Longhead Darter

Percina macrocephala (Cope, 1867)

Percina macrocephala (Longhead Darter)
NY Watershed Biosurvey (image provided by NYS DEC)

Actinopterygii (Ray-finned Fishes)
Percidae (perches and darters)
State Protection
Listed as Threatened by New York State: likely to become Endangered in the foreseeable future. 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
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
Vulnerable globally - At moderate risk of extinction due to rarity or other factors; typically 80 or fewer populations or locations in the world, few individuals, restricted range, few remaining acres (or miles of stream), and/or recent and widespread declines.


Did you know?

There are morphological differences in some disjunct Longhead Darter populations (NatureServe 2020). Page and Near (2007) determined that one of these populations in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia is a distinct species now known as Percina williamsi.

State Ranking Justification

Longhead Darter occur in a single watershed (Allegheny) in New York State. Within the watershed, known locations are limited to six waterbodies. The distribution in the Allegheny watershed has increased in the last 20 years (Carlson et al 2016), but the range is still limited in New York. This species is currently listed as threatened in the state. However, in 2019, NYS Department of Enviromental Conservation proposed delisting this species (NYS DEC 2019).

Short-term Trends

In the last 20 years, the Longhead Darter distribution in New York has increased (Carlson et al. 2016). The population seems secure and is somewhat common at known locations (Carlson et al. 2016). It is possible that traditional survey methods were not as effective at capturing Longhead Darters or the populations fluctuate (NatureServe 2020).

Long-term Trends

This species was captured at eight sites in New York from the Allegheny River and French Creek (Carlson et al. 2016). Extensive survey efforts in the1960s resulted in fish found at only one location. Since then, the distribution has increased to include additional tributaries of the Allegheny River.

Conservation and Management


Declines in populations in other areas have been attributed to pollution, siltation, and collection by hobbyists (Carlson 1998). This species does not tolerate siltation. Pollution which leads to major fish kills is also a threat. Pollution could also impact their main food source: crayfish and aquatic insect larvae. In addition, any alterations to the waterflow and temperature could reduce suitable spawning habitat.

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

Measures are needed to reduce runoff into areas used by the fish. When construction is needed near water systems, steps 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. Any alteration to the flow of water may affect upstream movement to spawning areas. Consider removing any barriers to allow free movement.

Research Needs

Studies are needed to determine spawning dates, larval habitat needs, and movement patterns in New York.

Regional Conservation Needs

More research is needed to determine the abundance of this species in New York, as well as rates of site occupancy and local colonizaton/extinction.



Longhead Darters are found in moderate to large streams with clear water where they occur in flowing pools especially near riffles (Carlson et al 2016, Lee et al. 1980). The substrate tends to be gravel and cobble (Smith 1985). Smith (1985) reports this species as a "midwater" species.

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

This species is restricted to midsize to large streams and rivers in the Allegheny River drainage. As of 2019, there have been reports from the Allegheny River, French Creek, Great Valley Creek, Dodge Creek, Oswayo Creek, and Olean Creek.

Global Distribution

Longhead Darters are sporadically distributed in the Ohio River Basin from southwestern New York (Smith 1985), western Pennsylvania (Cooper 1983), and eastern Ohio (Trautman 1981) southward through Kentucky (Burr and Warren 1986), West Virginia (Stauffer et al. 1995), and Tennessee (Etnier and Starnes 1983, Page and Near 2007). The species is thought to be extirpated from Ohio (NatureServe 2020). Populations in North Carolina (extirpated; Menhinick 1991), western Virginia (Jenkins and Burkhead 1994), and in the upper Tennessee River drainage in eastern Tennessee were formerly included in P. macrocephala are now regarded as a distinct species, P. williamsi (Page and Near 2007).

Best Places to See

  • Allegheny River (Cattaraugus County)

Identification Comments

General Description

The Longhead Darter ranges in length from 4 to 5.5 inches. The head is elongated compared to other darters and the snout is cone shaped. There is a groove that separates the tip of the upper lip from the snout (NYS DEC 2020). A tear-shaped spot is found below each eye that extends to the corner of the cheek.

Identifying Characteristics

Longhead Darters have an elongated body that is slightly compressed. As adults, they reach 4-5.5 inches in length. The head is long and has one to three dark spots on each side. The mouth is terminal and the upper jaw reaches below the front eye. The upper lip is dark. The cheeks are scaled. Gill membranes are united anteriorly. There is a tear-shaped black spot under the eye. The midlateral stripe is dark and widens and narrows alternately. The body is sandy-colored above the midlateral stripe that turns to an olive-yellow on the back. The dorsal fins are seperate and are clear in color with a row of dark spots. The body is marbled with dark-colored spots below the midlateral stripe. The belly is white. The pectoral fin is rounded/paddle-shaped and has six rows of dark spots. The caudal margin is straight. The caudal fin has four rows of spots. Breeding adults do not have bright breeding colors. In juveniles, the midlateral stripe is more divided into well-defined blotches.

Characters Most Useful for Identification

Longhead Darters have an elongated head and cone-shaped snout compared to other darters.

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification

Adults are the easiest life stage to identify.


Compared to twelve other species of benthic stream fishes studied by Greenberg (1991), the Longhead Darter was most likely to spend time in the water column.


This species' main diet includes crayfish and insect larvae and nymphs.

Best Time to See

The specific spawning dates are unknown in New York, but they spawn from March to May in Kentucky (Lee et al. 1980, Smith 1985). They probably spawn in the late spring in New York (Smith 1985).

  • Active
  • Reproducing

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

Similar Species

  • Logperch (Percina caprodes)
    The Logperch (Pecina caprodes) is the only species of Pecina in New York that attains a greater standard length (e.g. length of the fish excluding the caudal fin) than the Longhead Darter.
  • Blackside Darter (Percina maculata)
    According to Page (1978), the Longhead Darter is highly distinctive compared to all other darters of the genus Percina. Of New York darters, it is most closely related to the Blackside Darter (Percina maculata). However, the the Longhead Darter attains a greater maximum size (> 80 mm SL) and has a longer snout (mean snout length/head length = 0.27 mm vs 0.20-0.25). In addition, P. maculata lacks a "longitudinal black stripe along midside with light stripe above it", nor a "dusky bar connected to and extending below the round, black basicaudaul spot" (Page 1974).

Longhead Darter Images


Longhead Darter
Percina macrocephala (Cope, 1867)

  • 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.

Burr, B. M., and M. L. Warren, Jr. 1986. Distributional atlas of Kentucky fishes. Kentucky Nature Preserves Commission, Scientific and Technical Series No. 4, Frankfort, Kentucky. 398 pp.

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.

Cooper, E. L. 1983. Fishes of Pennsylvania and the northeastern United States. Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park. 243 pp.

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.

Etnier, D. A., and W. C. Starnes. 1993. The fishes of Tennessee. University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, Tennessee. xiv + 681 pp.

Greenberg, L. A. 1991. Habitat use and feeding behavior of thirteen species of benthic stream fishes. Environmental Biology of Fishes 31:389-401.

Jenkins, R. E., and N. M. Burkhead. 1994. Freshwater fishes of Virginia. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, Maryland. xxiii + 1079 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.

Menhinick, E. F. 1991. The freshwater fishes of North Carolina. North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. Raleigh, NC. 227 pp.

NatureServe. 2020. NatureServe Explorer [web application]. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available https://explorer.natureserve.org/. (Accessed: June 25, 2020)

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

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC). 2019. Current and proposed status of all species on proposed list.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC). 2019. Longhead Darter Fact Sheet. Available https://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/26033.html. (Accessed on June 25, 2020).

Page, L. M. 1978. Redescription, distribution, variation and life history notes on Percina macrocephala (Percidae). Copeia 1978:655-664.

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.

Page, L. M., and T. J. Near. 2007. A new darter from the upper Tennessee River drainage related to Percina macrocephala (Percidae: Etheostomatinae). Copeia 2007:605-613.

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.

Starnes, W. C. 1995. Taxonomic validation for fish species on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Category 2 species list. 28 pp.

Stauffer, J. R., Jr., J. M. Boltz, and L. R. White. 1995. The fishes of West Virginia. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 146:1-389.

Trautman, M. B. 1981. The fishes of Ohio. Second edition. Ohio State University Press, Columbus, Ohio. 782 pp.

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


About This Guide

This guide was authored by: Shaw, Hollie Y and Vanek, John P.

Information for this guide was last updated on: October 30, 2023

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2023. Online Conservation Guide for Percina macrocephala. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/longhead-darter/. Accessed December 5, 2023.

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