Watercress Darter

The watercress darter is a freshwater species inhabiting the slow-moving water areas of springs, which are called watercress zones.

Biologist Mike Howell from Stanford University first discovered this species in 1964 at Glenn Spring, Bessemer, Alabama.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the watercress darter as an endangered species.

It’s protected by the State of Alabama (220-2.92).

You can’t take this species or capture and keep it unless you have a scientific collection or written permit from the State.


Given below is the scientific classification of watercress darters:

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Actinopterygii

Order: Perciformes

Family: Percidae

Genus: Etheostoma

Species Scientific Name: Etheostoma nuchale

Watercress Darter Habitat

Watercress darters like to live in spring areas where there is dense vegetation, which they use to catch their prey, stay away from predators, and breed.

Initially, this fish was believed to live only in the following three locations of Alabama:

  1. Glenn Spring in Bessemer, Alabama,
  2. Thomas Spring at Watercress Darter National Wildlife Refuge in Bessemer, Alabama, and
  3. Roebuck Spring in Birmingham, Alabama.

However, this fish was later found at Seven Springs in Birmingham, Alabama.

Additionally, watercress darters from Roebuck Spring were introduced into Tapawingo Spring (Penny Spring) at Jefferson County, Pinson, Alabama.

This was done in an effort to preserve this fish species in 1988.

So watercress darters are now found only in these 5 springs.

Watercress Darter Appearance

Male watercress darters are blue in color on top and reddish-orange at the bottom.

Their dorsal fins also have bands of the same colors and random spots.

Female watercress darters have soft caudal, anal, and dorsal fins.

The maximum size that this fish grows to is 2 inches (5 cm).

Watercress darters don’t have a swim bladder. This makes it possible for them to stay at the bottom of the water body.

Here’s an illustration of what a watercress darter looks like…

Watercress Darter

Check out what this fish looks like in real life over here.

Watercress Darter Lifespan

Since little is known about watercress darters due to them being endangered, it’s difficult to say exactly how long they live.

However, they are believed to live for not more than two to three years.

Watercress Darter Feeding Habits

Watercress darters prefer to eat crustaceans, snails, and aquatic insects found in slow-moving waters.

Watercress Darter Temperament

Not much is known about the behavior and temperament of watercress darters.

Watercress Darter Breeding

Male watercress darters try to court all the females.

The uninterested female watercress darters just move away from the males.

When a female watercress darter shows interest, the male keeps his head on her neck or back, touches the sides, or shows off his fins.

There is competition between males to woo the female watercress darters.

Usually, the bigger male manages to attract the female.

The spawning season lasts from March to July. Their eggs get deposited in the underwater vegetation.

Interesting Facts About Watercress Darters

In September 2008, the City of Birmingham removed a dam located at the base of the Roebuck spring pool.

This was done to control the excessive water levels in the tennis courts at Hawkins Municipal Park.

However, due to the dam’s removal, the water level of the Roebuck spring basin dropped by around 1 meter.

This resulted in the draining of around 57% of the watercress darter’s aquatic habitat.

This also resulted in the demise of around 11760 watercress darters (Duncan et al. 2008, Moss 2008).

Efforts began immediately to reduce the extent of the damage.

Roebuck Spring pool now seems stable, but concerns still remain about its protection from stormwater and other events.

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