Etheostoma artesiae

redspot darter



Type Locality

Holotype of Poecilichthys artesiae (Hay 1881): USNM 27434, collected from a small branch of Catawba Creek (Catalpa Creek), at Artesia, Lowndes County, Mississippi (Platania 1980). 


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Etheostoma, from the Greek etheo, “to strain,” and stoma, mouth” (Pflieger 1997); artesiae reference to type locality. Species originally captured in an artesian well, hence its name (Hubbs et al. 1991). Piller et al. (2001) suggested use of the vernacular name “redspot darter” in reference to the brilliant red lateral spots of nuptial males.



Poecilichthys artesiae Hay 1881.

Etheostoma (Etheostoma) whipplei alabamae Gilbert and Swain in Gilbert, 1887



Maximum size: 80 mm SL (Boschung and Mayden 2004).


Life colors: Distinct red (in males) or yellow spots (in females) on side of body; vertical blotches on sides of body usually not prominent (Hubbs et al. 1991).  Body coloration variable. Dorsum and side of body whitish to brown; 8 to 10 saddles, sometimes expanded ventrally to form vertical bars, especially posteriorly; dark humeral spot, dusky to dark suborbital bar, and 3 basicaudal spots. Adult males with numerous discrete red spots on the side. In high males, red spots coalesce to appear as if sides were painted with bright red enamel. Spinous and soft dorsal, caudal, and anal fins with blue or blue green margin and narrow white band separating it from red band; pelvic fins dusky blue; pectoral fins clear. Females less colorful; side with yellowish spots; spinous dorsal fin with thin red orange submarginal band; soft dorsal and caudal fins with brown bands; other fins clear (Boschung and Mayden 2004).


Counts: 2 anal fin spines (Hubbs et al. 1991);


Body shape: Moderately robust and somewhat compressed (Boschung and Mayden 2004). Body cross section oval; body depth contained in standard length less than five times. Head profile rounded, profile in front of eye less than 45 degrees; snout less conical, not extending beyond upper lip (Hubbs et al. 1991). 


Mouth position: Subterminal (Boschung and Mayden 2004).


External morphology: Gill membranes rather widely joined across isthmus, as black spot at upper margin of pectoral fins; lateral line straight; pectoral fin shorter than head, not reaching anus; scales on belly normal; preopercle smooth or weakly serrate (Hubbs et al.1991). Breeding tubercles on scales of belly, along anal fin base, and ventral part of caudal peduncle (Boschung and Mayden 2004).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Found in streams in the southeastern U.S. (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Texas distribution: Occurs in small creeks from the San Jacinto through the Sabine Basins (Hubbs et al.1991). Warren et al. (2000) listed the redspot darter as occurring in the following drainage units: Red River unit (from the mouth upstream to and including the Kiamichi River), Sabine Lake unit (including minor coastal drainages west to Galveston Bay).


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, NGO)

Not listed as threatened or endangered by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

(2006). Populations in southern United States are currently stable (Warren et al., 2000).


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Headwaters, creeks and small rivers (Retzer et al. 1986); where especially common, may occur in moderate-sized rivers (Moore and Rigney 1952).


Mesohabitat: Found over substrates of hard mud silt, sand, gravel, or cobble in slow moderate or rather fast current and sometimes amid vegetation and detritus. Largest populations found in small, clear rocky streams (Retzer et al. 1986; Moore and Rigney 1952).




Spawning season: Late February to mid-May in western Alabama; males reaching spawning condition earlier in the season than females, usually by January or early February (Heins and Machado 1993). Based on anecdotal information, species is known to spawn in early spring; peaks in mid-March to mid-April in Oklahoma, and April in Kansas (Cross 1967; Miller and Robinson 1973; Carlander 1997).


Spawning location: NA


Reproductive strategy: NA


Fecundity: Clutch size of females (n=58) 31.2-53.9 mm SL were 31-207 eggs. Females (n=9) produced ripe, ovulated eggs ranging in size from 1.17-1.27 mm in mean diameter and 241-324 µg in mean weight (Heins and Machado 1993).


Age at maturation: NA


Migration: NA


Growth and population structure: Sex ratios are essentially 1:1; males larger than females, as is characteristic of riffle-inhabiting darters (Heins and Machado 1993).


Longevity: NA


Food habits: NA


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes

Subgenus Oligocephalus (Page 1981; Boschung and Mayden 2004). This darter most closely related to E. whippeli and E. radiosum (Retzer et al. 1986); these two species were long considered subspecifically distinct. In contrast to E. artesiae, E. radiosum lives in higher gradient streams and usually is found in very fast, gravel and rubble riffles (Retzer et al. 1986). Piller et al. (2001) demonstrated that they should be considered different species; Etheostoma artesiae can be distinguished from E. whipplei by lower counts of lateral line scales (<63) and caudal peduncle scales (<27). Etheostoma artesiae can be distinguished from E. radiosum by the presence of red lateral spots in breeding males. E. artesiae and E. parvipinne juveniles may be confused, but the former differs in having uninterrupted (versus interrupted) infraorbital and supratemporal canals, brachiostegal membranes slightly (versus broadly) connected, and spinous dorsal and caudal fin color bands (versus no color bands; Boschung and Mayden 2004).


Host Records

Mussel/host relationships: Elliptio arca with Etheostoma artesiae (Haag and Warren 2002).


Commercial or Environmental Importance




Boshcung, H. T. Jr. and R. L. Mayden. 2004. Fishes of Alabama. Smithsonian Institution, Washinton. pp. 1-736.

Carlander, K.D. 1997. Handbook of Freshwater Fishery Biology. Iowa State University Press, Ames. 3:397.

Gilbert, C.H. 1887. Description of new and little known etheostomids. Proc. U.S. Natl. Mus. 10:47-64.

Haag, W.R. and M.L. Warren Jr. 2002. Host fishes and infection strategies of freshwater mussels in large Mobile Basin streams, USA. Journal of the North American Benthological Society: Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 78–91.

Hay, O.P. 1881. On a collection of fishes from eastern Mississippi. Proc. U.S. Nat. Mus. 3:488-515.

Heins, D.C. and M.D. Machado. 1993. Spawning season, clutch characteristics, and sexual dimorphism and sex ratio in the redfin darter Etheostoma whipplei. Amer. Midl. Nat. 129(1):161-171.

Hubbs, C., R.J. Edwards and G.P. Garret. 1991. An annotated checklist of freshwater fishes of Texas, with key to identification of species. Texas Journal of Science, Supplement 43(4):1-56

Kuehne, R.A. and R.W. Barbour. 1983. The American Darters Univ. Press of Kentucky, Lexington.

Page, L.M. 1983. Handbook of Darters. T.F.H. Publications, Neptune City, NJ. 271 pp.

Piller, K.R., H.L. Bart Jr., and C. A. Walser. 2001. Morphological variation of the redfin darter, Etheostoma whipplei with comments on the status of the subspecific populations. Copeia 2001(3):802-807.

Pflieger, W.L. 1997. The Fishes of Missouri. Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, Missouri. 372 pp.

Platania, S.P. 1980. Etheostoma whipplei (Girard), Redfin Darter.pp.709 in D.S. Lee et al. Atlas of North American Freshwater Fishes. N.C. State Mus. Nat. Hist., Raleigh, i-r+854 pp.

Retzer, M.E. L.M. Page, D.L. Swofford. 1986. Variation and Systematics of Etheostoma whipplei, The Redfin Darter (Pisces: Percidae). Copeia 1986(3):631-641.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Wildlife Division, Diversity and Habitat Assessment Programs. County Lists of Texas' Special Species. [30 May 2006]. Available online at:

Warren, L. W., Jr., B. M. Burr, S. J. Walsh, H. L. Bart, Jr., R. C. Cashner, D. A. Etnier, B. J. Freeman, B. R. Kuhajda, R. L. Mayden, H. W. Robison, S. T. Ross, and W. C. Starnes. 2000. Diversity, Distribution, and Conservation status of the native freshwater fishes of the southern United States. Fisheries, Conservation. 25(10):7-29.