Plants and Animals

Percina shumardi River darter

Key Characteristics

The river darter is olive-colored above with small indistinct black blotches near the front and rear of the first dorsal fin. It has 8 to 15 dark lateral bars along its sides, a black spot on the caudal fin, and a distinct teardrop mark under the eye. Its anal fin is long, reaching well beyond the dorsal fin to the caudal fin in large males. Soft dorsal rays are 13 or 14 and soft anal rays are 11.

Status and Rank

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


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Huron 1 1930
Iosco 1 1925
Macomb 1 1998
Monroe 1 1941
Saginaw 1 1941
Tuscola 1 1930
Wayne 1 1941

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 river darter occurs in rivers and large streams, preferring deep, fast-flowing riffles with cobble and boulder substrates. Adults typically occur in shallow areas at night or when turbidity is high. They also occur in nearshore areas of the Great Lakes at depths around 5 m. This species is fairly tolerant to turbidity.

Specific Habitat Needs

Rocky substrates needed in: Great lake, littoral, benthic; Mainstem stream (3rd-4th order), riffle; River (5th-6th order), riffle; 

Wind-swept shores needed in: Inland lake, littoral, benthic; 

Natural Community Types

  • Great lake, littoral, benthic
  • Inland lake, littoral, benthic
  • Mainstem stream (3rd-4th order), riffle
  • River (5th-6th 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 abundance of the River darter in the Mississippi River and tributaries indicates that it is not extremely sensitive to turbidity and water pollution. However, the river darter does require deep swift water habitats, which are quickly disappearing with flood control and river impoundment projects. In order to protect the river darter, rivers need to be restored and maintained in their natural state with intact flow regimes.

Active Period

Spawning from first week of May to fourth week of June

Survey Methods


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

Hoop or fyke nets

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


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


Survey References

  • Murphy, B.R. and D.W. Willis, eds. 1996. Fisheries Techniques, 2nd ed. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda. 732pp.

Technical References

  • Bailey, R.M., W.C. Latta, and G.R. Smith. 2004. An Atlas of Michigan Fishes. Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan, No. 192, Ann Arbor. 215p.
  • Carman, S.M. 2001. Special Animal Abstract for Percina shumardi (River darter). Michigan Natural Features Inventory, Lansing, MI. 3pp.
  • Evers, D.C. 1994. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife of Michigan. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. 412pp.
  • Page, L. M. and B.M. Burr. 1991. A field guide to freshwater fishes: North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 432pp.
  • Scott, W.B. and E.J. Crossman. 1973. Freshwater fishes of Canada. Bulletin 184, Fisheries Research Board of Canada, Ottawa. 966pp.
  • Smith, P.W. 1961. The amphibians and reptiles of Illinois. Illinois Natural History Survey, Carbondale. Bulletin No. 28. 298 pp.
  • Trautman, M.B. 1981. The Fishes of Ohio. Ohio State University Press, Columbus. 782pp.

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