Etowah Darter

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Etowah Darter

Etheostoma etowahae

ListedDecember 20, 1994
DescriptionA small brown or grayish-olive percid fish.
HabitatCreeks or small rivers with moderate to high gradient and rocky bottoms.
FoodSmall aquatic invertebrates.
ReproductionLays eggs.
ThreatsHabitat loss by impoundments, and degradation by siltation and chemical pollution.


The Etheostoma etowahae (Etowah darter) is a small-sized percid fish that is moderately compressed laterally, and has a moderately pointed snout with a terminal, obliquely angled mouth. The body ground shade is brown or grayish-olive. The side is usually pigmented with 13-14 small dark blotches just below the lateral line. The breast in nuptial males is dark greenish-blue. The Etowah darter has proven distinct from the greenbreast darter, E. jordani, a species with which it has previously been confused, by the absence of red marks on the sides and anal fins of male specimens.


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


The Etowah darter inhabits warm and cool, medium and large creeks or small rivers that are moderate or high gradient with rocky bottoms. It is found in relatively shallow riffles, with large gravel, cobble, and small boulder substrates. The Etowah darter is typically associated with the swiftest portions of shallow riffles, but occasionally adults are taken at the tails of riffles. The sites having the greatest abundance of Etowah darters had clear water and relatively little silt in the riffles. The Etowah darter, like other members of the subgenus Nothonotus, shuns pool habitats and is intolerant of impoundment. The Etowah River system alone harbors at least 11 species of darters. Each species inhabits discrete portions of the drainage and specific habitats within its streams. The habitat requirements of the Cherokee darter differ significantly from those of the amber darter. However, the habitat requirements of the amber darter are similar, but not identical, to that of the Etowah darter.


The Etowah darter is endemic to the upper Etowah River system in north Georgia, where it is restricted to the upper Etowah River main stem and two tributaries, Long Swamp and Amicalola Creeks. These streams drain both the Blue Ridge and Piedmont physiographic provinces. This distribution suggests habitat specialization; all streams inhabited by this species are geographically adjacent in the most upland portion of the river system. For a fish of moderate to large creeks or small rivers, the Etowah darter has one of the most restricted distributions in the southeast.


The Etowah darter is only known from the upper Etowah River and two tributary systems. This rare fish has suffered habitat destruction caused by the construction of impoundments and ponds, 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 Etowah darter and its habitat.

Conservation and Recovery

The critical habitat supporting the surviving populations of the Etowah 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, residential development, and the dumping of chemicals, sewage, or other pollutants must be strictly managed to prevent risks to the rare 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 December 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).