The Darters are blooming

I had planned to go snorkeling a couple of weekends ago.  Several of the darters that occur in the area were coming into their breeding colors, I’d ordered a farmer john wetsuit and jacket and they had arrived on the UPS truck as promised on Friday.  Then things started to go south. The wetsuit and jacket were too large.  This doesn’t happen to me.  Things are too small, yes.  But too large?  No.  Never-the-less, too large they were and overly large wetsuits do not keep you warm.  So I ordered the next smaller size and sent the others back for a refund.

Then winter decided it wasn’t ready to relinquish it’s grip to spring after all as the beautiful weather we’d been enjoying disappeared.  And I felt like crap.  But it looked like there might be a window of decent weather Sunday afternoon and I decided I was going out whether I felt bad or not.

Sunday afternoon turned out fairly nice.  The sun came out and temps reached the low sixties.  Since I was stuck using waders and a dipnet instead of being able to snorkel, I went to Chilton Creek, a very small tributary of the Current River a few miles north of Van Buren.


I waded up the creek stopping periodically to hold the net in the water and using my foot to stir up the rocks and gravel, letting anything I disturbed wash down into the net.  I also swept the net through the piles of leaves that had been deposited in the areas out of the main current.  I found a few fish – Southern Redbelly Dace and Bleeding Shiners – but neither were in breeding color yet.  I also picked up a couple of invertebrates, one that i recognized and another that I didn’t.

The first was a small hellgrammite, one that I believe to be a fishfly larvae, perhaps Chauliodes pectinicornis or C. rastricornis but I’m really not sure.


The other was a puzzle.  I really had no clue other than that it was an insect larvae of some kind.  I showed it to Mike Gossett, the park’s aquatic biologist, and he identified it as a dipteran or fly larvae, maybe a species of horse fly.  Having a starting point, I browsed around Bug Guide and decided that it was probably a crane fly.  But since there are nearly 1500 species of those in the United States, I didn’t put much effort into narrowing it further.


Not having found a single darter yet, I walked over to the foot of the opposite hill (about 200’ – the creek bottom is really narrow) to an old creek channel where a spring keeps a nice long pool full even during the summer.  I’d found darters there last spring and I was hoping to repeat myself.


Sure enough, I immediately found darters.  They quickly fled into the algae mats at the head of the pool, but I managed to catch two males and a female despite all the slime that ended up in the net.


These are Etheostoma uniporum or Current Darters.  If you hadn’t guessed, the colorful one is the male.  Originally considered a subspecies of the Orangethroat Darter (called the Current River Orangethroat), E. uniporum  was elevated to species status relatively recently (Ceas and  Page,  1997).  I just wish they had used “Current River Darter” instead of shortening the name to “Current Darter.”  I realize that we already have the Current River Saddled Darter and I suppose that could have caused some confusion, but I still don’t like the shortened version.

More darters to follow shortly.


References cited:
Ceas, P.A., and L.M. Page.  1997.  Systematic studies of the Etheostoma spectabile complex (Percidae: subgenus Oligocephalus) with descriptions of four new species.  Copeia 1997(3):496-522.


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