Orangethroat Darter

Etheostoma spectabile


Illustration of an orangethroat darter
Orangethroat darter, Etheostoma spectabile.
Joseph R. Tomelleri. Used with permission.

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


Orangethroat darters are one of the most common darters in the Ozarks. The orangethroat darter is a moderately stout darter with 6–10 indistinct dark brown crossbars on the back. The overall color is mottled yellow-brown on the back; the sides are lighter brown, often with several vertical blue bars or brown horizontal streaks. This darter is variable, with different subspecies occurring in the state. Breeding males are brilliant, with alternating blue-green bars and brick-red blotches; the gill membranes are bright orange; the remainder of the undersurface of the head is blue-green; the belly sometimes has a patch of red; the fins are banded and spotted by blue-green and red.


Total length: 1¼ to 2 inches; maximum about 2½ inches


Image of an orangethroat darter
Orangethroat Darter


Orangethroat Darter
Orangethroat Darter

Orangethroat Darter

Orangethroat Darter
Orangethroat Darter
Orangethroat Darter at Ozark Trail north of Owls Bend
Habitat and conservation

Occurs in slow-moving riffles in streams with gravel and rock bottoms and clear to moderately clear water. They are most active in daytime. The swim bladder in darters is lacking or much reduced. This allows them to sink and hold closely to the bottom of the stream without much effort.


Midge larvae, aquatic sowbugs, and other aquatic insects and small crustaceans. They use a roving search pattern, making frequent short moves and turns across the stream bottom, using head and eye movements to locate prey.

image of Orangethroat Darter distribution mqp
Distribution in Missouri

Occurs throughout Ozarks and in tributaries of the lower Missouri and upper Mississippi rivers.


This is one of the most frequently encountered darters over much of the Ozarks and in prairie tributaries of the lower Missouri and upper Mississippi rivers. Westward in the prairie sections, it is restricted to a few direct tributaries of the Missouri River. In the Bootheel lowlands, it occurs only in small creeks draining Crowley's Ridge.

Life cycle

The lifespan is usually 4 to 5 years. Shortly after hatching, orangethroat darter fry sometimes inhabit the nests of smallmouth bass. Many bass nests literally swarm with darters. It is believed that they benefit from the protection of the male bass guarding its nest; the full-grown bass will not feed on such "small fry." There may also be more of the preferred prey for the orangethroat fry in these locations, too.

Human connections

Beautiful fish are to aquarium hobbiests as flowers are to gardeners. Nongame fishes may be collected for aquarium purposes by the holder of a fishing permit, using techniques and numbers specified for bait collecting in the Wildlife Code of Missouri. Be advised, however, that darters require live foods; some may be conditioned to eat frozen brine shrimp.

Ecosystem connections

Darters are small predators in the aquatic world, transforming the nutrients of insects and other small arthropods into a form (their own bodies) that is conveniently large enough for larger predators, including bigger fishes, birds, mammals, and reptiles.