The tessellated darter has a slender, olive-colored body two to four inches long. Its sides are irregularly marked with eight or more X- or Y-shaped blotches. It has a short snout and eyes set close together on the top of its low head. It has two dorsal fins, the first arched with eight to 10 spines and the second higher than the first. Its dorsal, caudal and pectoral fins are spotted and barred with black, and the pelvic and anal fins are black on breeding males.


The tessellated darter jerks quickly along stream bottoms from one spot to the next in search of food. This rapid movement gives the fish its common name. It feeds on small crustaceans, insects and insect larvae, snails and algae.


Preyed upon by 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. The female abandons the nest and the 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. The tessellated darter can exceed three years of age.

Did You Know?

  • Tessellated darters have no recreational or commercial value, except as bait for larger species.
  • These fish also benefit humans by helping to control mosquito populations.

Sources and Additional Information