The extremely long and slender body shape of the eastern sand darter make it the most distinctive darter in New York (Smith 1985).
There are between 11 and 17 extant occurrences depending upon whether four shoals in Lake Erie are treated as separate occurrences or all part of a single Lake Erie occurrence and whether connected rivers in close proximity to one another are combined. Populations are now known in the following rivers; Poultney, Mettawee, Salmon, Little Salmon, Saint Regis, Deer, Grasse, Ausable, Bouquet,Oswegatchie, Conewango, Raquette, and Stillwater. Fish were also found in the Champlain Canal and Halfway Creek. New locations continue to be discovered. The occurrences in Cattaraugus Creek and Cazenovia Creek in western New York appear to be extirpated (Carlson 1998).
Newly discovered populations of eastern sand darters indicate that this species is recovering. The goal of establishing five disjunct populations of eastern sand darters as stated in the state recovery plan (Bouton 1989) has been met, with populations of eastern sand darters currently occupying approximately 13 waters including Lake Erie (New York Natural Heritage Program 2008).
Historically, eastern sand darters were found in western New York in Cataraugus Creek, Cazenovia Creek and Lake Erie, and in northern New York in the St. Lawrence and Little Salmon River. Habitat destruction caused this species to decline range-wide, and no eastern sand darters have been caught since 1983 in the western New York creeks, but are still present in Lake Erie (Smith 1985; Carlson 1998, 2005).
The major threat to eastern sand darters is habitat loss as a result from stream pollution, stream stabilization, increased siltation, and stream fragmentation due to dam construction. One additional threat involves the use of lamprey control practices in the Poultney River although reduced levels of lampricide are being used in that river as a precaution (Carlson 1998).
Protect the habitat occupied by eastern sand darters by preventing the introduction of toxic pollutants and debris from run-off, and prevent siltation as a result of altered hydrologic flow that could be created by impoundments or dams (Bouton 1989; Carlson 1998, 2005; Facey 1998).
Monitor habitat conditions and current populations and consider reintroducing eastern sand darters into historical locations, where suitable (Bouton 1989).
More information regarding breeding and spawning behavior, year-to-year population variation, and microhabitat requirements is needed. Conduct genetic analysis on the disjunct populations of the St. Lawrence and Lake Champlain drainages to determine similarity between these and others in their range (Facey 1998). Additional rivers in the St. Lawrence drainage may remain to be surveyed. It is possible that the Cattaraugus and Cazenovia Creeks could have been recolonized from Lake Erie if the creeks are indeed recovering from earlier pollution, so resurveys of those creeks may be warranted. Some effort to standardize population estimates for the various rivers may be needed (Carlson 1998, 2005).
Eastern sand darters mainly inhabit lakeshores up to 20 m deep and shallow moderately-sized streams less than 50 cm deep with a clean sandy substrate composed of medium-size sand particles, very little vegetation, and a current fast enough to prevent siltation but slow enough so that sand is not disturbed, about 0-20 cm/sec (Spreitzer 1979; Smith 1985; Daniels 1993). During a habitat study conducted in 1984 by Daniels (1993), a majority of eastern sand darters were captured along the depositional side a short distance downstream of a riverbend.
In New York, eastern sand darters can be found in the St. Lawrence River and Lake Champlain drainages, Raquette River, and in shallow waters of Lake Erie. Historically they have been documented in Cattaraugus, Cazenovia, Conewango, and Stillwater Creeks in western New York (Carlson 2005).
The eastern sand darter can be found east of the Mississippi River, in the rivers and streams of western Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, northern Kentucky, western West Virginia, western Pennsylvania, and in the shallow shores of Lake St. Clair, the southern end of Lake Huron, and the southern shore of Lake Erie from Ohio to New York. There is a disjunct population in northern New York and southern Quebec in the Lake Champlain drainage and along the New York and Vermont border in the St. Lawrence River drainage (Lee et al. 1980; Smith 1985; Paige and Burr 1991).
The eastern sand darter is a long and slender fish. Adult length ranges from 4-7 cm. The body is almost translucent; pale yellow in color with dark spots along the lateral line, dorsal ridge, and the sides and tip of the pointy snout, making it blend easily into its preferred habitat of streams with sandy bottoms. The fins and tail are transparent, except for in males where the bases of the pelvic fins are dark. There is a gap between the dorsal fins. The anal fin is directly below the posterior dorsal fin. Scales are only present on the lateral line and in an area just before the slightly forked tail. During breeding season, tubercles develop on the pelvic and anal fins (Spreitzer 1979; Smith 1985; Page and Burr 1991). The eggs are spherical and sticky, and range from 0.7-1.2 mm in diameter (Spreitzer 1979).
The long, slender, nearly translucent, and scaleless body are characteristics most useful in positively identifying eastern sand darters.
The adult stage is the best stage to properly identify this species. Newly hatched and young fry may be confused with young johnny or tessellaterd darters but even then they exhibit the long and slender body characteristic of the eastern sand darter (Smith 1985).
Eastern sand darters typically live for three summers. Spawning generally occurs between May and July, with eggs hatching in less than a week after being laid. The most significant behavior exhibited by the eastern sand darters, like all members of the genus Ammocrypta, is the ability to bury itself in the sand (Spreitzer 1979; Daniels 1993). The significance of this has been explained by the work done by Daniels (1989). He tested the three hypotheses as to why this species buries itself: to avoid predators, ease prey capture, and conserve energy. His experiments largely rejected the first two hypotheses and showed that the eastern sand darter primarily buries itself to retain position in its uniform habitat (Daniels 1989).
Eastern sand darters feed primarily on midge larvae, but have been known to take other small pray such as small crustaceans and fly larvae when midge larvae are scarce (Spreitzer 1979; Smith 1985).
The fish are present year-round, with spawning beginning in May and lasting until mid-August (Spreitzer 1979).
The time of year you would expect to find Eastern Sand Darter present, active, and reproducing in New York.
Eastern Sand Darter
Ammocrypta pellucida (Agassiz, 1863)
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Bouton, D.M. 1989. New York State recovery plan: eastern sand darter (Etheostoma pellucidum). NYSDEC Endangered Species Unit, Delmar, NY.
Bouton, Dean and Patricia Mehlhop-Cifelli. Collection and site records for fish survey of the Poultney River, August 14-15, 1986.
Carlson, D. 2006. Species group report for eastern sand darter. Pages 33-36 of Appendix A3, Species group reports for freshwater fish in: New York State comprehensive wildlife conservation strategy. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, NY.
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.
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Information for this guide was last updated on: April 19, 2019
Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2023. Online Conservation Guide for Ammocrypta pellucida. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/eastern-sand-darter/. Accessed May 29, 2023.