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A small fish with tan and brown markings blending into the pebble substrate.
Information icon Frecklebelly madtom. Photo by USFWS.

Frecklebelly madtom

Noturus munitus


The frecklebelly madtom is a small catfish that inhabits channels and tributaries of medium to large river systems in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee. After a review of the best available scientific and commercial information, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is proposing to list a population of the frecklebelly madtom as a threatened in the Upper Coosa River in Georgia and Tennessee as a distinct population segment (DPS). The Service is also proposing critical habitat and a 4(d) rule for this population, the Upper Coosa River DPS of the frecklebelly madtom.

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The frecklebelly madtom is a small, stout catfish with recorded body sizes reaching to 99mm (3.9 in). Like other members of the subgenus Rabida, the frecklebelly madtom is distinctively marked with dark saddles, typically four for this species. This pattern helps to distinguish the frecklebelly madtom from other madtoms with which it co-occurs. The color of the frecklebelly madtom is a mixture of light yellows with brownish patches, which provides camouflage in its preferred habitats. It exhibits a lighter color with a combination of many scattered specks or freckles on the underside, which inspired its common name. The color variation on the species’ fins can vary, but typically they are mottled or blotched.


Primary habitat for the frecklebelly madtom is associated with fast moving streams often associated with rivers and their tributaries, with substrate consisting of various sizes of gravel. Cover is an important habitat factor for the species, as it provides for concealment against predators, foraging habitat, and nesting habitat. Areas providing firm gravel substrates, such as small pebbles and rocks, are preferred. Muddy waterways and still streams are not desirable habitat for this species.


The primary food source for the species appears to be aquatic insects, including caddisflies, mayflies, blackflies and midges

Historical range

The historical range for the species includes the Pearl River system in eastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi; the Tombigbee River in eastern Mississippi and western Alabama; the upper Alabama and Cahaba rivers in central Alabama; the Etowah River in northern Georgia; and the Conasauga River in northern Georgia and southeastern Tennessee. It is believed that this species was more widespread in the Mobile Bay drainage in the past but was extirpated from large river habitats after the creation of numerous impoundments.

Current range

The frecklebelly madtom occurs within the states of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. It has a scattered distribution across the Mobile Basin and Pearl River drainage, with populations in the Pearl River and Bogue Chitto River in the Pearl River drainage and the Upper Tombigbee, Alabama, Cahaba, Etowah, and Conasauga river systems in the Mobile River Basin. Throughout its range, the frecklebelly madtom primarily occupies rivers within the Gulf Coastal Plain physiographic province; however, it occurs in the Ridge and Valley physiographic province in the Conasauga River and Piedmont Upland physiographic provinces in the Etowah River

Conservation challenges

The frecklebelly madtom is sensitive to poor water quality and needs clean, flowing water to survive, thus water quality degradation is considered a threat to the species. The catfish is potentially threatened by several factors including impoundments, channelization, gravel mining, altered flow regimes, agriculture, development, climate change and logging.


If listed, the Service will draft a Recovery Plan for the species.

Partnerships, Research, and Projects

The frecklebelly madtom is recognized by Georgia and Tennessee as a species of concern.  This species is listed as endangered by the State of Georgia and threatened by the State of Tennessee. In general, protections afforded to the frecklebelly madtom by the States prohibit direct exploitation of the species. 

Within the Conasauga River basin, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has begun a Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) project that provides technical and financial assistance to help landowners improve water quality, and help farmers plan and implement a variety of conservation activities, or practices that benefit aquatic species.  The frecklebelly madtom would likely benefit from water quality improvements in portions of the Conasauga River that are affected by agricultural practices implemented through the WLFW project.   

The State of Georgia owns and manages approximately 12 miles of the Etowah River as part of Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area, an area where the fish has been documented. A management goal of this tract of land is to promote aquatic biodiversity, providing conservation benefits for the species.  

How you can help

  • Do not release any non-native species into the water. If live fishing bait is used from another location, do not release it into the water.
  • Don’t dump chemicals into streams, and do report spills to state environmental protection agencies. During projects that disturb the ground, use best management practices to keep the sediment out of the streams.
  • Plant trees and other native woody vegetation along stream banks to help restore and preserve water quality.
  • Conserve water to allow more water to remain in streams.
  • Use pesticides responsibly (especially around streams and lakes) to prevent runoff.
  • Help your family find ways to reduce the amount of chemicals that you pour down the drain in your home or use on your lawn or garden.
  • Support conservation efforts that protect these unique animals and the habitats they live in.
  • Support local and state initiatives for watershed and water quality protection and improvement.

Subject matter experts

Evan Collins, USFWS Alabama Field Office,, 251-441-5837

Designated critical habitat

The proposed critical habitat designation for the Upper Coosa River DPS of the frecklebelly madtom consists of approximately 134 stream miles in two units in Georgia and Tennessee. Proposed critical habitat does not include riparian areas, only instream habitat to the high water mark. Unit 1 consists of approximately, 51.5 stream miles of the Conasauga River in Whitfield and Murray counties, Georgia, continuing upstream through Bradley County to Polk County, Tennessee. Unit 2 consists of approximately, 82.5 stream miles of the Etowah River beginning in Cherokee County, Georgia, continuing upstream through Forsyth and Dawson counties and ending in Lumpkin County, Georgia. Both units are occupied by the species and contain most of the physical or biological features essential to its conservation. 

Federal Register notices

The following Federal Register documents were automatically gathered by searching the Federal Register Official API with this species’ scientific name ordered by relevance. You can conduct your own search on the Federal Register website.

  • We're sorry but an error occurred. Visit the Federal Register to conduct your own search.

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