Fantail Darter

Fantail Darter, illustration by Maynard Reece, from Iowa Fish and Fishing.


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. Body color 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.


Fantail darter Distribution

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 quite important seasonally.

State Record

State Records are not documented for non-game species.

Expert Tip

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 frequently 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

Present in these Iowa water bodies:
Lake/Stream County Location Acres/Length
Yellow River Allamakee T96N, R6W, S3 to T96N, R4W, S24 25.00
Paint Creek Allamakee Located in Yellow River State Forest, 3 miles west of Harpers Ferry off of State Forest Road or CR B25. 11.00
Waterloo Creek Allamakee Streams runs through Dorchester along Waterloo Creek Drive and Highway 76. 10.50
Bloody Run Creek Clayton Located 2 miles west of Marquette off of Highway 18. 6.50
North Bear Creek Winneshiek Located 2.5 miles northeast of Highlandville. 6.00
South Bear Creek Winneshiek Located at Highlandville. 5.20
Sny Magill Creek Clayton Located in the Sny Magill Wildlife Management Area, 3 miles southwest of McGregor along Keystone Road. 5.00
Little Paint Allamakee Located in Yellow River State Forest, 3 miles west of Harpers Ferry just off of State Forest Road or CR B25. 3.00
Pine Creek Allamakee Located on Pine Creek Wildlife Management Area, 2 miles northeast of Sattre on Balsam Road or CR W60. 2.50
Wapsi River Trout Section Mitchell Located 0.5 mile west of McIntire. 2.50
Turtle Creek Mitchell Located about 1/2 mile north of St. Ansgar off of Highway 218. 2.20
Upper Swiss Valley Creek Dubuque Located 3 miles south of Dubuque near Swiss Valley Nature Center, just off Swiss Valley Road 2.10
Burr Oak Creek Mitchell Stream located just north of Osage. T98N, R16W, S4, 5, 9, 10 2.00
North Cedar Creek Clayton Located 3 miles west of McGregor off of CR B60 or Ivory Road. 2.00
Brush Creek Jackson Located 2 miles norteast of Andrew just south of 261st street. 1.90
White Pine Hollow Dubuque This fishery is located primarily within White Pine Hollow State preserve, about 2 miles northwest of Luxemburg. Access to this fishery is difficult. A small parking area is available on the east side of the preserve. Best fishing is on the west side. 1.80
Buck Creek Clayton Located 3 miles northeast of Garnavillo. 1.70
Hewett and Ensign Creeks (Ensign Hollow) Clayton Located on Ensign Hollow Wildlife Management Area about 5 miles north of Strawberry Point. Access is provided on the north side of 322nd street. 1.30
Grimes Hollow Delaware 1.5 mile east of Colesburg off Hubbard Road. T90N-R3W; Sections 2, 3. 1.20
Little Turkey River Delaware 3 miles east of Colesburg in Hoffman Wildlife Managment Area off Hubbard Road 1.20
Bear Creek Fayette Located 6 miles southeast of Fayette off of Kornhill Road or CR C24. Access from 128th Street. 1.20
Tete des Morts River Jackson Located near St. Donatus. T87N, R3E, S4 1.10
Mink Creek Fayette Located on private property 1.5 miles north of Wadena, access on Bighorn Road. 0.90
Big Mill Creek Jackson Located on Big Mill Wildlife Management Area, 4.5 miles west of Bellevue just south of Mill Creek Road. 0.90
Twin Bridges Delaware Just south of Highway 3 about 5.5 miles west of Colesburg in Twin Bridges County Park 0.90
Miners Creek Clayton Stream is located west of Guttenberg. T92N, R2W, S7, 18 and T29N, R3W, S12 0.80
Lower Swiss Valley Creek Dubuque Located 3 miles south of Dubuque in Swiss Valley Park just off Swiss Valley Road 0.80
Spring Creek Mitchell Located on the west edge of Orchard. 0.80
Little Mill Creek Jackson Located on Little Mill Wildlife Managment Area and private property 2 miles west of Bellevue, with parking south off 216th street. 0.70
Bankston Creek Dubuque Just south of Park Hollow Road, 3 miles north of Bankston in Bankston County Park 0.60
Baileys Ford Delaware 3 miles southeast of Manchester - follow signage from Jefferson Road. 0.60
South Cedar Creek Clayton Located 2 miles south of Garnavillo and may be accessed from Jigsaw Road. 0.50
Mossy Glen Clayton 5 miles northwest of Edgewood at the termination of the Level B portion of Eagle Ave. Road damage from weather has made access to this site difficult for all vehicles. Not recommended for low-clearance or 2-wheel drives. 0.50
Bohemian Creek Winneshiek Located about 1.5 miles east of Protivin. 0.30
Monastery Creek Dubuque Monastery Creek can be accessed through the Dubuque County Swiss Valley Nature Preserve about 4 miles SW of Dubuque off of Swiss Valley Rd. 0.20