Picture by Chad Thomas, Texas State University - San Marcos



Percina shumardi

river darter



Type Locality

Arkansas River, near Fort Smith, AR (Girard 1860).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Percina, “a small perch;” shumardi, named for Dr. G.C. Shumard, surgeon of the U.S. Pacific Railroad Survey (Pflieger 1997), discoverer of the species (Etnier and Starnes 1993).



Hadropterus shumardi Girard 1860:100.

Percina shumardi Cook 1959:197.



Maximum size: 88 mm SL (Etnier and Starnes 1993). In Texas museum collections, largest specimen found is 52mm SL (Edwards 1997).


Coloration: Brown or olive dorsally and white or yellow ventrally, with 5-9 dusky, obscure dorsal blotches and 8-15 black, vertically elongate (less so posteriorly) lateral blotches. Black suborbital bar and small black basicaudal spot. In the first dorsal fin is a small black spot anteriorly and a large black blotch posteriorly. Second dorsal and causal fins are faintly banded; other fins and venter without dark pigment. Breeding males become darker overall (Page 1983). Anal, pelvic, and pectoral fins more pigmented in male than in female (Becker 1983).


Counts: 46-62 lateral scales (Page 1983; less than 60 scales in lateral line (Hubbs et al. 1991); pored scales on caudal fin 0-2; scales above lateral line 5-7; scales below lateral line 7-11; transverse scales 14-17; scales around caudal peduncle 20-25; dorsal spines 9-12 (10-11); dorsal rays 11-16 (13-14); pectoral rays 13-14; anal spines 2; anal rays 10-13 (11); branchiostegal rays 6 (Page 1983).


Body shape: Relatively slender (Page 1983); body depth contained in standard length less then seven times; snout less conical, not extending beyond upper lip (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Mouth position: Terminal (Goldstein and Simon 1999).


External morphology: Upper lip connected to snout by a narrow frenum; belly scaled (narrow naked band may be present on midline); preopercle smooth or weakly serrate; upper jaw not extending as far as to below the middle of the eye (Hubbs et al. 1991). Males develop breeding tubercles on the anal and pelvic fins, ventral caudal rays, and midventral scales (Collette 1965). During breeding season, anal fin of males becomes elongate, may reach the base of the caudal fin when pressed against the body (Becker 1983; Ross 2001).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Broadly distributed from Manitoba and western Ontario, Canada, south in the Mississippi River Basin to Mississippi and Louisiana; also occurs in Gulf of Mexico drainages from the Mobile Basin west to the Coastal Plain of Texas (Page 1983).


Texas distribution: Limited to eastern Texas streams including Red southward to the Neches, and a disjunct population in the Guadalupe and San Antonio river systems east of the Balcones Escarpment (Hubbs et al. 1991). A population in the Guadalupe River near Gonzalez has been stable for more than 30 years (Edwards 1997). Warren et al. (2000) list the following drainage units as being inhabited by Percina shumardi: Red River unit (from the mouth upstream to and including the Kiamichi River), Sabine Lake unit (including minor coastal drainages west to Galveston Bay), San Antonio Bay unit (including minor coastal drainages west of mouth of Colorado River to mouth of Nueces River).


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, NGO)

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

(2006). Populations in the southern United States are currently secure (Warren et al. 2000).


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Confined to large rivers and lower parts of major tributaries (Gilbert 1980); found in lower reaches of medium size lowland rivers throughout their range (Edwards 1997). A population in the Guadalupe River near Gonzalez has been stable for more than 30 years, and inhabits the fast deep riffles among strewn boulders which occur at that site (Edwards 1997).


Mesohabitat: Almost invariably found in deep chutes and riffles where current is swift and bottom composed of coarse gravel or rock (Gilbert 1980); seems more tolerant of turbidity than most darters (Pflieger 1997; Gilbert 1980; Trautman 1957). Found in lakes along wave swept shores with sand gravel, rubble, of bolder substrata at depths of 80-150 cm (Becker 1983; Sanders and Yoder 1989). Due to the preference for deep waters and tolerance for murkiness, if Percina shumardi is found with other darters, these almost always Percina species; rarely would Ammocrypta or Etheostoma be syntopic (Edwards 1997).



Spawning season: Data for one location in the Guadalupe River near Gonzales, Texas, shows Percina shumardi reproductive period to be from 14 January to 22 April; evidence on male reproductive intervals essentially the same as that for females. Recorded reproductive season for this species in Texas is longer than that for any other geographic area. Reproduction initiation is markedly earlier in the south and the end is somewhat later in the north (Hubbs 1985). In Kansas, season reported to be April (Cross 1967); in Illinois, April and May (Thomas 1970); possibly June or July, in Canada (Scott and Crossman 1973); in Arkansas, probably March to May (Robison and Buchanan 1988).


Spawning habitat: Brood hiders; 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 (Balon 1975; Simon 1999).


Reproductive strategy:


Fecundity: In Wisconsin, the ovaries of an age-1 female collected in early June contained numerous ripe eggs 1.2 mm diameter; ovaries constituted 2.2% of the body weight (Becker 1983). Free embryos possess large and dense yolk and an extensive respiratory plexus for exogenous and endogenous respiration. Early-emerging larvae are photophobic, while late-hatching larvae are called alevins (Simon 1999).   


Age at maturation: Age 1, in some fish (Becker 1983).


Migration: A number of reports of upstream migration to spawn in spring and downstream movement in fall to reach overwintering habitats (Cross 1967; Trautman 1957). In Arkanasas, during evening and night, migrates inshore and is commonly found at depths of .6-.9 m along sandbars; during the day, most abundant in 1.2 m or more water (Robison and Buchanan 1988). Sanders and Yoder (1989) note species movement into shallow water after sunset.


Growth and population structure: In Wisconsin, individuals were 38-45 mm SL at the end of one year and 56 mm SL at the end of two years (Lutterbie 1979); growth similar in Illinois, fish reaching approximately 55 mm SL in two years (Thomas 1970). No age data for Mississippi fish, although reported sizes tend to be considerably larger than those reported from Wisconsin and Illinois (Ross 2001).


Longevity: Living until at least 3rd year (Thomas 1970).


Food habits: Invertivore; benthic (Goldstein and Simon 1999). Microcrustaceans are primary food item of young river darters. Main food items of adults are Diptera (Chironomidae and Simuliidae), Tricoptera (Hydropsychidae), and crustaceans (copepods and cladocerans; Thomas 1970); some populations feed extensively on snails (gastropods; Thompson 1974). In an Ohio study, midge larvae and pupae constituted most of the diet (Sanders and Yoder 1989). Species feeds throughout daylight hours (Thompson 1974). In Alabama, species preyed heavily on pleurocerid snails (Elimia sp.); snails representing nearly 100% of food items in October, but declining in spring and almost ceasing by May, to increase again in July when hatchling snails composed approximately 80% of food items; mean and maximum size of snails eaten increased with darter size, although minimum snail size was unrelated to darter size, indicating broadening of prey size for larger darters; non-snail food items dominated by chironomid, trichopteran, and ephemeropteran insect larvae, these commonly eaten during periods of low snail and hatchling snail feeding (Haag and Warren 2006).


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes:

Subgenus Imostoma (Page 1974). Percina shumardi is known to hybridize with P. caprodes (Schwartz 1972; Etnier and Starnes 1993).


Host Records:



Commercial or Environmental Importance

Most abundant darter in main channel of the Mississippi River and are found in rather large numbers downstream from some large mainstem reservoirs (Sanders and Yoder 1989). A 64 mm River Darter was found in the stomach of a paddlefish (Polydon spathula) from the Mississippi River (Carlander 1969).



Balon, E.K. 1975. Reproductive guilds of fishes: a proposal and definition. Journal of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada 32:821-864.

Becker, G.C. 1983. Fishes of Wisconsin. Univ. Wisconsin Press, Madison. 1052 pp.

Carlander, K. D. 1969. Handbook of Freshwater Fishery Biology. Ames, The Iowa State University Press. 476 pp.

Collette, B.B. 1965. Systematic significance of breeding tubercles in fishes of the family Percidae. Proc. U.S. Nat. Mus. 117(3518):567-614.

Cook, F.A. 1959. Freshwater fishes in Mississippi. Mississippi Game and Fish Commision, Jackson. 239 pp.

Cross, F. B. 1967. Handbook of Fishes of Kansas. Misc. Publ. Museum Natural History University of Kansas 45:1-357.

Edwards, R. J. 1997. Ecological Profiles for selected stream-dwelling Texas Freshwater Fishes Texas Water Development Board: 1-89.

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

Gilbert, C.R. 1980. Percina shumardi (Girard), Dusky Darter. pp.741 in D.S. Lee et al. Atlas of North American Freshwater Fishes. N.C. State Mus. Nat. Hist., Raleigh, i-r+854 pp.

Girard, C. 1860. Ichthyological notes. Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Hil. 11:100-104.

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.

Haag, W.R., and M.L. Warren, Jr. 2006. Seasonal feeding specialization on snails by river darters (P. shumardi) with a review of snail feeding by other darter species. Copeia 2006(4):604-612.

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

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.

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

Page, L.M. 1974. The subgenera of Percina (Percisae: Etheostomatini). Copeia 1974(1):66-86.

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

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

Robison, H. W., and T. M. Buchanan. 1988. Fishes of Arkansas. The University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, 536 pp.

Sanders, R.E. and C.O. Yoder. 1989. Recent collections of food items of river darter, Percina shumardi (Percidae), in the Markland Dam pool of the Ohio River. Ohio J. Sci. 89(1):33-35.

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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]. http://gis.tpwd.state.tx.us/TpwEndangeredSpecies/DesktopModules/AcountyCodeKeyForWebESDatabases.pdf

Thomas, D.L. 1970. An ecological study of four darter species of genus Percina (Percidae) in the Kaskaskia River, Illinois. Ill. Nat. Hist. Surv. Biol. Notes 70:1-18.

Thompson, B.A. 1974. An analysis of sympatric populations of two closely related species of Percina, with notes on food habits of the subgenus Imostoma. ASB Bull. 21:87.

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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 25(10):7-29.