
Etheostoma cragini
(Order Perciformes, Family Percidae)

Diagnosis: The Arkansas Darter is a stout bodied mottled brown fish with a short blunt head, with a snout shorter than it’s eye. Its gill membranes separate forming a deep V notch on its throat. Its head is scaleless. It has about fifty scales in its lateral line on sides, but fewer than twenty five are pored. Dorsal fins have nine spines and 11 to 13 soft rays. Breeding males are orange along the entire ventral surface. Their dorsal fin has a diffuse orange band and the fish is plain brown otherwise. Unlike some darters this one has no blue or green pigment. Maximum length for adults is about 2 and 1/4 inches.


Arkansas Darter, male and female.  Above: Male in breeding colors. Below: Female. 

Range: Found in the Arkansas River drainage. Southwest Missouri, Northwest Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado.

Habitat: The Arkansas Darter prefers small springs or seeps when they are partly overgrown by watercress or some other kind of aquatic vegetation. It occurs only in the Arkansas River basin in small prairie streams as well as streams along the western Ozark border. It seems to prefer shallow clear water where current is slow and cover is provided by some kind of vegetation or roots near the bank.

Reproduction: The Arkansas Darter spawns from March to May. The eggs are deposited in sandy substrate and abandoned.  Wichita State University’s own Dr. Distler has done research on the Arkansas Darter’s breeding habits in aquaria in 1972. He found that females spawned more than once in a season and that females laid between 294 and 472 eggs. He also found that males were not territorial and several males spawned simultaneously with one female. Both sexes became sexually mature at one year and lived only about three years.

Feeding Habits: The Arkansas Darter is an insectivore, but may also eat small seeds.

Conservation Status: Threatened species in Kansas. The Ark darter is endemic to the Arkansas River system. Most of its surviving populations are on the Ark River south of the “big bend” of the Ark River in south central Kansas. Irrigation and drought have dried a good portion of its habitat farther west, including where it was originally discovered and named near Garden City, KS in 1885. Spills and runoff from confined animal feeding operations also potentially affect the species range-wide.


Peterson Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes of North America and Mexico. Second edition. Lawerence M. page and Brooks M. Burr. Copyright 2011

Fishes in Kansas. Second Edition, Revised Frank B. Cross and Joseph T. Collins Copyright 1995.


Submitted by: Jesse Busenbarrick, July 2013.

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