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Cherokee Darter

Cherokee Darter

Etheostoma scotti

Status Threatened
Listed December 20, 1994
Family Percidae
Description A small, white to pale yellow percid fish.
Habitat Small to medium-sized, warm-water creeks with rocky bottoms.
Food Aquatic invertebrates.
Reproduction Lays eggs.
Threats Habitat loss by impoundments, and degradation by siltation and chemical pollution.
Range Georgia


A small percid fish, the Etheostoma (Ulocentra) scotti (Cherokee darter), is subcylindrical in shape, and has a relatively blunt snout with a subterminal mouth. The body shade is white to pale yellow. The side of adults is pigmented with usually eight small dark olive-black blotches that develop into vertically elongate, slightly oblique bars in breeding adults, especially in males. The back usually has eight small dark saddles and intervening pale areas. The Cherokee darter has proven to be distinct from the Coosa darter, E. coosae, a species with which it was previously confused, by peak nuptial males never having five discrete color bands in the spinous dorsal fin.


The Cherokee darter feeds on or near the stream bottom on small aquatic invertebrates. It feeds in flowing water, and is intolerant of non-flowing conditions.


Cherokee darters inhabit small to medium-size warm-water creeks of moderate gradient, with predominately rocky bottoms. It is usually found in shallow water in sections of reduced current, typically in runs above and below riffles and at the eco-tones of riffles and backwaters. The Cherokee darter is associated with large gravel, cobble, and small boulder substrates, and is uncommonly or rarely found over bedrock, fine gravel, or sand. It is most abundant in stream sections with relatively clear water and clean substrates (little silt deposition). The Cherokee darter is intolerant of heavy to moderate silt deposition. The Cherokee darter, like other members of the subgenus Ulocentra, is intolerant of impoundment.


The Cherokee darter is endemic to the Etowah River system in north Georgia, where it is primarily restricted to streams draining the Piedmont physiographic province, and to a lesser extent, the Blue Ridge physiographic province. The Cherokee darter occurs in about 20 small to moderately large tributary systems of the middle and upper Etowah River system. However, only a few sites contain healthy populations of this species. The largest populations occur in northern tributaries upstream of Allatoona Reservoir. Populations are smaller in tributaries draining the southern portion of the system. The southern tributary systems tend to drain areas exhibiting less relief and are on the average much more degraded. Cherokee darter populations are found primarily above Allatoona Reservoir. Downstream of Allatoona Dam, populations are restricted to two tributary systems. The Cherokee darter exhibits a disjunct and discontinuous distribution pattern indicating fragmentation and isolation of populations. The placement of Allatoona Reservoir in the middle Etowah River system has caused much of the fragmentation of this species' populations. One major tributary system in the upper Etowah system, Amicalola Creek, apparently naturally lacks populations of Cherokee darters, but contains a relatively close relative and also a narrow endemic, the holiday darter, E. brevirostrum. The Cherokee darter is allopatric (i.e., the ranges of the species do not overlap) with the other two Ulocentra species in the watershed, the holiday darter and Coosa darter.


The Cherokee darter is known from about 20 tributary systems of the Etowah River, but only a few sites have healthy populations. This rare fish has suffered habitat destruction caused by the construction of impoundments, and degradation by siltation caused by soil erosion in the watershed, agricultural runoff, discharges of sewage and other wastes, other pollutants, and increased urbanization. These factors continue to affect the Cherokee darter and its habitat. It now occurs in relatively small, fragmented populations.

Conservation and Recovery

The critical habitat supporting the surviving populations of the Cherokee darter must be protected against the construction of impoundments and other degrading influences. The privately owned land in watersheds of streams supporting the largest populations should be acquired and designated as ecological reserves, or conservation easements negotiated with the landowners. Threatening activities in the watersheds, such as road construction, timber harvesting, and the dumping of chemicals, sewage, or other pollutants must be strictly managed to prevent risks to the rare Cherokee darter. Its populations should be monitored, and research undertaken into its biology and habitat needs.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Jacksonville Ecological Services Office
6620 Southpoint Drive South, Suite 310
Jacksonville, Florida, 32216
Telephone: (904) 232-2580
Fax: (904) 232-2404

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
1875 Century Blvd., Suite 200
Atlanta, Georgia 30345


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 20 Dec 1994. "Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Determination of Threatened Status for the Cherokee Darter and Endangered Status for the Etowah Darter." Federal Register (59).

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