Rainbow Darter (Etheostoma caeruleum)

Life History & Michigan History

Distribution: A member of the perch family (Percidae), the rainbow darter is common across much of the eastern United States. With at least 153 species, the family Percidae is the second most diverse family of fishes in North America. The genus Etheostoma contains approximately 90 species of darters, all of which are native to North America.

Description: The rainbow darter is a small fish growing to three inches in length. It is light brown on top with 6-10 dark, vertical bars on the side (blue between red on the male; dark brown between yellow-white on the female). The underside is yellow, green, or red. The dorsal, caudal, and anal fins are red with blue margins (faint in females). Some males may feature tiny red spots on the side. During breeding season, the male rainbow darter is among the most colorful of all darters.

Habitat: The rainbow darter can be found in fast moving gravel and riffles of creeks and small- to medium-sized rivers.

Behavior: The rainbow darter feeds on aquatic insects and other small invertebrates such as snails and small crayfish.

Conservation: Darters are a food source for many larger freshwater fish. Preserving these fish as well as other species is important in maintaining healthy freshwater ecosystems.

You can help protect the rainbow darter by:

  • Not dumping unused bait in lakes and streams
  • Learning more about non-native aquatic species and how to keep them out of our lakes and streams
  • Removing all debris, plants, and animals from your vehicle, boat, and trailer immediately after taking your boat out of the water
  • Reporting any poaching, illegal dumping, or illegal take to the DNR Report All Poaching Hotline at: 800-292-7800
  • Purchasing a wildlife habitat license plate or by donating to the Nongame Fish & Wildlife Trust Fund

Non-DNR Links

Etheostoma caeruleum (NatureServe)

Rainbow Darter (University of Minnesota)

Etheostoma caeruleum (Univ. of Michigan, Animal Diversity Web)