shield darter

Shield Darter (Percina peltata)

The shield darter is an Atlantic coast species that ranges from the Hudson River to the Neuse River in North Carolina. In New York, it is found in Rondout Creek, the Delaware, and the Susquehanna systems. It occurs in Cayuta Creek, and Greeley re- corded it from the Chemung drainage.

Clear moderate-sized creeks, with gravel and rubble bottom, and considerable current seem to be the requirements of the shield darter.

The breeding behavior of this species was described in Otego Creek and other localities as well as supplemented with observations made on captive fish. Apparently, there is little or no migration as the year-round habitat provides the necessary spawning sites. Spawning takes place over fine gravel but large rocks must also be present. Spawning was observed in daylight and once at night. The breeding season begins around mid-April and extends through May. Males established territories on the downstream sides of rocks where there was a deposit of fine gravel. Conspecific males were driven away and chased for 2 or 3 feet, sometimes as much as 10 feet. The size of the territories was not determined but the defense seemed to be most intense within 2 feet of the sheltering rock. When intruders approached, the defender would first display, turning his body parallel to the intruder. If there was no retreat, he would strike with his mouth open and his fins erect. Fights seldom lasted more than 15 or 20 seconds, with rest periods of 3 to 5 seconds, until one fish was driven off.

Sexual dimorphism is not pronounced in this species and sex recognition seems to be on the basis of behavior patterns. Frequently, males attempted to spawn with other males, particularly if the second male was lying on the bottom with the dorsal fin depressed. When ready to spawn, a female would enter a male's territory and come to rest on the bottom with her body slightly curved. The male would mount her with his head and isthmus against her nape and his body parallel to, and over, hers. The pair would quiver vigorously for 10 to 15 seconds, ploughing through the gravel so that the eggs were released below the surface.


Distribution of shield darter in NY state.

An image of the shiled darter is also available for download.

The above species description was taken out of "The Inland Fishes of New York State" by C. Lavett Smith, published by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, 1985.

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