There are morphological differences in some disjunct Longhead Darter populations (NatureServe 2020). Page and Near (2007) determined that one of these populations is a distinct species now known as Percina williamsi.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
Studies are needed to determine spawning dates, larval habitat needs, and movement patterns in New York.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Longhead Darters have an elongated head and cone-shaped snout compared to other darters.
Adults are the easiest life stage to identify.
This species' main diet includes crayfish and insect larvae and nymphs.
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).
The time of year you would expect to find Longhead Darter active and reproducing in New York.
Percina macrocephala (Cope, 1867)
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This guide was authored by: Shaw, Hollie Y.
Information for this guide was last updated on: July 16, 2020
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 March 31, 2023.