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Tessellated Darter

Etheostoma olmstedi

The tessellated darter's slender body is irregularly marked with eight or more X- or Y-shaped blotches. (Kerry Wixted/Flickr)
The tessellated darter's slender body is irregularly marked with eight or more X- or Y-shaped blotches. (Kerry Wixted/Flickr)

The tessellated darter is a small, sprightly relative of the yellow perch whose rapid movement along stream bottoms gives it its common name. It is a frequent find in the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay. 

Appearance:

  • Slender, olive-colored body two to four inches long 
  • Eyes set close together on top of low head 
  • Short snout
  • Sides irregularly marked with eight or more X- or Y-shaped blotches
  • Two dorsal fins, the first arched with eight to 10 spines and the second higher than the first 
  • Dorsal, caudal and pectoral fins spotted and barred with black 
  • Pelvic and anal fins black in breeding males 

Habitat:

  • Found in both fast-flowing and quiet, standing waters, often on sand or mud bottoms or under rocks or pebbles 

Range:

  • Common in all tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay
  • Found from St. Lawrence Seaway west to Lake Ontario and south to Florida 

Feeding:

  • Jerks quickly along stream bottoms from one spot to the next in search of food. This rapid movement gives the fish its common name 
  • Feeds on small crustaceans, insects and insect larvae, snails and algae 

Predators:

  • Large fish, turtles and fish-eating birds like kingfishers or herons 

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Spawning occurs in spring 
  • Adhesive eggs are deposited on underside and side of rocks, logs, shells or other debris 
  • Female abandons nest and male remains to guard and aerate eggs, fanning the water with his tail or swimming over the eggs and brushing them with his pectoral fins 
  • One male nests under a single stone, unless a scarcity of nesting sites forces males to share 
  • Hatching takes place after about 21 days 
  • Can exceed three years of age 

Other Facts:

  • No recreational or commercial value, except as food source for larger species 

Sources and Additional Information:




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