Colors of the Rainbow

Two weekends ago, things finally came together.  I had a wetsuit that fit and a beautiful 85 degree Saturday to make use of it.  I headed to Mill Creek, a tributary of the Current River, where it crosses my uncle’s place north of Van Buren.  I was a little self-conscious in the wetsuit (A 6′, 265 lb. man in a wetsuit is not a pretty sight!) and wasn’t looking for an audience, so this would be a good place to get to the water. 

This was my first time in a wetsuit and I didn’t really know what to expect.  The water was 62 degrees, a few degrees warmer than it had been the weekend before.  I eased into the water and was surprised at how fast the wetsuit warmed things up after a brief initial shock of cold.  I finally got the hood arranged so that my mask wasn’t continually flooding and started looking around.  I was snorkeling in a long hole where the creek hits a bluff at the end of a long riffle and makes a abrupt turn to the right.  Gravel lies along one bank, grading to larger cobble with a few good sized boulders on the other.  On the inside of the bend was a backwater filled with algae and watercress. 

I only got to stay in the water for an hour or so.  My uncle and cousin pulled down to the gravel bar where I’d parked and I knew that if I didn’t get out and talk to them they’d be chucking rocks my way.  After leaving the water I quickly learned two things: 1) you don’t stand around wearing a wetsuit in the sun on a warm day for very long and 2) after you’ve taken it off, you do not want to climb back into a soggy wetsuit.  So I was done for the day.

Still, it was a productive hour.  No surprises, but I got a few nice photos.  I was hoping/expecting to find Rainbow and Greenside Darters, but while Rainbows were everywhere, the Greensides didn’t make an appearance even though they’re usually thick in this particular spot.  But there are other places to look for them and I’ve got all spring.  On to the photos.


This is the sculpin formerly known as Cottus hypselurus (Ozark Sculpin) and before that, C. bairdii (Mottled Sculpin.)  The species C. bairdii has been split twice (Robins and Robison, 1985 and Kinziger and Wood, 2010), most recently last year .  The Current, Eleven Point, Spring and upper White River populations are now known as C. immaculatus or the Knobfin sculpin. The common name refers to enlargements in the spine tips of the dorsal fin, though you’ll need a hand lens to see them. 

The Banded Sculpin (C. carolinae) also occurs over most of C. immaculatus’ range, including the Currrent River, but notably doesn’t occur upstream of Akers Ferry.  The two species are fairly easy to distinguish, especially if you have a good view from the side.  C. immaculatus has an incomplete lateral line (it doesn’t reach all the way to the tail) and the caudal band is generally narrow and sometimes broken versus a complete lateral line and a wide, bold caudal band in C. carolinae.  There are other differences, but those two are usually good enough to say which species you’re looking at.

Here we have our obligatory crayfish photos.  These are both Orconects luteus (Golden Crayfish.)  O. luteus occurs over most of the northern and eastern Ozarks and a limited range outside the Ozarks.  It’s often the most common species where it occurs, as it is in the Current River drainage, at least before the river crosses the fall line into the lowlands.

We’ll close with the titular Rainbow Darter (Etheostoma caeruleum.)  Rainbows are common basically throughout the eastern United States with the Ozarks being on the western edge of their range.  And the males were in full breeding color.

I’m hoping to have another post ready tomorrow.  Expect more darters and crayfish!
References cited:
Kinziger, A.P. and R.M. Wood, 2010 Cottus immaculatus, a new species of sculpin (Cottidae) from the Ozark Highlands of Arkansas and Missouri, USA. Zootaxa 2340:50-64.
Robins, C.R. and Robison H.W.  1985.  Cottus-Hypselurus New-Species of Cottid Fish from the Ozark Uplands Arkansas and Missouri, USA. American Midland Naturalist. 114:360-373.

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