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The Fantail Darter is a slender species typically about 2 inches in length. The spinous dorsal fin is low with tips on dorsal spines forming fleshy knobs in adult males. The body is sand to brown with a small dark spot on each scale. The dorsal fin rays number 12 to 14, and the anal rays are 7 to 9. Scale numbers along the lateral line are usually more than 50.
The Fantail Darter ranges from southern Quebec across the southern Great Lakes to the head of the Mississippi basin in Wisconsin and Minnesota, southward to northern Arkansas, and eastward throughout the Ohio River basin. Collections are fairly common in streams throughout the northeast region of Iowa.
Midge larvae and other aquatic insects tend to be the primary food items of this species. Isopods and amphipods may be important seasonally.
State Records are not documented for non-game species.
In rivers and streams, these fish might be the "minnows" that trout, walleyes and smallmouth bass are used to eating.
The Fantail Darter is found abundant throughout the forested regions of northeast Iowa. It is also found often in central and north-central Iowa, particularly in the North Raccoon, Boone, Lizard Creek, South Skunk and upper Iowa River watersheds. Over much of its Iowa range it is the one of the more abundant darters.
The Fantail Darter is found in the shallow riffles or flowing pools of clear, small creeks to small rivers with permanent flow, moderate or high-gradients and bottoms of gravel, rubble, flat stones or boulders. When found in large streams, the fantail darter is found in shallow areas way from the main current, whereas in tiny streams, it may be found in waters that have ceased to flow. It can tolerate more turbidity and pollution than most darters as well as very low oxygen levels. Young are sometimes found in pools and adults winter in larger and deeper waters.
Spawning begins in spring as males establish and defend territories around rocks which have a slight clearance above the substrate. The spiny dorsal fin is used to clean the underside of the rock. A female moves under the rock and lays an average of 38 eggs. Spawning position is head to tail, the female inverted and the male upright except at the moment of fertilization. About 450 eggs per female are laid, several spawnings with the same or different males being common.
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.
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
Illustration by Maynard Reece, from Iowa Fish and Fishing