While the tropics are famous for their brightly colored fish, the Midwest is home to some flashy fish as well. There are around 30 species of darters in the central United States. Darters are small members of the perch family. They normally grow three or four inches but some can reach six inches.
Mature males will brighten with eye-popping color during breeding season to attract females. The darter palette includes blue, scarlet, orange and green. They are among the most beautifully colored of Missouri's freshwater fishes.
The darter's spawning habits vary among the different species. Some have hatcheries in cavities beneath rocks. Others lay eggs on submerged vegetation or bury their eggs in the riverbottom gravel.
Some darters have no swim bladders to provide buoyancy. They're adapted to inhabiting the rocky bottoms of clear, swift-moving sections of permanent streams. Although most darters live in stream bottoms as a group, they exploit a wide range of habitats, from headwater springs to swampy bayous and lowland lakes.
Darters move about in short, quick dashes and live up to their names "darter" and "perch" as they dart about from one perch site to another. You can see an up-close underwater view of the iconic Niangua darter in the video below and travel streamside with MDC Scientist Doug Novinger in an audio bonus feature to hear about this special fish that is only found in Missouri.