Pinewoods darter (Etheostoma mariae)

GenusEtheostoma (1)
SizeLength: 4.8 - 7.6 cm (2)

The Pinewoods darter is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The Pinewoods darter is a beautiful, small fish with a light brown upper body and a light yellow to brown underside, speckled with numerous black spots. A dark, broad strip runs along the side of the body, contrasting with a light yellow lateral line, and the first of the two dorsal fins has a bright red edge (2). The scientific name of the Pinewoods darter, Etheostoma mariae, has a number of interesting meanings and associations; Etheostoma literally translates as ‘strain mouth’ in Greek, but is thought to actually mean ‘various mouth’ as individuals of the first species from this genus to be described had mouths of various shapes. The species name mariae comes from the wife of Mr Emlen P. Darlington, whose generous sponsorship resulted in the discovery of this species by Henry W. Fowler (2) (3).

The Pinewoods darter is endemic to the United States where it occurs in the Little Pee Dee and Lumber River systems in North Carolina (4). There are also records of this species in South Carolina, although after fruitless searches in recent years, it is now presumed to be extirpated from the state (4).

The Pinewoods darter inhabits small to medium-sized freshwater streams, usually where there is pronounced water current over a gravel bottom and submerged vegetation (1) (2). Young Pinewoods darters are typically found amongst vegetation in areas of slow current (2).

The Pinewoods darter spawns between April and July in water with a temperature of 14 to 21 degrees Celsius (5). It is though to be a batch spawner (2), meaning that it releases eggs into the water more than once throughout a spawning season. The resulting young grow rapidly, reaching maturity at the end of first year, and are thought to reach a maximum age of three years (2).

This species feeds primarily on the larvae of true flies (those in the order Diptera), but it will also regularly consume the larvae of mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies (2). Darters are named for their habit of swimming short distances in rapid bursts along the stream bottom (6). 

Darters have rather specific habitat requirements and consequently many have very limited distributions, resulting in many coming to the brink of extinction (7).

Freshwater fish and their habitats have come under increasing pressure in the United States; as human populations increase, so does pollution, water diversion, sedimentation, and introduced species, which all negatively affect fish populations. Habitat loss has already caused the local extirpation of the spotted darter (Etheostoma maculatum) (8), highlighting the threats that the Pinewoods darter may face.

The Pinewoods darter is considered to be Endangered in South Carolina and of Special Concern in North Carolina although, as of yet, there has been no direct conservation action taken for this species. Due to it being a relatively little-known species, it has been recommended that the distribution, population status, life history and habitat requirements of the Pinewoods darter should be researched further, particularly to clarify its existence in South Carolina, and any critical areas identified should be subsequently protected (9). 

To learn more about this species see:

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  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2013)
  2. Rohde, F.C., Arndt, R.G., Foltz, J.W. and Quattro, J.M. (2008) Freshwater Fishes of South Carolina. University of South Carolina Press Columbia, South Carolina.
  3. Marcy Jr, B.C., Fletcher, D.E., Martin, F.D., Paller, M.H. and Reichart, M.J.M. (2005) Fishes of the Middle Savannah River Basin. University of Georgia Press, Athens, Georgia.
  4. Rohde, F.C. and Arndt, R.G. (1991) Distribution and status of the sandhills chub, Semotilus lumbee, and the pinewoods darter, Etheostoma mariae. Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society, 107: 61–70.
  5. Rohde, F.C. and Ross, S.W. (1987) Life history of the pinewoods darter, Etheostoma mariae (Osteichthyes: Percidae), a fish endemic to the Carolina sandhills. Brimleyana, 13: 1–20.
  6. Wimm, H.E. (1958) Comparative reproductive behavior and ecology of 14 species of darters. Ecological Monographs, 28: 155-191.
  7. Warren, M.L. Jr., Burr, B.M., Walsh, S.J., Bart, H.L. Jr., Cashner, R.C., Etnier, D.A., Freeman, B.J., Kuhajda, B.R., Mayden, R.L., Robison, H.W., Ross, S.T. and Starnes, W.C. (2000) Diversity, distribution, and conservation status of the native freshwater fishes of the Southern United States. Fisheries, 25(10): 7-29.
  8. Simon, T.P. (2006) Biodiversity of fishes in the Wabash River: status, indicators, and threats. Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Sciences, 115(2): 136-148.
  9. Allen, D., Thomason, C. and Bettinger, J. (2006) High Conservation Priority – Coastal Plain Species. Department of Natural Resources, South Carolina. Available at: