Banded Darter

Banded Darter, illustration by Maynard Reece, from Iowa Fish and Fishing


The Banded Darter is a moderate sized darter reaching about 2.5 inches in length. Its back and upper sides are mottled olive-brown with 6-7 small dark brown cross bars, and its sides covered with dark green bars with yellow-white belly. It has a dusky bar beneath the eye and another extending forward from the eye onto snout. It has 12 dorsal fin rays, 9 anal fin rays, 45 to 48 scales along its lateral line, which is complete. The cheeks are scaled.


Banded Darter Distribution

Widespread distribution in rivers and large creeks in northeast Iowa but not abundant.


Diet consists of insect larvae, crustaceans, and other aquatic invertebrates.

State Record

State Records are not documented for non-game species.

Expert Tip



The Banded Darter can be found in all the principal drainage systems of the eastern and northeast Iowa, as well as maintaining populations in the Lizard Creek and upper Iowa River watersheds. It inhabits the upper reaches of Iowa’s major interior rivers, such as the Cedar and Maquoketa rivers, but attains greatest abundance in smaller tributaries of these rivers. Although its distribution is relatively widespread, the Banded Darter is nowhere common and in most collections is listed as rare. Within the Misissippi River system the Banded Darter occurs from the Verdign`s River in Kansas eastward to the upper Allegheny River basin in New York and from the Minnesota River south to the Fall Line. The Banded Darter remains relatively common throughout most of its range. However, populations on the margin of its range, particularly to the west, appear in jeopardy.

In Iowa, this colorful species inhabits the rocky riffles of the upper reaches of our major interior streams, such as the Cedar and Maquoketa rivers. It attains greatest abundance in smaller streams and creeks feeding these rivers. 

Adult Banded Darters are often found in swift riffles over gravel or rubble bottoms.  They are found in abundance within rocky riffles having dense growths of filamentous algae (Cladophora), eel grass (Valisneria), pondweed (Potamogeton) or aquatic mosses. Juveniles prefer quiet water around emergent aquatic plants such as waterwillow (Justicia) or in accumulations of leaves. Researchers have found that spawning concentrations were highest in riffles of streams with moderate to high gradients with a width less than 50 ft. and depth less than 2 ft, and that that the banded darter winters in deeper waters. Very little is known concerning life habits of the species.

Like the other darter species in Iowa, these fish have no importance to anglers. It is viewed as vulnerable according to the Iowa Wildlife Action Plan, but it is not on Iowa's endangered, threatened, or special concern species list (571 IAC 77.2(2) (2015)).

Recent stream sampling information is available from Iowa DNR's biological monitoring and assessment program.


Harlan, J.R., E.B. Speaker, and J. Mayhew. 1987. Iowa fish and fishing. Iowa Conservation Commission, Des Moines, Iowa. 323pp.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Wildlife Action Plan

Loan-Wilsey, A. K., C. L. Pierce, K. L. Kane, P. D. Brown and R. L. McNeely. 2005. The Iowa Aquatic Gap Analysis Project Final Report. Iowa Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Iowa State University, Ames.

Ohio Department of Natural Resources Species Guide

Illustration by Maynard Reece, from Iowa Fish and Fishing.

Present in these Iowa water bodies:
Lake/Stream County Location Acres/Length
Waterloo Creek Allamakee Streams runs through Dorchester along Waterloo Creek Drive and Highway 76. 10.50
Trout Run Winneshiek Located on the south side of Decorah off Trout Run Road. 2.20
Bear Creek Fayette Located 6 miles southeast of Fayette off of Kornhill Road or CR C24. Access from 128th Street. 1.20
Baileys Ford Delaware 3 miles southeast of Manchester - follow signage from Jefferson Road. 0.60