Least darter (Etheostoma microperca)

Least darter specimen
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Least darter fact file

Least darter description

GenusEtheostoma (1)

The least darter (Etheostoma microperca) is a small, robust freshwater fish found in North America (3). It has a deep, flattened body, a rounded snout, large eyes and an unscaled breast (4). It is olive-brown above and white to yellow on the underside. There is a series of dark blotches along the sides, a distinct black line runs through the snout and eyes, and there is a dark teardrop under the eyes. There is also black spotting on the underside (5)

During the breeding season, the male least darter becomes dark green with iridescent green scales and the dark blotches turn black. The caudal fin and the second dorsal fin become milky white with charcoal grey bands, and the pelvic and anal fins become enlarged and bright orange (5).

Length: up to 4.4 cm (2)

Least darter biology

Very little is known about the biology and behaviour of the least darter. It spawns from February to late July, with the timing of breeding varying across its range. Females are thought to produce at least three clutches of eggs each breeding season (6), and each egg is deposited individually on vegetation (3). The larvae hatch in about six days and reach maturity at a year old. The least darter is thought to live to around 20 months (6)

The least darter feeds on a variety of aquatic invertebrates, with copepods being a particularly important part of its diet (2).


Least darter range

Occurring in the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins, the least darter is found from eastern Ontario and Minessota, south to Ohio, Indiana, and Illionis, with isolated populations in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma (2) (6).


Least darter habitat

The least darter most often inhabits quiet, vegetated lakes, headwaters, creeks and small rivers, where it is usually found over mud and sand. This species also occurs in streams, springs and ponds, and it spawns in shallow, weedy areas (2) (6).


Least darter status

The least darter is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Least darter threats

No major threats to the least darter are known at present (1).


Least darter conservation

The least darter has not been the target of any known conservation measures, and is currently of relatively low conservation concern (1).


Find out more

Find out more about the least darter:



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Anal fin
In fish, an unpaired fin on the under surface of the fish, behind the anus.
Caudal fin
The tail fin of a fish.
A large and diverse group of minute marine and freshwater crustaceans. They usually have an elongated body and a forked tail.
Dorsal fin
The unpaired fin found on the back of the body of fish, or the raised structure on the back of most cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises).
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
Pelvic fins
In fish, the pair of fins found on the underside of the body.
The production or depositing of eggs in water.


  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2013)
  2. FishBase - Least darter (July, 2011)
  3. Smith, P.W. (2002) The Fishes of Illinois. University of Illinois Press, Champaign, Illinois.
  4. Simon, T.P. (2011) Fishes of Indiana: A Field Guide. Indiana University Press, Indiana.
  5. Goldstein, R.J., Harper, R.W. and Edwards, R. (2000) American Aquarium Fishes. Texas A&M University Press, Texas.
  6. NatureServe Explorer - Least darter (July, 2011)

Image credit

Least darter specimen  
Least darter specimen

© Uland Thomas

Uland Thomas


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