Etheostoma histrio

harlequin darter



Type Locality

Saline River at Benton AR; Washita River at Arkadelphia; and Poteau River, OK, w of Hackett City, AR (Jordan and Gilbert in Gilbert 1887).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Etheostoma, from the Greek etheo, “to strain,” and stoma, mouth”; histrio Latin, meaning, “a harlequin” (Pflieger 1997).



Etheosoma histrio Jordan and Gilbert in C.H. Gilbert 1887:47 (Type locale: Poteau River Oklahoma; Saline and Washita Rivers, Arkansas).

Etheosoma histrio F.A. Cook 1959:204.



Maximum size: 64mm SL (Page 1983).


Coloration: The back is brown to olive with six to seven dark brown saddles. The sides have medial blotches that may join with saddles to form7-11 dark green or brown vertical bars. There are two large darks spots at the base of the caudal fin. There are smaller dark spots at the base of the caudal, pectoral and pelvic fins. The spinous dorsal fin has dark anterior and posterior spots a red marginal band, and a brown submarginal band. The postorbital bars are narrow, but extend onto the underside of the head; the preorbital bars are well developed. Breeding males have more intense colors, including bright green on the sides a wide red marginal band in the spinous dorsal fin, dusky pelvic fins, and turquoise gill membranes (Page 1983; Ross 2001).


Counts: Lateral scales 45-58 (48-55), 0-3 (0) unpored; scales above lateral line 4-8; scales below lateral line 6-9; transverse scales 12-18; scales around caudal peduncle 15-21; dorsal spines 9-11 (10); dorsal rays 11-14 (13); pectoral rays 13-16 (15); anal spines 2; anal rays 6-8 (7; Page 1983).


Body shape: Moderately robust body; blunt snout (Ross 2001). Head angular, profile in front of eye more than 45 degrees. Body depth contained in standard length less than seven times (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Mouth position: Slightly subterminal (Goldstein and Simon 1999).


External morphology: Pectoral fin longer than head, reaching beyond anus. Preopercle smooth or weakly serrate. Upper jaw not extending as far as to middle of eye (Hubbs et al. 1991). Nape fully scaled; belly, cheek, and opercle are unscaled to partly scaled; breast is unscaled. Tubercles do not develop on either sex (Page 1983). Lateral line complete and straight. Females have a tubular genital papilla (Ross 2001).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Ranges from southern Mississippi Valley into extreme eastern Texas (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Texas distribution: Occurs in small detritus laden tributaries in the Cypress, Sabine, Neches and Trinity Basins (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, NGO)

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

(2006). Populations in southern drainages are currently secure (Warren et al. 2000).


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Generally in large streams (Ross 2001).


Mesohabitat: In east Texas, Hubbs and Pigg (1972) noted numerous collections of species made over sandy bottom locales in seine hauls set below log piles containing much detritus; occurrence of species in similar habitat recorded (Starnes 1973; Sisk and Webb 1976; Warren 1982). Also collected in the following habitats: sluggish streams over mud bottoms; riffle areas over gravel, sand, or mud substrate; and in swift, turbid water over shaly rocks (Hocutt 1980; Carlander 1997).



Spawning season: Hubbs and Pigg (1972) reported ripe females collected in February, from Pedro Creek (Houston Co., TX); additional east Texas spawning recorded for late-March (Hubbs 1985). In Mississippi, spawning reported to begin in mid-March (Kuehne and Barbour 1983). In Kentucky, spawning documented during February and March (Kuhajda and Warren 1989).  


Spawning habitat: Guarder; substratum chooser. Phytophil, having adhesive eggs that are attached to a variety of plants; the free embryos without cement glands swim instantly after a prolonged embryonic period (Simon 1994; Simon1999).


Reproductive strategy: Breeding site is unknown, as species disappears during the breeding season (Kuhajda and Warren 1989; Boschung and Mayden 2004).


Fecundity: Average number of ovarian eggs ranges from 89 to 456 in fish of age classes 2-4, although count may include various developmental stages of ova (Kuhajda and Warren 1989).


Age at maturation: Females are able to spawn in their first year (Kuhajda and Warren 1989).


Migration: Etnier and Starnes (1983) stated that apparent considerable seasonal movement occurs, perhaps into big rivers and reservoirs during colder months from smaller tributaries occupied from late spring through fall (Etnier and Starnes 1993). Kuhajda and Warren, who studied the species in western Kentucky, hypothesize that sexually mature individuals migrate to deep water of large streams during the breeding season, where they attach eggs to the components of detritus (Boschung and Mayden 2004).


Longevity: Based on Kentucky populations about 4+ years (Kuhajda and Warren 1989).


Food habits: Invertivore; benthic (Goldstein and Simon 1999). Diet consists mainly of midgefly larvae (chironomids), black fly (simuliids), caddisfly tricopterans, and mayfly (ephemeropterans) larvae (Kuhajda and Warren 1989).


Growth: Etnier and Starnes (1993) note that they possess a number of mid-May collections containing young-of-year specimens ranging from 14-27 mm TL.


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes

Etheostoma histrio is in the subgenus Etheostoma (Ross 2001). Reviewed by Tsai (1968), who found little geographic variation in this species; recognized no subspecies.


Host Records



Commercial or Environmental Importance

[Additional literature noting collection of this species from Texas locations includes, but is not limited to the following: Village Creek, a blackwater tributary of the Neches River (Hardin Co.; Moriarty and Winemiller 1997).]



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

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

Etnier, D.A., and W.C. Starnes. 1993. The Fishes of Tennessee. The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville. 681 pp.

Gilbert. C.H. 1887. Descriptions of new and little known etheostomids. Proc. U.S. Nat. Mus. 10(607):47-64.

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.

Hocutt, C.H. 1978. Etheostoma histrio (Jordan and Gilbert), Harlequin Darter. pp.653 in D.S. Lee et al. Atlas of North American Freshwater Fishes. N.C. State Mus. Nat. Hist., Raleigh, i-r+854 pp.

Hubbs, C. and J. Pigg. 1972. Habitat Preferences of the Harlequin Darter, Etheostoma histrio, in Texas and Oklahoma. Copeia 1972(1): 193-194.

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

Kuhajda, B.R. and M.R.Warren, Jr. 1989. Life history aspects of the harlequin darter, Etheostoma histrio, in Western Kentucky. ASB Bull. 36(2):66-67.

Moriarty, L.J., and K.O. Winemiller. 1997. Spatial and temporal variation in fish assemblage structure in Village Creek, Hardin County, Texas. Texas Journal of Science, Supplement 49(3):85-110.

Page, L.M. 1983. Handbook of Darters. TFH Publications, Inc., Neptune City, New Jersey. 271 pp.

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

Simon, T.P. 1994. Ontogeny and Systematics of Darters (Percidae) with Discussion of Ecological Effects on Larval Morphology. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Illinois, Chicago.

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.

Sisk, M.E., and D.H. Webb. 1976. Distribution and habitat preference of Etheostoma histrio in Kentucky. Trans. Ky. Acad. Sci. 37:33-34.

Starnes, W.C. 1973. Fish fauna of the Hatchie River system. M.S. Thesis, University of Tennessee. 67 pp.

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

Tsai, C. 1968. Distribution of the harlequin darter, Etheostoma histrio. Copeia 1968(1):178-181.

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.

Warren, M.L., Jr. 1982. Rediscovery of Etheostoma histrio and Percina ouachitae in Green River, Kentucky, with distribution and habitat notes. Trans. Ky. Acad. Sci. 43:21-26.