Longnose Darter

Percina nasuta

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Longnose darter side view photo with black background
Longnose darter, Percina nasuta, St. Francis River
Lance Merry
Endangered
Species of Conservation Concern
Family

Percidae (perches) in the order Perciformes (perchlike fish)

Description

The longnose darter is a slender darter with a series of 10 to 15 small, indistinct, dark blotches or bars along the midside. The head very long and slender. One or more enlarged and modified scales lie between the pelvic fin bases; the breast is naked except for a few enlarged and modified scales.

Back and upper sides are yellowish brown, mottled and spotted with darker brown; the lower sides and belly are creamy white. The midside has a series of small, dusky blotches, ending at the base of the tail fin in a small black spot. The spinous dorsal is dusky with an outer orange band; the soft dorsal and tail fin are faintly banded with brownish lines. Breeding males have considerable black pigment on body and fins.

Similar species: The slenderhead darter is similar, but the longnose has a longer snout (the eye closer to the rear edge of the preopercle than to the tip of the snout); and with 7 (not the usual 6) branchiostegal rays (slender, curving bones in the membrane at the lower margin of the gill cover).

Size

Adult length: about 2-4 inches.

Habitat and conservation

During most of the year, the longnose darter lives in pools and backwaters having little current and firm substrate, sometimes with thick growths of aquatic vegetation. In spring it moves to raceways and riffles having moderate or strong current and depths of 1-3 feet. Individuals — probably strays — are sometimes found in reservoirs. In large part, it is the creation of those reservoirs that has reduced their habitat in our state.

Foods

Like most other darters, this species forages on aquatic insects.

image of Longnose Darter distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Known only from historical collections on the White River (Stone and Taney counties) and, more recently, from the St. Francis River and Lake Wappapello (Madison and Wayne counties). Other populations occur in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Status

State Endangered; a Species of Conservation Concern in Missouri. It has an extremely limited distribution in medium to large Ozark rivers, and it is extremely rare. The White River location where they had historically been collected is now covered by Table Rock Lake, so those fish are likely gone. Thus the St. Francis River and Wappapello populations are probably all that remain within our borders. For them to survive, their streams must be protected against sedimentation and pollution.

Life cycle

In spring, longnose darters leave their quiet backwaters and move to places with stronger current to breed. Not much is known of their spawning behavior, but apparently egg-laying occurs in pools within those raceways.

Human connections

The next time you are enjoying the waters of Table Rock Lake, remember the longnose darter, which used to inhabit the White River when it still flowed through that area. This is why it’s important to protect this Endangered darter’s few remaining streams from sedimentation and pollution.

Missourians can be proud of our state for many reasons. One bragging point we have over most of the neighboring states is the richness of our fish community, including rare types like this darter. There are more than 200 kinds of fish in our state. Kansas, for example, only has about 140.

Ecosystem connections

Darters are adapted for life in the swift-flowing sections of clear, rocky streams. Their swim bladders are reduced or absent, so they don’t float away, and their enlarged pectoral fins help them cling to rocks. With their unique place in the stream, they have a special ecological role, too.

This species requires both quiet backwaters and places with stronger current, and a way to move between the two types of environments; and the water must be clear and the bottoms firm and free of silty sediment.