Most people are completely unaware that darters exist. Darters are those small mystery fishes that one occasionally sees literally darting around the edges of streams. Unless you are unusually perceptive or aggressive you have probably just not noticed them.
All darters are in the perch family, and as a general rule have no swim bladder and thus stay on the bottom feeding and living out their lives. Darters display a surprising range of color and body types and as general rule make a fascinating aquarium pet. They display a degree of sexual dimorphism with the males being the brighter and more aggressive of the sexes. Which makes them all the more interesting!
The main consideration is temperature requirements as many species of darters must have cold water to thrive. The Orangethroat darter, in my experience, is the exception. I have collected them in waters as high as 81 degrees F and have kept them in community tanks with great success.
There is a large genetic gradient range in the Orange throat darter in its size, color and tolerance to domestic life. So keep in mind your success will depend to a large degree on the stock you begin with. Therefore collect from a site similar to the aquarium in water quality and tempature.
The book Fishes of Missouri pg. 320 by Pflieger describes the orange throat darter as follows. “A moderately stout darter (1.2 – 2.5inches) with 6-10 indistinct dark cross bars on the back. Sides often prominently streaked by dark horizontal bars……Its life colors are as follows, back mottled yellowish-brown with in distinctive dark color crossbars. Sides lighter brown, often with narrow blue green vertical bars bestdeveloped towards the tail. Breeding males VERY brilliantly colored sides with a series of blue green bars alternating with brick red bars. Gill membranes bright orange (thus the name orange throat) with remainder of undersurface of head blue green. The fins are variously banded and spotted by bluegreen and red.”
With that generic description I hope you can begin to imagine the beauty this little fish possesses. When you combine his looks with his lack of shyness you can see why I place him first on my list of darters! Often other darters cower and are hidden from the eye. The Orangethroat is out for all to see, fighting for food and territory in a fascinating way. Why more than once I’ve seen a Orangethroat rise to the top and steal a morsel of food from a fish 5 times his size!
Now with the basic definitions out of the way I can share with you how I treat my darters. When wild caught I immediately place them in a tank with a few feeder guppies by observation they quickly take eating frozen food of all varieties. Mine seem to prefer blood worms but will take most anything even flake food. Once I am confident they are eating properly and appear to be thriving. I place them in their permanent homes, one of my large community tanks. Then comes the most fascinating part for me, the waiting to see which darters posses the right mix of temperament and color and tolerance to domestic life to make it to the brood stock category!
When I have identified likely candidates I pull them aside and “winter them over” in an area that holds a temperature of 60 degrees or less over the winter. In my case that is the laundry room of my walkout basement, for others that might be your basement proper or your garage. Then begin to observe because in no time (3-5 weeks) you are going to see boldly colored males establish territories and court females. I put 2 trios in a 20 gallontank with some steady current and keep my eyes open. Sooner or later the male will coax a female into his cave (either rocks or small flower pots) and they will spawn, laying several hundred eggs. These eggs will adhere to whatever they hit. Here’s the catch you must watch carefully your fish or they will eat their eggs! As soon as I realize a spawn has occurred parents and eggs are separated.
In 7-10 days you will notice the fry appearing. They are a very durable fry and generally easy to take care of. They will grow fast if given proper food and care. Mine will often take live brine or infusoria early (6 x aday!) then frozen baby brine (3-4x a day) then finally blood worms (2x aday).
I hope this brief article has created a future interest in our Native fishes. If it has, I welcome your questions or comments! I also recommend these resources:” Petersons Field Guide to North American Freshwater Fishes”by Larry Page, or check into the fish club North American Native Fish Association (NANFA) 2213 Prytania Circle , Navarre Florida 32566. You can also contact through e-mail RobertRice@juno.com Until next time good luck and good fishing!