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A small, blue and yellow fish floating above rocky substrate
Information icon Tippecanoe darter. Photo © Robert Criswell, used with permission.

Tiny freshwater fish does not warrant federal protection

Latest data confirms Tippecanoe darter is stable, increasing in some areas

After a thorough scientific review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that populations of the Tippecanoe darter, a small freshwater fish, do not warrant federal protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In some places, surveys suggest increasing populations, likely due to improvements in water quality.

One of the smallest darters in the world, the Tippecanoe darter continues to be found across its historical range in larger streams and rivers of the Ohio River watershed in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia. Male Tippecanoe darters can be identified by their gold or orange coloring with blue-black vertical bars and a blue breast, all of which intensify during the summer breeding season.

The Tippecanoe darter was petitioned for federal protection by the Center for Biological Diversity and several other entities in 2010. The Service reviewed the petition and decided to take a more in-depth review of the species. That review, a Species Status Assessment (SSA), was peer and partner reviewed by experts with the U.S. Forest Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Frostburg State University and state wildlife agencies.

After reviewing the biological information in the status assessment and applying the ESA’s policies, the Service determined that listing the Tippecanoe darter is not warranted. With at least 12 of the 15 historical populations persisting, Tippecanoe darter populations are resilient, distributed widely across the species’ range, and in some cases, expanding.

Improved survey techniques have helped more clearly identify this miniature fish, whose tendency to burrow into stream and river bottoms makes it easily overlooked. Surveys in multiple streams, with historical and contemporary samples using the same methodology, have documented recent expansion for the Tippecanoe darter in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The species has been removed from Pennsylvania’s state list of threatened and endangered species and downlisted from endangered to “special concern” in Indiana.

Keeping local streams clean in the Ohio River watershed will support good water quality for surrounding communities as well as wildlife including the Tippecanoe darter. The Service also noted that adoption by states of the latest ammonia recommendations, as well as reestablishing the few extirpated populations, would continue to benefit the darter.

How you can help with water quality

  • Don’t dump chemicals into streams, and report chemical spills to state environmental protection agencies.
  • During timber harvest, construction, or other projects, implement best management practices for sediment and erosion control.
  • Start a watershed group or assist in stream and water quality monitoring efforts.
  • Plant trees and other native woody vegetation along stream banks to help restore and preserve water quality.
  • Replace or remove culverts and low-water bridge crossings that are barriers to passage for fish and other aquatic species.

Learn more about the Tippecanoe darter.

Photo credit

The banner image is under copyright; the photographer, Robert Criswell, gave the Service expressed permission to use the work in outreach, but not to share the photo with third-parties for use on their own platforms.


Meagan Racey, Northeast Region, (413) 253-8557

Phil Kloer, Southeast Region, (404) 679-7299

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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