Tessellated Darter (Etheostoma olmstedi) - Native

6 cm tessellated darter.

A 2.4-inch adult tessellated darter.

Identification. Small, slender fish. Small mouth (reaching only to front of eye). Longer snout than swamp darter. Lateral line complete and relatively straight. Soft dorsal rays 12-14. 9-11 dark blotches that often look like Xs or Ws. Dark vertical bar under and passing through eye. Tail slightly rounded. Single anal spine. Typically dark brown above, fading on sides, and cream-color on belly. Rows of many small dark spots on pectoral, dorsal and tail fins. Spawning males become very dark overall.

Tessellated darter in spawning colors.

Spawning male tessellated darters become very dark.

Size. Commonly 1 to 3 inches. State survey max. size 4.7 inches. Max. reported size elsewhere 4.3 inches.

Distribution. Areas of the Eastern coastal states and southern Canada from the St. Lawrence River to Georgia. They are found in most Connecticut streams, where they are typically common to uncommon in abundance.

Tessellated darter distribution map.

All maps created in 2009. See CT DEEP Fish Community Data for updated distributions.

Habits. Bottom-dwelling fish that prefer slower-moving areas of streams and rivers with sand to cobble substrate. Also occur in shallow shoal areas of some lakes. Sometimes bury themselves in the sand with only eyes and tail tips exposed. Can be easily captured with small-mesh dip net or seine.

Tessellated darter in an aquarium.

Tessellated darters typically lie on the bottom, using their camouflage to blend in with the substrate.

Comments. The tessellated darter is very similar to and was once considered to be the same species as the johnny darter (Etheostoma nigrum), which has a more Midwestern distribution.


Text and images adapted from Jacobs, R. P., O'Donnell, E. B., and Connecticut DEEP. (2009). A Pictorial Guide to Freshwater Fishes of Connecticut. Hartford, CT. Available for purchase at the DEEP Store.