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Re: darters

                The Orangethroat Darter as an
                   (Etheostoma spectabile)
                      Aquarium Species
                         Robert Rice
     Most people are completely unaware that darters exist.
Darters are those  small mystery fishes that one
occasionally sees literally darting around the edges of
streams. Unless you are unusually perceptive or aggressive
you have probably just not noticed them.
     All darters are in the perch family, and as a general
rule have no swim bladder and thus stay on the bottom
feeding and living out their lives. Darters display a
surprising range of color and body types and as general rule
make a fascinating aquarium pet. They  display a degree of
sexual dimorphism with the males being the brighter and more
aggressive of the sexes. Which makes them all the more
     The main consideration is temperature requirements as
many species of darters must have cold water to thrive. The
Orangethroat darter, in my experience, is the exception. I
have collected them in waters as high as 81 degrees F and
have kept them in community tanks with great success.
     There is a large genetic gradient range in the
Orangethroat darter in its size, color and tolerance  to
domestic life. So keep in mind your success will depend to a
large degree on the stock you begin with. Therefore collect
from a site similar to the aquarium in water quality and
     The book "Fishes of Missouri pg. 320 " by Pflieger
describes the orange throat darter as follows.  "A
moderately stout darter (1.2 - 2.5 inches) with 6-10
indistinct dark cross bars on the back. Sides often
prominently streaked by dark horizontal bars......Its life
colors are as follows, back mottled yellowish-brown with in
distinctive dark color cross bars. Sides lighter brown,
often with narrow blue green vertical bars best developed
towards the tail. Breeding males VERY brilliantly colored
sides with a series of blue green bars alternating with
brick red bars. Gill membranes bright orange (thus the name
orange throat) with remainder of under surface of head blue
green. The fins are variously banded and spotted by blue
green and red."
     With that generic description  I hope you can begin to
imagine the beauty this little fish possesses. When you
combine his looks with his lack of shyness you can see why I
place him first on my list of darters ! Often other darters
cower and are hidden from the eye. The Orangethroat is out
for all to see , fighting for food and territory in a
fascinating way. Why more than once I've seen a Orangethroat
rise to the top and steal a morsel of food from a fish 5
times his size!
      Now with the basic definitions out of the way I can
share with you how I treat my darters . When wild caught I
immediately place them in a tank with a few feeder guppies
by observation they quickly take eating frozen food of all
varieties . Mine seem to prefer blood worms but will take
most anything even flake food . Once I am confident they are
eating properly and appear to be thriving.  I place them in
their permanent homes, one of my large community tanks. Then
comes the most fascinating part for me , the waiting to see
which darters posses the right mix of temperament and color
and tolerance to domestic life to make it to the brood stock
     When I have identified likely candidates I pull them
aside and "winter them over" in an area that holds a
temperature of 60 degrees or less over the winter. In my
case that is the laundry room of my walkout basement, for
others that might be your basement proper or your garage.
Then begin to observe because in no time ( 3-5 weeks) you
are going to see boldly colored males establish territories
and court females. I put 2 trios in a 20 gallon tank with
some steady current and keep my eyes open. Sooner or later
the male will coax a female into his cave (either rocks or
small flower pots) and they will spawn, laying several
hundred eggs. These eggs will adhere to whatever they hit.
Here's the catch you must watch carefully your fish or they
will eat their eggs ! As soon as I realize a spawn has
occurred parents and eggs are  separated.
     In 7- 10 days you will notice the fry appearing. . They
are a very durable fry and generally easy to take care of.
They will grow fast if given proper food and care. Mine will
often take live brine or infusoria early (6 x a day!) then
frozen baby brine (3-4x a day)  then finally blood worms (2x
a day).
      I hope this brief article has created a future
interest in our Native fishes. If it has, I welcome your
questions or comments!  I also recommend these resources:"
Petersons Field Guide to North American Freshwater Fishes"
by Larry Page, Until next time good luck and good fishing!

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