The swamp darter occurs further south than any other darter in the United States (Schmidt 1983).
The restricted range of the swamp darter in New York make this species susceptible to extirpation (Carlson 1998, 2005).
The population is currently stable but is prone to fluctuations due to seasonal changes in water levels (Carlson 1998, 2005).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
The time of year you would expect to find Swamp Darter active and reproducing in New York.
Etheostoma fusiforme (Girard, 1854)
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. 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.
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.
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 Etheostoma fusiforme. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/swamp-darter/. Accessed May 29, 2023.