Bluebreast Darter

Etheostoma camurum (Cope, 1870)

Noel Burkhead

Actinopterygii (Ray-finned Fishes)
Percidae (perches and darters)
State Protection
Listed as Endangered by New York State: in imminent danger of extirpation in New York. For animals, taking, importation, transportation, or possession is prohibited, except under license or permit. For plants, removal or damage without the consent of the landowner is prohibited.
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
Critically Imperiled in New York - Especially vulnerable to disappearing from New York due to extreme rarity or other factors; typically 5 or fewer populations or locations in New York, very few individuals, very restricted range, very few remaining acres (or miles of stream), and/or very steep declines.
Global Conservation Status Rank
Apparently Secure globally - Uncommon in the world but not rare; usually widespread, but may be rare in some parts of its range; possibly some cause for long-term concern due to declines or other factors.


Did you know?

The presence of Bluebreast Darter indicates good water quality and stream habitat because of their low tolerance for siltation and pollution.

State Ranking Justification

There is a single population in New York that is in the Allegheny River and Oswayo Creek. The population size is unknown at this time. Fish are found infrequently and in low numbers.

Short-term Trends

There is a single population of Bluebreast Darters in New York. The known range has expanded within the Allegheny River and Oswayo Creek in the last decade. The expansion could be a result of using a new survey method in the Allegheny River, electrified trawling survey, or the population may be rebounding as water quality improves (pers comm Lisa Holst NYS DEC 2017). Fish are found infrequently (Carlson et al. 2016).

Long-term Trends

This species was first documented in 1973 (Smith 1985, Carlson et al. 2016). It is possible that the species was not found previously because it was not there or because it was historically present in low numbers, but not detected. This species is infrequently found (Carlson et al. 2016). The Allegheny sub-watershed is trending toward aforestation (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2005).

Conservation and Management


This species does not tolerate even modest siltation. Pollution which leads to major fish kills is also a serious threat. Pollution could also impact their main food source: aquatic insect larvae. The construction of the Kinzua Dam in Pennsylvania prohibits upstream migration from the lower section of the Allegheny River (Carlson 1998). In addition, any alterations to the water flow and temperature could reduce suitable spawning habitat. Removal of large boulders, rocks, or gravel could impact non-breeding and spawning populations.

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

Siltation is not tolerated by Bluebreast Darter. Measures are needed to reduce runoff into areas used by the fish. When construction is needed near water systems, measures should be taken to reduce siltation as much as possible. This could include disturbing only the work area to maintain as much vegetation as possible to reduce runoff, working in phases to allow for more centralized control of sedimentation, using sediment traps or ditches to direct runoff away from the river, stabilizing soil by seeding, mulching, use of blankets, or wool binders. Protect slopes by using silt fences or fiber rolls. Logging and farming practices near waters can increase siltation or pollution. Encourage practices that maintain a riparian buffer to control pollution.
Gravel and boulders should not be disturbed or removed from the river as they are necessary for spawning and provide refuge from predators.
Water temperature and flow are important for Bluebreast Darter. Any alteration to the flow of water may affect upstream movement to spawning areas. Consider removing any barriers to allow free movement from non-breeding areas (deeper pools) to spawning areas (swift riffles).

Research Needs

Some research suggests that Bluebreast Darters are a host for several freshwater mussel species, including Villosa iris (rainbow mussel), a rare species in New York (Tiemann 2008). Additional research on the relationship between darters and freshwater mussels in the Allegheny River is suggested.



Bluebreast Darters are habitat specialists that occupy medium to large-sized rivers with swift-flowing water. They tend to prefer faster water velocities than several other darter species (Stauffer et al. 2016). The preferred substrate includes large stones and coarse to fine gravel. Large boulders and rocks provide protection from predators. Adults move upstream from deeper water to riffles to spawn.

Associated Ecological Communities

  • Confined river (guide)
    The aquatic community of relatively large, fast flowing sections of streams with a moderate to gentle gradient.


New York State Distribution

Bluebreast Darters are known from two waters in the Allegheny watershed: Allegheny River and Oswayo Creek.

Global Distribution

Bluebreast Darters are found in the Ohio River basin from the Tennessee and Cumberland drainages in Tennessee, western Virginia, Kentucky, and Alabama, to the Vermillion River in eastern Illinois and Tippecanoe River in Indiana, east to the Kanawha and Monongahela rivers in West Virginia and upper Allegheny River in Pennsylvania and western New York (Lee et al. 1980, Mettee et al. 1996, Page and Burr 2011). This species is absent from most rivers within this range (Page and Burr 1991).

Best Places to See

  • Allegheny River

Identification Comments

General Description

Bluebreast Darter is a deep-bodied, compressed fish with a blunt, rounded nose. The breast is typically dark blue to blue-green.

Identifying Characteristics

Bluebreast Darters are a moderately elongate, compressed fish with a deep caudal peduncle. Adults reach approximately 76 mm (3 in) in length. The upper profile is slightly more curved than the ventral profile. The body color is yellowish olive, but is lighter below. The lateral line is complete. There are irregular dark patches of one to four scales and scattered red scales on the sides. Mature males have bright red spots on the sides and a bright blue-black belly and ventral surface of the head. Some individuals will have eight to twelve conspicuous vertical bands or mid-lateral spots. Females are similar, but less brightly colored. Juveniles are similar to adults. The dorsal fin is contiguous, connected by a low keel of membrane. The spiny dorsal is arched with interspinous membranes a little incised. The soft dorsal fin is high anteriorly. The last rays are about half the length of the first and its margin is nearly straight. The first dorsal fin is dusky except for a light submarginal band. The caudal fin is nearly square. There are two white spots that are about the size of the pupil at the base of the caudal fin. Pectoral fins are asymmetrical, bluntly pointed, and the base is nearly vertical. The soft dorsal, anal, and caudal fins are dusky at the base with a dark marginal band and white along the edge of these fins. Gill membranes are separate. The mouth is low and horizontal with the jaw reaching to below the front of the eye.

Characters Most Useful for Identification

Bluebreast Darter has a blunt, rounded snout, gill covers that are not connected across the breast. Breeding males have orange-tinted dorsal fins, small crimson spots on the sides, and a bright blue breast.

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification

It is easiest to identify adults.


The males guard a small spawning territory until the eggs hatch. There is no parental care of the young.


Small larvae and aquatic insects are preferred food.

Best Time to See

This species hides behind boulders or large rocks for protection from predators. Spawning adults are found in riffles when water temperatures range from 21°-24°C (Stauffer et al 2016). Non-breeding individuals are in deeper water.

  • Active
  • Reproducing

The time of year you would expect to find Bluebreast Darter active and reproducing in New York.

Similar Species

  • Spotted Darter (Etheostoma maculatum)
    Spotted Darter lacks the dark margin to the fins, more lateral lines, and has a pointed snout. Eyes are larger than Bluebreast Darter. The tail is more rounded. Males of both species have red scales with dark margins on the sides of the body.

Bluebreast Darter Images


Bluebreast Darter
Etheostoma camurum (Cope, 1870)

  • Kingdom Animalia
    • Phylum Craniata
      • Class Actinopterygii (Ray-finned Fishes)
        • Order Perciformes (Perch-like Fishes)
          • Family Percidae (perches and darters)

Additional Resources


Burkhead, N. M., and R. E. Jenkins. 1991. Fishes. Pages 321-409 in K. Terwilliger (coordinator). Virginia's Endangered Species: Proceedings of a Symposium. McDonald and Woodward Publishing Company, Blacksburg, Virginia.

Carlson, Douglas M. 1998. Species Accounts for the rare fishes of New York. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources. Bureau of Fisheries, Endangered Fish Project. 95pp.

Carlson, Douglas M., Robert A. Daniels, and Jeremy J. Wright. 2016. Atlas of Inland Fishes of New York. New York State Museum Record 7. The New York State Education Department and Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, New York.

Carlson, Douglas. 1998. Summary of activities relating to management of ETs Fishes (as listed in 1983) from 1995 to present. 5pp.

Eaton, S.W., R.J. Nemecek and M.M. Kozubowski. 1982. Fishes of the Allegheny River above Kinzua Dam. New York Fish and Game J. 29(2):189-198.

Kuehne, R. A., and R. W. Barbour. 1983. The American Darters. University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky. 177 pp.

Lee, D. S., C. R. Gilbert, C. H. Hocutt, R. E. Jenkins, D. E. McAllister, and J. R. Stauffer, Jr. 1980. Atlas of North American freshwater fishes. North Carolina State Museum of Natural History, Raleigh, North Carolina. i-x + 854 pp.

Mettee, M. F., P. E. O'Neil, and J. M. Pierson. 1996. Fishes of Alabama and the Mobile Basin. Oxmoor House, Birmingham, Alabama. 820 pp.

NatureServe. 2016. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 2005. A strategy for conserving New York's fish and wildlife resources. Final submission draft.

Page, L. M., and B. M. Burr. 1991. A field guide to freshwater fishes: North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. 432 pp.

Smith, C.L. 1985. The Inland Fishes of New York State. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, NY. 522pp.

Stauffer, Jay R., Jr., Robert W. Criswell, and Douglas P. Fischer. 2016. The Fishes of Pennsylvania. El Paso, TX: Cichlid Press.

Tiemann, Jeremy S. 2008. Distribution and life history characteristics of the state-endangered bluebreast darter Etheostoma camurum (Cope) in Illinois. Transactions of the Illinois State Academy of Science 101 (3&4): 235-246.


About This Guide

This guide was authored by: Hollie Y. Shaw

Information for this guide was last updated on: July 1, 2019

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. Online Conservation Guide for Etheostoma camurum. Available from: Accessed May 26, 2024.