Species Profile

River Darter Great Lakes - Upper St. Lawrence populations

Scientific Name: Percina shumardi
Other/Previous Names: River Darter (Great Lakes - Western St. Lawrence populations)
Taxonomy Group: Fishes
Range: Ontario
Last COSEWIC Assessment: April 2016
Last COSEWIC Designation: Endangered
SARA Status: No schedule, No Status

Individuals of this species may be protected under Schedule 1 under another name; for more information see Schedule 1, the A-Z Species List, or if applicable, the Related Species table below.

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Quick Links: | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of River Darter


River Darter (Percina shumardi) is a small, elongated fish that can be distinguished from other darters by scaled cheeks and operculum and a well-marked dark spot on the upper anterior and lower posterior corners of the spiny dorsal fin. The breast is scaleless, and there are 46-62 lateral line scales. The anal fin of males is enlarged reaching almost to the caudal fin. River Darter is a little known species and has no direct economic importance; however, it can be numerous in larger rivers and near the shore of larger lakes in Manitoba and northwestern Ontario and likely plays an important ecological role where abundant. It is ranked as Critically Imperilled in portions of its distribution in the United States. (Updated 2017/06/01)


Distribution and Population

River Darter has one of the largest latitudinal distributions for darters, extending north from the Texas coast on the Gulf of Mexico to Nelson River near Hudson Bay in northern Manitoba. It has a continuous distribution through most of Manitoba into northwestern Ontario in the Saskatchewan-Nelson drainage as well as the Hudson Bay drainage west of James Bay. A single specimen has been collected from the Saskatchewan River in Saskatchewan. The species is also found in Lake St. Clair and its tributaries in Ontario. Therefore the River Darter is assessed as three separate designatable units, aligning with the National Freshwater Biogeographic Zones. (Updated 2017/06/01)



River Darter is mainly found in medium to large rivers or shorelines of larger lakes that typically have moderate currents and deeper water. River Darter is most abundant on gravel and cobble substrates and is tolerant of turbid waters. (Updated 2017/06/01)



Individuals can mature as early as age 1 and can live to age 4. In Canada, spawning occurs in May to early July, predominantly in rivers; however, ripe individuals are collected in lakes suggesting spawning may occur in both lentic and lotic environments. During spawning, eggs are buried in sand or gravel and are unattended. Post-hatch larvae swim almost continuously near the water surface suggesting downstream dispersal may occur in rivers as the surface-water velocities would typically be greater than the larval swimming speed. River Darter feeds primarily during daylight hours and consumes dipterans, trichopterans, ephemeropterans, crustaceans, and gastropods, with dominant prey items varying between sites and seasons. (Updated 2017/06/01)



Knowledge of threats and their impacts on River Darter populations is limited, as there is little information available for threat-specific, cause-and-effect relationships. Limiting factors have not been identified for this species. Physical alteration/modification of habitat from exotic species, shoreline hardening, industrial and agricultural effluents, nutrients, sedimentation, dams, and dredging may possibly impact River Darter in Canada. (Updated 2017/06/01)



Federal Protection

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.



PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

3 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - River Darter, Great Lakes - Upper St. Lawrence populations (2017)

    This is a small-bodied species that inhabits medium to large rivers and shorelines of larger lakes. It has a very restricted distribution, occurs at few locations, and is exposed to high risk of threats from shoreline hardening, exotic species such as Round Goby, dams and water management, dredging, nutrients and effluents from urban waste, spills, and agriculture.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2015-2016 (2016)

    Over the past year COSEWIC re-examined the status of 25 wildlife species; of these, the majority (68%) were re-assessed at the same or lower level of risk. Of a total of 45 species assessed, seven were assigned a status of Not at Risk (two re-assessments and five new assessments). To date, and with the submission of this report, COSEWIC’s assessments now include 724 wildlife species in various risk categories, including 320 Endangered, 172 Threatened, 209 Special Concern, and 23 Extirpated (i.e., no longer found in the wild in Canada). In addition, 15 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct, 54 wildlife species have been designated as Data Deficient, and 177 have been assessed and assigned Not at Risk status.