Percina sciera

dusky darter



Type Locality

Bean Blossum Creek, tributary of White River, 9 km north of Bloomington Monroe County, Indiana (Swain 1883).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Percina – diminutive of perca meaning “little perch;” sciera – meaning “dusky” (Ross 2001).



Hadropterus scierus Swain 1883:252; Hubbs and Black (1954).

Hadropterus scierus serrula Jordan and Gilbert 1886:16.

Hadropterus scierus scierus Hubbs (1954).

Percina sciera Hubbs et al. 1991:45; Robins and Page (2007).

Percina sciera sciera Warren et al. 2000:26.


See Hubbs and Black (1954) for discussion of the complex synonymy of Percina sciera.


[According to Hubbs (1954), the Guadalupe Basin stocks of Percina sciera differ morphologically from other populations and were designated as the Guadalupe dusky darter, P. s. apristis; this publication stated that apristis may be specifically distinct from sciera.


Robins and Page (2007) presented data demonstrating that the Guadalupe population of Percina sciera, currently recognized as the subspecies P. s. apristis, is genetically isolated and diagnosable as Percina apristis (Hubbs and Hubbs), the Guadalupe darter. Formal acceptance of this name change is pending (American Fisheries Society Committee on Names of Fishes). See Percina apristis account for information related to this species.]



Maximum size: 130 mm TL (Page and Burr 1991).


Coloration: Sides with large black rectangular blotches (Hubbs et al. 1991). Bright colors absent. Body light olive-green dorsally with dark mottling and about 8 dusky saddles. Side of body more yellow, having a lateral band of 8-12 blotches. Venter is white or dark yellow. Vertical row of 3 dark spots on the caudal base, the lower 2 often confluent. Fins mostly clear except for dusky spot posteriorly in the first dorsal fin. Usually there is no suborbital bar present (Page 1983). Breeding male darkens and midlateral row of blotches becomes obliterated by blackish vertical bars extending over the dorsum. Blotch at back of first dorsal fin intensifies and a yellow or orange band develops distally; breeding female does not undergo comparable color change (Page and Smith 1970; Page 1983).


Counts: Usually 7 or more preopercular serrae (Robins and Page 2007). Hubbs and Black (1954) listed number of scales in lateral-line series for species in five Texas rivers: 62-65 (63.8 average; Sabine River); 64 (Neches River); 59-68 (64.1 average; Trinity River); 59-66 (62.7 average; Buffalo Bayou and San Jacinto River); 60-67 (62.8 average; Lampasas

River). 60-77 lateral line scales (Hubbs et al. 1991); pored scales on caudal fin 0-4; scales above lateral line 7-10; scales below lateral line 12-16; transverse scales 19-26; scales around caudal peduncle 21-28; dorsal spines 10-14 (11-13); dorsal rays 11-13 (11-12); pectoral rays 12-15 (13-15); anal spines 2; anal rays 7-10 (8-9); branchiostegal rays 6 (Page 1983).  


Body shape: Upper jaw reaches level of anterior one-third of eye; snout less conical, not extending beyond upper lip; body depth contained in standard length less than seven times (Hubbs et al. 1991). Body is robust, rather compressed behind. Head is rather short; snout bluntish. Mouth small, the lower jaw included (Swain 1883).


Mouth position: Terminal (Goldstein and Simon 1999).


External morphology: Nape scaled; upper lip connected to snout by broad frenum; midline of belly with a series of enlarged scales or naked; preopercle smooth or weakly serrate (Hubbs et al 1991). Genital papilla of female large and tubular (Page 1983). Male differs from the female in having a midventral row of large and strongly toothed scales and a smaller and less rounded genital pore (Page and Smith 1970).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Page (1983) noted occurrence of species in the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.


Texas distribution: Warren et al. (2000) listed Percina sciera as inhabiting the following drainage units in Texas: Red River (from the mouth upstream to and including the Kiamichi River), Sabine Lake (including minor coastal drainages west to Galveston Bay), Galveston Bay (including minor coastal drainages west to mouth of Brazos River), Brazos River, and Colorado River.


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, NGO)

Populations in southern drainages are currently stable (Warren et al. 2000). Kleinsasser and Linam (1987) reported collection of one specimen from Little Pine Island Bayou in southeast Texas. Linam and Kleinsasser (1987a) reported collection of two specimens from Cow Bayou (Sabine River basin) in southeast Texas. Linam and Kleinsasser (1987b) did not collect any specimens from the Bosque River, Texas; species was previously collected from the river by Hubbs and Strawn in 1953 (unpublished; University of Texas Natural History Collection).  Winemiller et al. (2004) reported collection of 24 specimens from the Brazos River, Texas during the study period from June 2003 through August 2004.


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Medium to large streams of moderate to low gradients which are not highly turbid (Edwards 1997). Anderson et al. (1983) reported collection of this species exclusively downstream (versus upstream of) of the Possum Kingdom Reservoir, Texas. In collections from Big Sandy Creek in east Texas, Evans and Noble (1979) noted increase in relative abundance of this species with downstream position. Herbert and Gelwick (2003) found this fluvial specialist to be associated with the free-flowing East Fork of the San Jacinto River, Texas. Prior to impoundment, this species was common in the West Fork of the San Jacinto River, Texas, but Herbert and Gelwick (2007) reported that no specimens were collected during the study at West Fork sites where the species had been present before impoundment.


Mesohabitat: Most common over gravel or gravel and sand raceways; occupying midwater stratum; often found in current in accumulations of branches and leaves (Page and Smith 1970; Page 1980; Page 1983). The young, in contrast to adults, often found along the shallow gravel edges of pools with moderate currents and at times enter tributaries not visited by adults (Page and Smith 1970; Edwards 1997). Associates include other Percina (including Percina caprodes) and Etheostoma (including E. spectabile, E. lepidum and E. fonticola) in addition to Guadalupe bass (Micropterus treculi) or spotted bass (M. punctulatus) which may be predators (Edwards 1997). Page and Smith (1970) noted frequent associates including: suckermouth minnow (Phenacobius mirabilis), central stoneroller (Campostoma anomalum), orangethroat darter (Etheostoma spectabile), blackside darter (Percina maculata), logperch (P. caprodes), mud darter (Etheostoma asprigene), bluntnose darter (E. chlorosoma), slough darter (E. gracile), harlequin darter (E. histrio).



Spawning season: February - June in the Colorado River, Texas (Hubbs 1961). May to July in Illinois (Page and Smith 1970; Page 1980).


Spawning location: Lithophils – rock and gravel spawners (Page and Smith 1970; Simon 1999). In gravel riffles at depths of 30-90 cm (Page and Smith 1970; Page 1983).


Spawning Behavior: Nonguarders; brood hiders (Page and Smith 1970; Simon 1999). Males believed to be territorial at least during the spawning period (Page and Smith 1970).


Fecundity: Females are capable of producing 500-2000 ova in a single season, with 80-196 mature eggs produced by each female at any single time; fertilized eggs are 1.5 mm diameter, transparent, spherical, and adhesive, having a single yellowish oil globule; eggs hatch in about 4 days at 25 degrees C (Page and Smith 1970). Size of adhesive, mature eggs from specimens from the Colorado River in Austin, Texas was 1.64 mm (Hubbs and Johnson 1961).


Age at maturation: One year of age (in males larger than 55 mm SL and in females that have reached at least 40 mm SL; Page and Smith 1970). Males may have reduced breeding success in first year because of smaller size and less obvious breeding colors (Page and Smith 1970; Page 1983).


Migration: As winter approaches, in Illinois, fish leave river raceways and smaller tributaries (where they will return in the spring) probably moving to deeper downstream habitats where they will spend the winter months (Page and Smith 1970; Page 1983).


Growth and Population structure: Individuals grow to about 40-50 mm in their first year (Edwards 1997). Males grow more rapidly than females and attain a greater maximum size; sex ratio in the IL population was 1:1 (Page and Smith 1970). Newly hatched larvae average 5.5 mm TL and have numerous melanophores on the underside of the body (Page and Smith 1970). See Page and Smith (1970) for descriptions of egg and larval development.


Longevity: Males live to 4+ years, females to 3+ years (Page and Smith 1970; Page 1983).


Food habits: Invertivore; benthic (first and second level trophic classifications; Goldstein and Simon 1999). In Mississippi, major food items are small aquatic insect larvae, hydropsychids, simuliids, chironomids, and baetids; lower importance of chronomids in autumn; prey size increases with fish size (Miller 1983). In Illinois, main food items were midge and blackfly larvae; diet also included caddisflies, mayflies, snipe flies, and stoneflies; heaviest feeding apparently occurs just prior to spawning (Page and Smith 1970). Diet of immature insects (Page 1980).


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes

Subspecies Hadropterus (Richards and Knapp 1964). Percina sciera is closest relative of the Guadalupe darter (P. apristis) which inhabits the Guadalupe Basin; the latter species differs from the former in having 0-6 preopercular serrae, usually 68 or more pored lateral line scales, 24 or more modified midbelly scales on the male, 23 or more transverse scales, 26 or more caudal-peduncle scales, 10 anal scales and 13-14 pectoral scales (Robins and Page 2007). During the breeding season, P. apristis males do not have an overall dusky black appearance as do P. sciera males, instead they darken only slightly, and the midlateral blotches remain apparent (Page 1983; Robins and Page 2007); P. apristis occurs only in gravelly runs of the San Marcos, Comal and Guadalupe Rivers of the San Antonio Bay drainage (Hubbs 1954; Robins and Page 2007). Hubbs (1954) compared P. apristis to P. sciera stating that the number of preopercular serrae (left side only counted) was the most significant and consistent difference between the two species; on average, the median fin rays of P. apristis are shorter than those of P. sciera, but the rays of the paired fins are usually longer; the dark rectangular blocks on the side of P. apristis are longer and narrower than those of P. sciera; and the narrow bars connecting the dark blocks in typical P. sciera are reduced or absent in P. apristis. The blackside darter (P. maculata) has a longer upper jaw 99% of the standard length as compared to 8% or less in P. sciera), usually no scales on the nape, and a distinct roundish median black spot at the base of the caudal (Hubbs 1954). The river darter (P. shumardi) has fewer scales than P. sciera (about 50 versus 60 or more), a narrow frenum, and elongate tuberculate anal rays in the mature male (Hubbs 1954).


Natural hybridization has been documented with the logperch (Percina caprodes; Hubbs and Laritz 1961). Hubbs (1967) performed laboratory hybridization crosses between P. sciera (Colorado River stock) and P. apristis, noting that the low overall heterosis may indicate an associated isolation mechanism between the two species.


Host Records

Leeches (Piscicolaria reducta) are common parasites of adult fish (Page and Smith 1970).


Commercial or Environmental Importance

Considered pollution intolerant species (United States Environmental Protection Agency 1983; Kleinsasser and Linam 1987; Linam and Kleinsasser 1987a).


[Additional literature noting collection of this species from Texas locations includes, but is not limited to the following: Rose and Echelle 1981).]



Anderson, K.A., T.L. Beitinger, and E.G. Zimmerman. 1983. Forage fish assemblages in the Brazos River upstream and downstream from Possum Kingdom Reservoir, Texas. Journal of Freshwater Ecology 2(1):81-88.

Edwards, R. J. 1997. Ecological profiles for selected stream-dwelling Texas freshwater fishes I. Report to the Texas Water Development Board. March 31, 1997. TWBD 95-483-107. 89 pp.

Environmental Protection Agency. 1983. Technical support manual: waterbody surveys and assessments for conducting use attainability analyses. EPA Office of Water Regulations and Standards, Washington, D.C.

Evans, J.W., and R.L. Noble. 1979. The longitudinal distribution of fishes in an east Texas stream. American Midland Naturalist 101(2):333-343.

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.

Herbert, M.E., and F.P. Gelwick. 2003. Spatial variation of headwater fish assemblages explained by hydrologic variability and upstream effects of impoundment. Copeia 2003(2):273-284.

Hubbs, C. 1954. A new Texas subspecies, apristis, of the darter Hadropterus scierus, with a discussion of variation within the species. American Midland Naturalist, 52:211-220.

Hubbs, C. 1961. Developmental Temperature Tolerances of four Etheostomine fishes occuring in Texas. Copeia 1961(2):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., and M. Laritz. 1961. Natural hybridization between Hadropterus scierus and Percina caprodes. Southwestern Naturalist 6(3/4):188-192.

Hubbs, C., and M.V. Johnson. 1961. Differences in the egg complement of Hadropterus scierus from Austin and San Marcos. The Southwestern Naturalist 6(1):9-12.

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. The Texas Journal of Science, Supplement, 43(4):1-56.

Hubbs, C.L., and J.D. Black. 1954. Status and synonymy of the American percid fish Hadropterus scierus. American Midland Naturalist 52(1):201-210.

Jordan, D.S., and C.H. Gilbert. 1886. List of fishes collected in Arkansas, Indian Territory, and Texas, in September 1884, with notes and descriptions. Proc. U.S. Nat. Mus. 9:1-25.

Kleinsasser, L.J., and G.W. Linam. 1987. Fisheries use attainability study for Pine Island Bayou (Segment 0607). Resource Protection Division. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Austin. 21 pp.

Linam, G.W., and L.J. Kleinsasser. 1987a. Fisheries use attainability study for Cow Bayou (Segment 0511). Resource Protection Division. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Austin. 13 pp.

Linam, G.W., and L.J. Kleinsasser. 1987b (Revised July 3, 1989). Fisheries use attainability study for the Bosque River. River Studies Report No. 4. Resource Protection Division. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Austin, Texas. 20 pp.

Miller, G. L. 1983. Trophic resource allocation between Percina sciera and P. ouachitae in the Tombigbee River, Mississippi. Amer. Midl. Nat. 110(2):290-313.

Page, L. M and P. W. Smith. 1970. The life history of the dusky darter, Percina sciera in the Embarras River, Illinois. Ill. Nat. Hist. Surv., Biol. Notes 69:1-15.

Page, L.M. 1980. Percina sciera (Swain), Dusky darter. pp. 740 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. 1983. Handbook of Darters. T.F.H. Publications, Neptune City, N.J. 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.

Richards, W.J., and L. W. Knapp. 1964. Percina lenticula, a new percid fish, with a rediscription of the subgenus Hadropterus. Copeia 1964(4):690-701.

Robins, R. H. and L. M. Page. 2007. Taxonomic status of the Guadalupe darter, Percina apristis (Teleostei: Percidae). Zootaxa 1618:51-60.

Rose, D.R., and A.A. Echelle. 1981. Factor analysis of associations of fishes in Little River, central Texas, with an interdrainage comparison. American Midland Naturalist 106(2):379-391.

Ross, S.T. 2001. The 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.

Swain, J. 1883. A description of a new species of Hadropterus (Hadropterus scierus) from southern Indiana. Proc. U.S. Natl. Mus. 6:252.

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.


Winemiller, K.O., F.P. Gelwick, T. Bonner, S. Zueg, and C. Williams. 2004. Response of oxbow lake biota to hydrologic exchanges with the Brazos River channel. Report to the Texas Water Development Board. 59 pp.