Etheostoma exile, Iowa darter

Etheostoma exile, Iowa darter

Actinopterygii (Ray-finned Fishes)
Percidae (perches and darters)
State Protection
Not Listed
Not listed or protected by New York State.
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
Imperiled in New York - Very vulnerable to disappearing from New York due to rarity or other factors; typically 6 to 20 populations or locations in New York, very few individuals, very restricted range, few remaining acres (or miles of stream), and/or steep declines.
Global Conservation Status Rank
Secure globally - Common in the world; widespread and abundant (but may be rare in some parts of its range).


Did you know?

Iowa darters occur farther west and north than any other darter in the United States (Page and Burr 1991).

State Ranking Justification

Historically occurring in about 36 waters, Iowa darters are currently found in about 17 waters scattered throughout the St. Lawrence, Lake Ontario, and Lake Erie watersheds. Historical populations in Oneida Lake and nearby streams and creeks in Oswego County, and Black Lake in St Lawrence County have not been recorded since the 1930s (Carlson 2005; Cohen 2006; New York Natural Heritage Program 2008). More sampling is needed to determine the current status of Iowa darters in New York (Carlson 2005; Cohen 2006).

Short-term Trends

Little is known about the current status of Iowa darters in New York. It is currently present in about 17 waters. Recent surveys (1997-2007) yielded very few fish, typically less than 10 per site, with two sites yielding 15-20 fish (Bureau of Fisheries, New York Department of Environmental Conservation 2008; New York Natural Heritage 2008). Thorough sampling and revisitation to historical sites is needed (Carlson 2005; Cohen 2006).

Long-term Trends

Once present in over 36 waters, the Iowa darter is now extirpated from the Allegheny watershed (Carlson 2005; Cohen 2006).

Conservation and Management


Possible threats include habitat degradation and introduction of exotic species. Little is known about the ecological requirements of Iowa darters (Carlson 2005; Cohen 2006).

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

Monitor current populations and protect the habitat occupied by Iowa darters.

Research Needs

More information is needed regarding life history, behavior, habitat, and ecological requirements of Iowa darters. Revisit historical locations to determine if Iowa darters are still present or absent. Identify and survey other potential locations where Iowa darters could be found. Further define habitat requirements for restoration and habitat protection (Carlson 2005; Cohen 2006).



Iowa darters inhabit slow, clear waters of lakes, ponds, and streams with ample submerged vegetation and substrates consisting of sand, peat, and/or organic material (Lee et al. 1980; Smith 1985). They are usually found among rocks or under shelter along the bottom. Spawning areas consist of shallower waters with ample vegetation such as roots and plant debris for egg laying (Copes 1976).

Associated Ecological Communities

  • Deepwater river
    The aquatic community of very large, very deep, quiet, base level sections of streams with a very low gradient. In places the water is deep enough so that light cannot reach the river bottom.
  • Great Lakes aquatic bed (guide)
    The aquatic community of the protected shoals of the Great Lakes or Lake Champlain. They occur in quiet bays that are protected from extreme wave action by islands, shoals, or barrier bars, and typically support large areas of "weeds" or aquatic macrophytes.
  • Marsh headwater stream (guide)
    The aquatic community of a small, marshy perennial brook with a very low gradient, slow flow rate, and cool to warm water that flows through a marsh, fen, or swamp where a stream system originates. These streams usually have clearly distinguished meanders (i.e., high sinuosity) and are in unconfined landscapes.
  • Unconfined river (guide)
    The aquatic community of large, quiet, base level sections of streams with a very low gradient.

Associated Species

  • Blackchin Shiner (Notropis heterodon) (guide)


New York State Distribution

In New York, Iowa darters can be found in the lakes and streams of the St. Lawrence drainage and in a few ponds and streams in central and western New York, namely in St Lawrence, Jefferson, Oswego, Seneca, Erie and Niagara counties (Smith 1985, New York Natural Heritage Program 2008).

Global Distribution

The range of the Iowa darter extends from St. Lawrence watershed in New York west along the Great Lakes basin in northwest Pennslyvania, northern Ohio Indiana, and Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, southwestern Wyoming, and northeastern Montana. In Canada, Iowa darters can be fround from southern Quebec west to northern Alberta (Page and Burr 1991).

Best Places to See

  • East Branck Twelve Mile Creek (Niagara County)
  • Squeak Brook (St. Lawrence County)
  • St. Lawrence River (St. Lawrence County)
  • Niagara River (Niagara County)
  • Lakeview Pond (Jefferson County)

Identification Comments

Identifying Characteristics

The Iowa darter is a slender fish, with a body that tapers anteriorly and posteriorly. It is mainly olive-brown in color, becoming paler to almost white moving ventrally down the body. The lateral line is pale. There are a series of dark vertical bars on the side of the body and under the eye. The anterior dorsal fin is spinous with a blue tinge at the base and margin in males, and the posterior dorsal fin is composed of rays with dark spots along the rays. The tail is square-shaped with dark spots. The pectoral fins have some flecking and the pelvic and anal fins are translucent with little to no flecking. During breeding season, the males change color. The vertical bars on the body turn bluish-green and the spaces between the bars becomes red in color, gradually turning orange at the belly. The spiny dorsal fin acquires a pattern of alternating blue and red horizontal stripes. Juveniles resemble female adults (Smith 1985; Page and Burr 1991).

Characters Most Useful for Identification

The bright blue and red color pattern on males during breeding season is useful in distinguishing Iowa darters from other darters (Page and Burr 1991).

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification

Adults, especially breeding males exhibit the characters useful in identifying Iowa darters.


Iowa darters do not typically school except during breeding season. They become mature at one years old. Males establish territories. Females can mate with several males and deposit eggs on roots, sand or gravel (Copes 1976).


Iowa darters feed mainly on tiny crustaceans when they are young and feed on amphipods, midge larvae, and other insect larvae and aquatic organisms as they get older (Copes 1976; Smith 1985).

Best Time to See

Iowa darters are present year-round, with spawning occurring in the spring and lasting through summer (Smith 1985).

  • Active
  • Reproducing

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

Similar Species

  • Swamp Darter (Etheostoma fusiforme) (guide)
    Swamp and Iowa darters are very similar except that during the breeding season, male swamp darters do not become brightly colored and develop tubercles on their pelvic and anal fins. In New York, Iowa darters are found mainly in the Lake Ontario and St Lawrence watersheds whereas swamp darters are confined to eastern Long Island.

Iowa Darter Images


Iowa Darter
Etheostoma exile (Girard, 1859)

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

Additional Resources


Becker, G. C. 1983. Fishes of Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison. 1,052 pp.

Bureau of Fisheries, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, July 3, 2008. Statewide database release # 35. Albany, New York.

Carlson, Douglas M. 2005. 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. 75pp.

Cohen, M. K. 2006. Species group report for Iowa darter. Pages 46-49 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.

Copes, F. A. 1976. The Iowa darter, Etheostoma exile. American Currents. November/December issue. Available: (accessed 29 October 2008).

George, C.J. 1980. The fishes of the Adirondack Park. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Albany, NY 94 pp.

Herkert, J. R., editor. 1992. Endangered and threatened species of Illinois: status and distribution. Vol. 2: Animals. Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board. iv + 142 pp.

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.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2008. Biotics Database. Albany, NY.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2023. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

Page, L. M. 1983a. Handbook of Darters. T. F. H. Publications, Inc., Neptune City, New Jersey. 271 pp.

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.

Robins, C.R., R.M. Bailey, C.E. Bond, J.R. Brooker, E.A. Lachner, R.N. Lea, and W.B. Scott. 1991. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States and Canada. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 20. 183 pp.

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

Werner, R.G. 1980. Freshwater fishes of New York State. N.Y.: Syracuse University Press. 186 pp.


About This Guide

Information for this guide was last updated on: March 4, 2009

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2023. Online Conservation Guide for Etheostoma exile. Available from: Accessed March 23, 2023.

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