Swamp Darter

Etheostoma fusiforme (Girard, 1854)

Etheostoma fusiforme, swamp darter

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
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
Secure globally - Common in the world; widespread and abundant (but may be rare in some parts of its range).


Did you know?

The swamp darter occurs further south than any other darter in the United States (Schmidt 1983).

State Ranking Justification

The restricted range of the swamp darter in New York make this species susceptible to extirpation (Carlson 1998, 2005).

Short-term Trends

The population is currently stable but is prone to fluctuations due to seasonal changes in water levels (Carlson 1998, 2005).

Long-term Trends

Historically found in 16 waters on Long Island including Lake Ronkonkoma, the Carmans River, and Merrit Pond, where the swamp darter has not been observed since the 1970s (Carlson 2005).

Conservation and Management


Swamp darters are not particularly environmentally sensitive and have wide water quality tolerances. However, their restricted range and fluctuations of water levels make this species vulnerable to extirpation (Carlson 1998, 2005).

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

Monitor and maintain water levels throughout the Peconic River system. Restore ponds that experienced severe water withdrawals in order to reestablish populations of swamp darters where this species once occurred (Keeler 2006).

Research Needs

Continue to monitor current populations and identify and survey other potential locations where swamp darters could be found. Further define habitat requirements for restoration and habitat protection (Keeler 2006). Resurvey historical locations to determine if swamp darters are still present or absent.



Swamp darters inhabit murky, sluggish waterbodies including ponds, lakes, and backwaters of streams and rivers. The waterbodies usually have mud and debris on the bottom and abundant aquatic vegetation. Swamp darters are typically found hiding among the vegetation. They can tolerate a wide range of water temperatures as well as low pH and low levels of oxygen (Lee et al. 1980; Schmidt 1983; Smith 1985; Carlson 1998).

Associated Ecological Communities

  • Coastal plain pond (guide)
    The aquatic community of the permanently flooded portion of a coastal plain pond with seasonally, and annually fluctuating water levels. These are shallow, groundwater-fed ponds that occur in kettle-holes or shallow depressions in the outwash plains south of the terminal moraines of Long Island, and New England. A series of coastal plain ponds are often hydrologically connected, either by groundwater, or sometimes by surface flow in a small coastal plain stream.
  • Coastal plain stream
    The aquatic community of slow-moving, often darkly-stained streams of the coastal plain of Long Island.
  • 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.

Associated Species

  • Banded Sunfish (Enneacanthus obesus) (guide)


New York State Distribution

In New York, the swamp darter is restricted to a few ponds on eastern Long Island in the Peconic River system (Smith 1985; Carlson 1998, 2005).

Global Distribution

The swamp darter can be found in the lowlands of southeastern Maine south along Atlantic Slope to southern Florida, west along Gulf Slope to Louisiana and the Oklahoma/ Texas/Arkansas border, and north to western Tennessee and southwestern Kentucky (Lee et al. 1980; Smith 1985; Page and Burr 1991).

Best Places to See

  • The ponds in Otis Pike Preserve and Robert Cushman Murphy County Park (Suffolk County)

Identification Comments

Identifying Characteristics

The swamp darter is a small fish rarely reaching over five centimeters in length. Its body is slender and light brown-olive in color, with the ventral side being lighter in color. There is a series of short bars on the side of the body that are positioned vertically on the anterior section, square in the middle section, and horizontally on the posterior section of the fish. The base of the tail fin has three spots in a vertical row. The lateral line arches high near the anterior part of the body and ends below the spiny dorsal fin. The fins are clear and lightly speckled. The pelvic fin is pointed, the pectoral fins are paddle-shaped, and the tail is square-shaped. The head is blunt and the eyes are set high on the head with a vertical bar underneath. A dark band runs around the snout. During the breeding season, the males develop tubercles on the pelvic and anal fin rays and a dark blotch between the first four spines of the anterior dorsal fin (Schmidt 1983; Smith 1985).

Characters Most Useful for Identification

The high arch of the lateral line ending below the spiny dorsal fin and tubercles on the pectoral and anal fins of breeding males are characteristics that can be used to distinguish this species from other darters (Smith 1985).

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification

Adults, especially males during spawning season, are the best life stage for identification.


Swamp darters rarely live through their second summer. They mature after their first summer. Spawning generally begins in April. Males swim up to the females and beat their pelvic fins. If the female is ready to spawn, they move up to the surface of the water into aquatic vegetation and swim side by side. The female vibrates her body while depositing eggs singularly into the vegetation while the male fertilizes them (Smith 1985). The eggs hatch in about 10 days and the fry are pelagic throughout the water column for about a month, after which they then settle down to life along the bottom (Schmidt 1983).


The swamp darter feeds on midge larvae, Daphnia, and other small copepods, amphipods, and aquatic insects (Schmidt 1983; Smith 1985; Carlson 1998).

Best Time to See

Swamp darters can be observed year-round in the coastal plain ponds found along the Peconic River on eastern Long Island. Spawning typically begins in April and lasts until late May (Smith 1985).

  • Active
  • Reproducing

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

Similar Species

  • Iowa Darter (Etheostoma exile) (guide)
    Iowa and swamp darters are very similar except that during the breeding season, male Iowa darters become brightly colored and do not develop breeding tubercles. In New York, Iowa darters are found in the Lake Ontario watershed whereas swamp darters are confined to eastern Long Island (Smith 1985).

Swamp Darter Images


Swamp Darter
Etheostoma fusiforme (Girard, 1854)

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

Additional Resources


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. 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.

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

Keeler, S. 2006. Species group report for swamp darter. Pages 105-107 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.

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. 2024. 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.

Schmidt, R. E. 1983. The swamp darter. American Currents. June issue. Available: http://www.nanfa.org/articles/acswampdarter.shtml (accessed 29 October 2008).

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

Whitworth, W. R., P. R. Berrien, and W. T. Keller. 1968. Freshwater fishes of Connecticut. State Geological and Natural History Survey Bulletin No.101. 134 pp.


About This Guide

Information for this guide was last updated on: April 19, 2019

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. Online Conservation Guide for Etheostoma fusiforme. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/swamp-darter/. Accessed July 19, 2024.