Plants and Animals

Etheostoma spectabile Orangethroat darter

Key Characteristics

The orangethroat darter is a slender fish averaging 3 inches in length, with a large head of a blunt triangular shape and large eyes. There are 2 well separated dorsal fins, the first with 10-11(rarely 9 or 12) spines, and a single, 2-spined anal fin, all translucent and of a general fan shape. The tail fin is small and straight or faintly emarginate. This species is yellow to pale olive-colored with 6-11 dark green dorsal saddles. Numerous and often mottled olive to bluish-gray vertical bars and short horizontal bands cover the sides. In adult males, the vertical bars are seperated by bright orange, yellow or red pigmentation, dorsal fins are orange and blue banded, anal fin pale blue to green, and the throat is often bright orange. As the name suggests, these fish move with a rapid darting motion.

Status and Rank

US Status: No Status/Not Listed
State Status: T - Threatened (legally protected)
Global Rank: G5 - Secure
State Rank: S1 - Critically imperiled


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Hillsdale 2 1931
Monroe 7 2016
Washtenaw 13 1995

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


The orangethroat darter occurs in small creeks to medium-sized streams with substrates of sand or gravel and slow to moderately swift currents, where it is most often found among riffles (Hubbs and Lagler 2004, Trautman 1981).

Natural Community Types

  • Headwater stream (1st-2nd order), riffle
  • Headwater stream (1st-2nd order), pool
  • Headwater stream (1st-2nd order), run
  • Mainstem stream (3rd-4th order), pool
  • Mainstem stream (3rd-4th order), run
  • Mainstem stream (3rd-4th order), riffle

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Management Recommendations

The orangethroat darter is especially sensitive to the impacts of dredging, channelization and other major construction projects which alter or eliminate its favored riffle habitat and increase siltation (Trautman 1981). Examples of additional anthropogenic stream degradation which limit healthy fish assemblages include the water diversion and polluted stormwater run-off resulting from increased urbanization and intensified agricultural practices (Scott and Hall 1997). Impoundments impact orangethroat darters and other species by creating barriers to free movement through the stream habitat and fragmenting populations. Management of this species should therefore focus on maintaining healthy stream habitat structure and water quality.

Active Period

Spawning from first week of March to fourth week of April

Survey Methods

Survey methods for fish of this size include electrofishing and the use of small mesh fyke nets, ideally during the spawning period in early spring (Schneider et al. 2000).


Survey Period: From first week of March to fourth week of April

Trap or fyke nets

Survey Period: From first week of March to fourth week of April

Time of Day: Daytime
Survey Method Comment: small mesh


Survey References

  • Schneider, J.C., G.R. Alexander, and J.W. Merna. 2000. Modules for Lake and Stream Surveys. Chapter 2. In: Schneider, J.C. (ed.). 2000. Manual of fisheries survey methods II: with periodic updates. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Fisheries Special Report 25, Ann Arbor.

Technical References

  • Guenther, C.B. and A. Spacie. 2006. Changes in Fish Assemblage Structure Upstream of Impoundments within the Upper Wabash River Basin, Indiana. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 135(3): 570-83.
  • Hubbs, C.L. and K.F. Lagler. 2004. Fishes of the Great Lakes region, revised edition. Rev.ed. G.R. Smith. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor MI. 276pp.
  • Scott, M.C. and L.W. Hall Jr. 1997. Fish Assemblages as Indicators of Environmental Degradation in Maryland Coastal Plain Streams. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 126(3):349-60.
  • Thomas, C., T.H. Bonner, and B.G. Whiteside. 2007. Freshwater Fishes of Texas: A Field Guide. Texas A&M University Press, College Station. 220 pp.
  • Trautman, M.B. 1981. The Fishes of Ohio. Ohio State University Press, Columbus. 782pp.