Etheostoma fusiforme

swamp darter






Type Locality

Tributary of Charles River at Framingham, Massachusetts (Girard 1854).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Etheostoma meaning “various mouth” (derivation uncertain), or possibly from the Greek etheo – to strain, and stoma – mouth; fusiforme from the Latin fusus – spindle and forma – shape (Boschung and Mayden 2004).



Boleosoma fusiforme Girard 1854:41.


Collette (1962) recognized two subspecies: Etheostoma fusiforme fusiforme (Girard) and Etheostoma fusiforme barratti (Holbrook). The range of E. f. fusiforme extends from the southeastern tip of Maine along the Seaboard Lowland section of the New England Province south along the Atlantic Coastal Plain below the Fall Line to the Waccamaw River in North Carolina, south of which it is replaced by E. f. barratti. E. f. barratti found from the Pee Dee River of North and South Carolina south along the Atlantic Coastal Plain below the Fall Line throughout most of peninsular Florida; west along the Gulf Coastal Plain as far as Caddo Lake on the Texas-Louisiana border; and north in the former Mississippi Embayment as far as McCurtain Co., Oklahoma and Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee; the population known from a few ponds in the vicinity of Asheville, North Carolina (French Broad River system) is believed to be introduced (Collette 1962).


See Collette (1962) for detailed synonymy.



Maximum size: 59 mm TL (Page and Burr 1991).


Coloration: Green to tan above, small dark saddles; dark green and brown mottling, 10-12 squares in side; white to yellow, many black and brown specks below; thin teardrop; 3 dusky black caudal spots (Page and Burr 1991). In both male and female E. f. barratti, there is a tendency toward the development at the base of the caudal of a supramedian spot in addition to the submedian spot present in E. f. fusiforme; when present, the supramedian spot is not as intense as the submedian (Collette 1962).


Counts: More than 6 pored lateral line scales; less than 77 scales in lateral line (Hubbs et al. 2008). 40-63 (usually 46-56) lateral scales (Page and Burr 1991).


Mouth position: Terminal (Goldstein and Simon 1999).


Body shape: Slender, compressed body (Page and Burr 1991). Distance from snout to angle of gill cover greater than one-half of head length; pectoral fin shorter than head, not reaching anus; head profile rounded, profile in front of eye less than 45 degrees; snout conical, not extending beyond upper lip; body depth contained in standard length less than 7 times; upper jaw not extending as far as to below middle of eye (Hubbs et al. 2008).


External morphology: Infraorbital canal interrupted with 2-4 pores in the anterior segment and usually 2 pores in the posterior segment; breast scaled; lateral line with a slight upward curve anteriorly; scales on belly normal (a narrow naked band may be present on midline); preopercle smooth or weakly serrated (Hubbs et al. 2008). In breeding females, genital papilla is an elongate tube with a slit opening on the anterior side; papilla is a conical tube either with or without a bulbous enlargement (Collette 1962). Breeding tubercles present on the anal fin rays and on undersides of the pelvic fin rays, in both E. f. fusiforme and E. f. barratti; further, E. f. barratti frequently has breeding tubercles on the pelvic and second anal spines also, and breeding tubercles are present for a longer period of time (Collette 1962).


See Collette (1962) for geographic variation in Etheostoma fusiforme.


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Etheostoma fusiforme primarily an Atlantic Slope and eastern Gulf Slope ranging species (Hubbs et al. 2008).


Texas distribution: Etheostoma fusiforme reported from Cypress Creek near Nacogdoches in northeast Texas at the western-most portion of its range (Hubbs et al. 2008).


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, NGO)

Boschung and Mayden (2004) recommended Special Concern status for Etheostoma fusiforme in Alabama. In Oklahoma, E. fusiforme is apparently one of the rarest fishes (Miller and Robison 2004). Populations Currently Stable in the southern United States (Warren et al. 2000).


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Etheostoma f. fusiforme found primarily in ponds, swamps, and backwaters of streams (Collette 1962). Etheostoma fusiforme barratti found in swamps, backwaters of streams, sloughs and lakes (Collette 1962).


Mesohabitat: Etheostoma f. fusiforme inhabits slow moving or stagnant waters of ponds, swamps, and sluggish streams, over bottom of mud and detritus; in warm waters reaching summer temperatures of 30-32°C or more, at depths of 76-102 mm; sometimes found over sand; often found in vegetation (Collette 1962; Norden 1980). E. f. barratti was associated with water hyacinths (Eichornia crassipes) around Gainesville, Florida (Goin 1943; Collette 1962). E. f. barratti was found in shallow shore zones, and was found around edges of floating islands composed of arrowhead (Sagittaria) and pickerel weed (Pontederia) some distance from shore, in Orange Lake, Florida (Reid 1950, 1952; Collette 1962).



Spawning season: E. f. fusiforme spawns in May, in New Jersey (Collette 1962). Breeding tubercles have been found on E. f. fusiforme specimens in March, April, and May (Collette 1962). Breeding tubercles have been found on E. f. barratti specimens in late-October; mid-December through mid-April; and late-May depending on population (Collette 1962); in these collections, specimens with tubercles on both anal and pelvic fins were taken in the period from March 25-May 29; although spawning period varies between populations, it should occur within the period that tubercles are developed to their maximum extent (Collette 1962).


Spawning habitat:


Spawning behavior: Male approaches female from the rear, mounts her, and beats her with his pelvic fins; the female leads male into aquatic plants and eggs are deposited singly on leaves; no fighting or display of territoriality was observed (Fletcher 1957; Collette 1962).




Age at maturation




Growth and Population structure


Longevity: Usually only one year (Collette 1962).


Food habits: Goldstein and Simon (1999) listed first and second level trophic classifications for Etheostoma fusiforme as invertivore and benthic, respectively. Main food items include microcrustaceans and aquatic insect larvae, particularly midges (Virginia specimen, Flemer and Woolcott 1966; North Carolina specimens, Gatz 1979; New England specimens, Schmidt and Whiteworth 1979).


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes

Etheostoma fusiforme is the most variable species of the subgenus Hololepis (Collette 1962). Etheostoma fusiforme differs from the slough darter (E. gracile) in that the former species has an interrupted infraorbital canal with 2 to 4 pores in the anterior segment and usually 2 pores in the posterior segment, a scaled breast, and the distance from snout to angle of gill cover is greater than ½ of head length; while the latter species has an uninterrupted infraorbital canal with 6 to 8 (usually 8) pores, an unscaled breast, and the distance from snout to angle of gill cover is equal to ½ of head length (Hubbs et al. 2008).


Etheostoma fusiforme fusiforme differs from the subspecies E. f. barratti in having 2 rear infraorbital canal pores, and 0-4 interorbital scales while E. f. barratti usually has 1 rear infraorbital canal pore, and 5 or more interorbital scales (Page and Burr 1991).


Host Records

Etheostoma fusiforme parasitized by glochidia (Collette 1962; Norden 1980).


Commercial or Environmental Importance




Boschung, H.T., Jr., and R.L. Mayden. 2004. Fishes of Alabama. Smithsonian Books, Washington. 736 pp.


Collette, B.B. 1962. The swamp darters of the subgenus Hololepis (Pisces, Percidae). Tulane Stud. Zool. 9(4):115-211.


Flemer, D.A. and W.S. Woolcott. 1966. Food habits and distribution of the fishes of Tuckahoe Creek, Virginia, with special emphasis on the bluegill, Lepomis m. macrochirus Rafinesque. Chesapeake Science 7(2):75-89.


Fletcher, A.M. 1957. A rare darter-spawning. The Aquarium (June):202-203.

Gatz, A.J., Jr. 1979. Ecological morphology of freshwater stream fishes. Tulane Studies in Zoology and Botany 21:91-124.

Girard, C.F. 1854. Description of some new species of fish from the State of Massachusetts. Proc. Boston Soc. Nat. Hist. 5:40-43.

Goin, C.J. 1943. The lower vertebrate fauna of the water hyacinth community in northern Florida. Proc. Florida Acad. Sci. 6(3-4):143-153.

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. 671 pp.

Hubbs, C. 1952. Records from east Texas of three species of fish, Hadropterus maculatus, Etheostoma histrio, and Etheostoma barratti. Texas Journal of Science 4(4):486. 


Hubbs, C., R.J. Edwards, and G.P. Garrett. 2008. An annotated checklist of the freshwater fishes of Texas, with keys to identification of species. Texas Journal of Science, Supplement, 2nd edition 43(4):1-87.


Miller, R.J., and H.W. Robison. 2004. Fishes of Oklahoma. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. 450 pp.

Norden, A. 1980. Etheostoma fusiforme (Girard), Swamp darter.  pp. 650 in D. S. Lee et al., Atlas of North American Freshwater Fishes. N. C. State Mus. Nat. Hist., Raleigh, i-r+854 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, Massachusetts. 432 pp.


Reid, G.K., Jr. 1950. The fishes of Orange Lake, Florida. Quart. J. Florida Acad. Sci. 12(3):173-183.


Reid, G.K., Jr. 1952. Some considerations and problems in ht eecology of floating islands. Quart. J. Florida Acad. Sci. 15(1):63-66.

Schmidt, R.E., and W.R. Whiteworth. 1979. Distribution and habitat of the swamp darter (Etheostoma fusiforme) in southern New England. American Midland Naturalist 102(2):408-413.


Warren, M.L., 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 25(10):7-29.