Etheostoma spectabile

orangethroat darter



Type Locality

Osage River, Missouri (Agassiz 1854).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Etheostoma, from the Greek etheo, “to strain,” and stoma, mouth”

(Pflieger 1997); spectabile: conspicuous and is appropriate for breeding males (Kuehne and Barbour 1983).



Poecilichthys spectabilis Agassiz 1854.

Poecilichthys versicolor Agassiz 1854.

Oligocephalus pulchellus Girard 1859.

Etheostoma arcuscelestic Crececoeur 1903.

Etheostoma spectabile uniporum Distler 1968.

Etheostoma spectabile fragi Distler 1968.

Etheostoma spectabile squamosum Distler 1968.



Maximum size:  60 mm SL (Page 1983).


Coloration: Hubbs et al. (1991) list the following characteristics for this species in Texas: 8-9 body bars; throat of males orange (lost in preservation); no black spot on upper margin of pectoral fins; no pale longitudinal streak along lateral line; sides without large black rectangular blotches. Page (1983) lists coloration for Etheostoma spectabile throughout range: olive to brown dorsally, with 6 -11 dark green dorsal saddles. Dark blue vertical bars on side of body, variable in shape geographically, separated by yellow, orange, or red pigments (much brighter in males). Over much of the range of the species the anterior side has short horizontal rows of dark dots. Venter is white to orange. Branchiostegal membranes and often breast of adult male are bright orange. Orbital bars are black and prominent. In the male, 1st dorsal fin red basally and blue marginally and often (varies geographically) has clear and intermediate bands. The 2nd dorsal fin is mostly orange and often (varies geographically) blue basally. Anal fin is blue, green, or clear. Pelvic fins are blue; caudal and pectoral fins clear or yellow. Fins of female are mostly clear or have light brown bands.


Counts: 2 anal fin spines; more than 6 pored lateral line scales (Hubbs et al. 1991). Page (1983) lists the following counts for this species: lateral scales 32-61 (40-53), 10-42 (20-34) pored; scales above lateral line 5-6; scales below lateral line 7-9 (8); transverse scales 12-16 (14); scales around caudal peduncle 17-20 (18-19); dorsal spines 8-12 (9-10); dorsal rays 10-15 (12-13); pectoral rays 10-14 (11-12);

anal rays 4-8 (6-7).


Body shape:  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; upper jaw not extending as far as to below middle of eye (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Mouth position: Terminal (Goldstein and Simon 1999).


External morphology: Infraorbital canal interrupted below eye; gill membranes barely connected; lateral line straight; pectoral fin shorter than head, not reaching anus; belly scaled (a narrow naked band may be present on midline); preopercle smooth or weakly serrate (Hubbs et al. 1991). Tubercles develop on breeding male on the anal, pelvic, and lower portion of the caudal and pectoral fins, and on ventral scales. During the breeding season females develop a long and tubular genital papilla (Page 1983).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Found through much of the central United States, especially in the Ozarks and Central Lowlands (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Texas distribution: Occurs primarily in the Edwards Plateau region from the San Antonio River north and east to the Red River. Absent from parts of streams flowing through the Coastal Plain (Hubbs et al. 1991). Warren et al. (2000) list the following drainage unit for distribution of Etheostoma spectabile in the state: Red River (from the mouth upstream to and including the Kiamichi River).


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, NGO)

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


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Small to moderate-sized upland streams (Page 1983; Etnier and Starnes 1993).


Mesohabitat: Found in shallow gravel riffles, less often in raceways and pools (Page 1983); frequenting moderate to sluggish flowing water; often occurs with detritus or near undercut or brushy banks (Etnier and Starnes 1993). Inhabits hardwater, gravelly streams of Edwards, Ozark, and Interior Low plateaus and adjacent Central Lowlands of North America (Distler 1968). In streams, males occupy riffles throughout year; during the reproductive period, females remain downstream in pool habitat until ready to reproduce; migrations between the pools and riffles occur during winter months, with specimens remaining on the riffles often burying themselves into gravel to conserve energy (Simon 2006). Species often associated with vegetation, brush, rocks that provide protection (Kuehne and Barbour 1983; Page 1983). In some areas, species shows a preference for spring habitats, apparently being physiologically adaptable to stable thermal conditions (Hill and Matthews 1980). Pflieger (1966) reported newly-hatched larvae moving to occupy the nests of smallmouth bass, where they are apparently afforded some protection against small predators, and are able to find an abundance of microcrustacean food items.



Spawning season: Spawning in Texas occurs from mid-October through July (Hubbs and Armstrong 1962; Marsh 1980; Hubbs 1985).


Spawning habitat: Lithophils; rock and gravel spawners that do not guard their eggs. Large eggs are buried in gravel depressions called redds or in rock interstitial spaces (Simon 1999). Spawning occurs within and below shallow gravel riffles with moderate flows and the eggs are buried in the substrate (Edwards 1997).


Reproductive strategy: Nonguarders; brood hiders (Simon 1999). Prior to spawning, males establish territories around females and become relatively aggressive at this time (Edwards 1997). A male establishes territory around female, mounts the female, the pair vibrate as eggs and sperm are released into gravel substrate into which the female has partially buried herself; 3-7 eggs are laid and the process is repeated; several females may spawn with same male (Winn 1958a; 1958b; Page 1983).


Fecundity: Females produce from less 50 to about 200 eggs per season, generally with multiple clutches (Hubbs 1985); Hubbs et al. (1968) recorded average egg diameter of 1.5 mm. In Kentucky, Small (1975) reported gravid females containing 300-1,200 eggs. Winn (1958b) reported 430-896 ova (of all sizes) in four 1-year-old females (30-33 mm), 938-1,480 ova in four 2-year-olds (36-42 mm), and 1,758-2,070 ova in two 3-year-olds (45-46 mm); eggs averaged 1.2 mm in diameter and hatched in 9.5-10 days at 16.5-18.5 degrees C. Variation in eggs size (mass) has been noted geographically, seasonally, and among females captured at the same place and time (Marsh 1984). In Texas, eggs and larvae survive a temperature range of 10-27 degrees C (Hubbs 1961; Hubbs and Armstrong 1962); those from Missouri and Arkansas survive higher temperature maxima than do those from central Texas (Hubbs and Armstrong 1962).


Age/Size at maturation:  Individuals become adults at 1 year of age (Cross 1967; Edwards 1997). Hubbs et al. (1968) observed a ripe female only 27 mm SL.




Longevity: Most die after their first breeding season as adults; rarely live longer than 2 years (Edwards 1997).


Food habits:  Goldstein and Simon (1999) list first and second level trophic classifications for this species as invertivore, and benthic, respectively; main food items include midge and blackfly larvae, mayfly nymphs (Baetis, Stenonema), isopods, amphipods, and caddisfly larvae. After hatching, fry drift downstream into quiet, shallow pools and feed on small insects and crustaceans. Subadults and adults feed on larger foods including larval dipterans, caddisflies, amphipods, terrestrial insects, and fish eggs (Cross 1967; Edwards 1997).


Growth: In a Kentucky population, young reported to grow to about 45 mm TL the first year, with lengths of 60-70 mm attained the second year (Small 1975).


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes

Etheostoma spectabile is similar to the greenthroat darter (E. lepidum) and the mud darter (E. asprigene); the greenthroat darter differs from the orangethroat darter in that it is deepest under middle of 1st dorsal fin, has an interrupted supratemporal canal, and green branchiostegal membranes and breast; the mud darter differs from the orangethroat darter in that it is deepest under middle of 1st dorsal fin, has uninterrupted infraorbital canal, and usually 13-14 pectoral rays (Page and Burr 1991). Artificially induced hybridization between E. spectabile and related E. lepidum produces fertile females but sterile males (Hubbs 1958a). Hubbs and Laritz (1961) reported natural occurrence of E. spectabile X Percina sciera (= Hadropterus scierus, the dusky darter) hybrid.


Host Records

Acanthocephalus tahlequahensis sp. n. (Acanthocephala: Ecinorhynchidae; Oetinger and Buckner 1976).


Commercial or Environmental Importance

[Additional literature noting collection of this species from Texas locations includes, but is not limited to the following: Hubbs and Strawn (1957); Hubbs (1957; 1958b; 1960; 1967); Hubbs and Hettler 1958; Riggs and Bonn (1959); Marsh (1986).]




Agassiz, L. 1854. Notice of a collection of fishes from the southern bend of the Tennessee River, Alabama. Amer. J. Sci. & Arts, Ser. 2, 17:297-308, 353-369.


Bruner, J.C. 1980. Etheostoma spectable (Agassiz) Orangthroat darter. PP. 695 in D. S. Lee, et al.  Atlas of North American Fishes.  N. C. State Mus. Nat. Hist., Raleigh, i-r+854 pp.


Crevecoeur, F.F. 1903. A new species of fish. Trans. Kans. Acad. Sci. 177-178.


Cross, F.B. 1967. Handbook of Fishes of Kansas. Misc. Publ. Mus. Natural History Univ. of Kansas. No. 45. 357 pp.

Distler, D.A. 1968. Distribution and variation of Etheostoma spectabile (Agassiz) (Percidae, Teleostei). Univ. Kansas. Sci. Bull. 48:143-208.

Edwards, R.J. 1997. Ecological profiles for selected stream-dwelling Texas freshwater fishes. Report to the Texas Water Development Board: 1-89.

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

Girard, C.F. 1859. Ichthyological notices. Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila. v. 11:110.

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.

Hill, L.G., and W.J. Matthews. 1980. Temperature selection by the darters Etheostoma spectabile and Etheostoma radiosum (Pisces: Percidae). Amer. Midl. Nat. 104:412-415.

Hubbs, C. 1957, Distributional patterns of Texas fresh-water fishes. Southwestern Naturalist 2(2/3):89-104.


Hubbs, C. 1958a. Fertility of Fı hybrids between the percid fishes, Etheostoma spectabile and E. lepidum. Copeia 1958:57-59.


Hubbs, C. 1958b. Geographic variations in egg compliment of Percina caprodes and Etheostoma spectabile. Copeia 1958(2):102-105.


Hubbs, C. 1960. Duration of sperm function in the Percid fishes Etheostoma lepidum and E. spectabile, associated with sympatry of the parental populations. Copeia 1960(1):1-8.


Hubbs, C. 1961. Developmental temperature tolerance of four etheostomatine fishes    occurring in Texas. Copeia 1961:195-198.


Hubbs, C. 1967. Geographic variations in survival of hybrids between Etheostomatine fishes. Bulletin of the Texas Memorial Museum 13:1-72.


Hubbs, C. 1985. Darter reproductive seasons. Copeia 1985(1):56-68.


Hubbs, C., and C.M. Laritz. 1961. Occurrence of a natural intergeneric Etheostomatine fish hybrid. Copeia 1961(2):231-232.


Hubbs, C., and K. Strawn. 1957. Relative variability of hybrids between the darters, Etheostoma spectabile and Percina caprodes. Evolution 11(1):1-10.

Hubbs, C. and N. E. Armstrong. 1962. Developmental temperature tolerance of Texas and Arkansas-Missouri Etheostoma spectabile (Percidae, Osteichthyes). Ecology 43(4): 742-743.

Hubbs, C., and W.F. Hettler. 1958. Fluctuations of some central Texas fish populations. Southwestern Naturalist 3(1/4):13-16.


Hubbs, C., M.M. Stevenson, and A.E. Peden. 1968. Fecundity and egg size in two central Texas darter populations. Southwestern Naturalist 13:301-323.

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


Kuehne, R.A., and R.W. Barbour. 1983. The American Darters. The University Press of Kentucky. Lexington. 177 pp.


Marsh, E. 1980. The effects of temperature and photoperiod on the termination of spawning in the orangethroat darter (Etheostoma spectabile) in central Texas. Texas J. Sci. 32:129-142.

Marsh, E. 1984. Egg size variation in central Texas populations of Etheostoma spectabile (Pisces: Percidae). Copeia 1984(2):291-301.

Marsh, E. 1986. Effects of egg size on offspring fitness and maternal fecundity in the orangethroat darter, Etheostoma spectabile (Pisces: Percidae). Copeia 1986(1):18-30.

Oetinger, D.F., and R.L. Buckner. 1976. Acanthocephalus talequahensis sp. n. (Acanthocephala: Echinorhynchidae) from the strippled darter, Etheostoma punctulatum (Agassiz), in northeastern Oklahoma. The Journal of Parasitology 62(2):237-241.

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

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

Pflieger, W.L. 1966. Young of the orangethroat darter (Etheostoma spectabile) in nests of smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieui). Copeia 1966:139-140.

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


Riggs, C.D., and E.W. Bonn. 1959. An annotated list of the fishes of Lake Texoma Oklahoma and Texas. Southwestern Naturalist 4(4):157-168.

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.

Simon, T.P., and R. Wallus. 2006. Reproductive biology and early life history of fishes in the Ohio River drainage, Volume 4. Taylor and Francis Group, New York, NY. 619 pp.

Small, J.W., Jr. 1975. Energy dynamics of benthic fishes in a small Kentucky stream. Ecology 56:827-840.

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.

Winn, H.E. 1958a. Observation on the reproductive habits of darters (Pisces: Percidae). American Midland Naturalist 59(1):190-212.

Winn, H.E. 1958b. Comparative reproductive behavior and ecology of fourteen species of darters (Pisces: Percidae). Ecological Monographs 28(2):155-191.