Etheostoma asprigene

mud darter



Type Locality

Small creek near Pekin, IL (Forbes in Jordan 1878).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Etheostoma, intended by Rafinesque, who described the genus, to mean various mouths, in reference to the diversity of mouth shapes in percids, asprigene, rough cheek, in reference to the fully scaled cheek and opercle (Ross 2001).



Poecilichthys asprigenis Forbes in Jordan 1878:41.

Etheostoma asprigene F.A.Cook 1959:205.



Maximum size: 70mm (2.8in) SL (Kuehne and Barbour 1983).


Coloration: As described by Page (1983), the general body coloration is somewhat subdued compared to other species of the subgenus Oligocephalus. The head and body are olive-brown with 6-10 dark saddles on the back. There are one to two saddles anterior to the first dorsal fin, resulting in pigmentation along the midline of the nape. A small humeral spot is present above the pectoral fin. The preorbital and postorbital bars are well developed; the suborbital bar is often reduced or absent. Spots along the sides may vary form horizontal bands; there may also be dark vertical bars posteriorly. The undersides of the head and belly are white with a scattering of small melanophores. There are three vertically aligned spots at the base of the caudal fin, with the middle spot often darker and positioned somewhat more posteriorly. The pelvic fin membranes usually are covered with small melanophores. In males the first dorsal fin has a blue margin; an orange to red submarginal band; and a wide blue black basal band that is enlarged posteriorly, forming a dark spot. There is no red in the anal fin. The belly is without bright orange coloration, although sides may be red-orange (but lack discrete red spots). During spawning the flanks of the males may be pale, with head and vertical bars a deep blue black; the humeral spot may become very prominent and the anal and pelvic fins may become darker (Cummings et al. 1984).


Counts: 2 anal fin spines (Hubbs et al., 1991); 48-51 (44-54) lateral line scales, 37-40 (31-44) pored lateral line scales, 9-11 dorsal spines, 11-14 dorsal rays, 6-9 anal rays, 13-14 (12-15) pectoral rays (Ross 2001).


Body shape: Slender-bodied (Ross 2001). Body cross section oval; body depth contained in standard length less than seven times. Head profile rounded, profile in front of eyes less than 45 degrees; Snout less conical, not extending beyond upper lip (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Mouth position: Terminal (Goldstein and Simon 1999).


External morphology: Infraorbital canal complete. Gill membranes barely connected. Lateral line straight. Pectoral fin shorter than head, not reaching anus. Belly scaled (a narrow naked may be present on midline). Preopercle smooth or weakly serrate. Upper jaw not extending as far as to below middle of eye (Hubbs et al.1991). Unpigmented genital papilla in females has broad base that tapers distally. Males do not develop breeding tubercles (Cummings et al. 1984).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Ranges through many of the larger mainstream Mississippi Valley streams (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Texas distribution: Ranges from Red River south to the Neches Basin (Hubbs et al. 1991). Warren et al. (2000) lists this species as inhabiting 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 the southern Unites States are currently stable (Warren et al., 2000).


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: In sloughs, river mouths, overflow areas of large rivers (Carlander 1997).


Mesohabitat: Over mud covered with fine detritus or sand (Carlander 1997). Generally found over mud bottoms in oxbow lakes or in slow riffles of low gradient, turbid streams. Juvenile fish occur more often in quiet areas than in slow riffles (Ross 2001). Pflieger (1997) noted collection of large numbers of mud darters from dense mats of finely divided tree roots along shores of large rivers. In Illinois, densities in riffle habitats were 4.5-8.3 fish/m² from August to November, but dropped to one or fewer per m² from December to February. Density of fish in pools was highest (1.5 fish/m²) in February (Cummings et al. 1984).



Spawning season: In east Texas, reproductive females are recorded from 14 Feb. to 26 March (Hubbs 1985). In Illinois, Forbes and Richardson (1920) collected ripe females from mid-March to mid-May, and individuals in breeding condition were found at Lake Creek, IL, from early March to early May (Cummings et al. 1984).


Spawning habitat: Guarders; substratum choosers; phytophils, having adhesive eggs that are attached to a variety of plants; the free embryos without cement glands swim instantly after prolonged embryonic period (Simon 1999).


Reproductive strategy: In Illinois, throughout the day, the following spawning behavior was observed: Males do not establish territories, but are aggressive toward other males during courtship. The courting male swims repeatedly around a female with his dorsal fin erect, sometime stopping and resting his head upon her nape. Both fish may swim in circles, oriented head to tail. The actual spawning site is selected by the female, while the male follows close behind. Female enters vegetation at the base, swimming vertically into the plant. Male then positions himself over the female, curving his body into an S-shape with caudal peduncle adjacent to hers; the pair vibrates rapidly for a few seconds while swimming vertically into vegetation. Females release usually 5-10 eggs which fall into substrate, or deposits eggs directly on vegetation. Pair may spawn a number of times, at intervals of a few minutes to one-half hour (Page et al. 1982; Cummings et al. 1984).


Fecundity: Mature ova translucent and orange, 1.06 mm in diameter, having pitlike indentation. Fertilized eggs spherical, translucent, demersal, and adhesive, averaging 1.38 mm diameter, having a prominent yellow oil globule. Eggs hatch in 5.1-6.1 days at water temperatures of 24-20 degrees C. Females produce 72-346 ova, depending on body size (33-53 mm SL). During spawning season, ovarian mass may equal 38% of the somatic weight (the weight of the body minus the gonads and digestive tract; Cummings et al. 1984).


Age at maturation: Female matures after one year (Cummings et al. 1984).


Migration: Daily, occupying riffles during day, and pools at night; no long distance migrations observed (Cummings et al. 1984).


Growth and population structure: Initially rapid with fish reaching half of their first year’s growth in only 10 weeks. At the end of one year fish, in Illinois and Wisconsin averaged 33-44 mm SL, and averaged 42.5-50.9 mm SL and 48.3-55.0 mm SL after 2-3 years, respectively (Lutterbie 1979; Cummings et al. 1984). In an Illinois population, majority of fish were one-year-old or less (52.5%), while 40.5% of the population consisted of one- to two-year-old fish. Survivorship from years 1-2 fairly high, with 75% of males and 81.8% of females reaching second year; survivorship from years 2-3 much lower, 14.5% for males and 12.1% for females. Sex ratio 1:1 (Cummings et al. 1984).


Longevity: No reports of fish over 3 years (age class 2; Lutterbie 1979; Cummings et al. 1984).


Food habits: Invertivore; benthic (Goldstein and Simon 1999). Predominantly midge and blackfly larvae (Diptera). Diet of small fish included more microcrustaceans (Cummings et al. 1984).


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes

The mud darter (subgenus Oligocephalus) shows considerable variation and may be polytypic (Mayden et al. 1992). Similar to Etheostoma spectabile, the orangethroat darter; E. spectabile lacks large blotch at rear of 1st dorsal fin and is usually more bright colored than E. asprigene; body of E. spectabile is deepest at nape or front of 1st dorsal fin (Page and Burr 1991).


Host Records

The crustacean parasite, Lernaea cyprinacea, reported by Whitaker and Schluter (1975), from the White River, Indiana.


Commercial or Environmental Importance




Carlander, K. D. 1997. Handbook of Freshwater Fishery Biology. Ames, The Iowa State University Press. 3:395.

Cook, F.A. 1959. Freshwater fishes in Mississippi. Mississippi Game and Fish Commision, Jackson.

Cummings, K. S., J.M. Grady, B.M. Burr 1984. The life history of the mud darter Etheosoma asprigene, in Lake Creek, Illinois. Ill. Nat. Hist. Surv. Biol. Notes 122:1-16.

Goldstein, R.M., and T.P. Simon. 1999. Toward a united definition of guild structure for feeding ecology of North American freshwater fishes. pp. 123-202 in T.P. Simon, editor. Assessing the sustainability and biological integrity of water resources using fish communities. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.

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.

Hubbs, Clark. 1985. Darter Reproductive Seasons. Copeia, 1985(1):56-68.

Jordan, D.S. 1878. A catalogue of the fishes of Illinois. Bull. Ill. St. Lab. Nat. Hist. 1(2):37-70.

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

Lutterbie, G.W. 1979. Reproduction and age and growth in Wisconsin darters (Osteichthys: Percidae). Rept. Fauna and Flora Wisc. 15:1-44.

Mayden, R.L., B.M. Burr, L.M. Page, and R.R. Miller. 1992. The native freshwater fishes of North America, pp.827-863. In: Systematics, historical ecology, and North American freshwater fishes. R.L. Mayden ed. Stanford Univ. Press, Stanford, Calif.

Medford, D.W. and B.A. Simco. 1971. The fishes of the Wolf River, Tennessee and Mississippi. J. Tenn. Acad. Sci. 46(4):121-123.

Page, L. M., M. E. Retzer, and R.A. Stiles. 1982. Spawning Behavior in seven species of darters (Pisces: Percidae). Brimleyana 8:135-143.

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

Page, L. M., and B. M. Burr.  1991.  A Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes of North America, north of Mexico.  Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 432 pp.

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

Ross, S.T. 2001. Inland fishes of Mississippi. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson. 624 pp.

Simon, T. P. 1999. Assessment of Balon’s reproductive guilds with application to Midwestern North American Freshwater Fishes, pp. 97-121. In: Simon, T.L. (ed.). Assessing the sustainability and biological integrity of water resources using fish communities. CRC Press. Boca Raton, Florida. 671 pp.

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

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.

Whitaker, J.O., Jr., and R.A. Schlueter. 1975. Occurrence of the crustacean parasite, Lernaea cyprinacea, on fishes from the White River at Petersburg, Indiana. American Midland Naturalist 93:446-450.