FWS Focus

Overview

Characteristics
Overview

Candy darters are a small freshwater fish native to the Gauley, Greenbrier and New River watersheds in Virginia and West Virginia.?Following a review of the best available scientific information, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to list the candy darter as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Nearly half of the 35 known candy darter populations have disappeared since the species was first described in 1932. 

Scientific Name

Etheostoma osburni
Common Name
Candy Darter
Finescale Saddled Darter
FWS Category
Fishes
Kingdom

Location in Taxonomic Tree

Identification Numbers

TSN:

Characteristics

Characteristic category

Similar Species

Characteristics
Similar Species

Slightly larger in size, the variegate darter appears to outcompete candy darters for space, food and mates. But most critically, the closely-related variegate darter and candy darter can successfully mate with each other. This results in fertile hybrid offspring that are neither pure candy darter nor pure variegate darter.  After multiple, quickly successive generations of this mixing, candy darter genes are effectively diluted out of the population, and only variegate darters remain.  Variegate darters were once naturally blocked by the Kanawha Falls from traveling upstream to candy darter populations. But in the late 20th century, variegate darters were released above the falls, likely as a result of their use as live bait for fishing.  While variegate darter hybridization is ongoing in the Greenbrier and Lower Gauley candy darter populations, large dams prevent the natural spread of variegate darters into the candy darter populations of the Upper Gauley and Middle New River watersheds. Preventing the transfer of live baitfish into these watersheds is vital to the continued existence of candy darters in these areas.

Characteristic category

Habitat

Characteristics
Habitat

Candy darters are a small freshwater fish native to the Gauley, Greenbrier and New River watersheds in Virginia and West Virginia. 

River or Stream
River or Stream
Characteristic category

Food

Characteristics
Food

Darters are also an important link in the aquatic food chain, feeding on smaller organisms before they themselves are eaten by larger fish.?Candy darters primarily feed on small insects, such as mayflies and caddisflies. 

Characteristic category

Behavior

Characteristics
Behavior

Candy darters live up to 3 years and begin breeding around 2 years of age. Spawning in mid to late spring, candy darters are brood-hiding, bottom spawners. Females select areas of finer pebble and gravel among riffles to deposit their eggs. Male candy darters display aggressive, territorial behavior during spawning. After nipping and chasing away competitors, the larger male successfully fertilizes the eggs. Adult candy darters do not care for their young after spawning. 

Adult candy darters are often observed near rock cover and may overwinter under the cover of rocks or woody debris. Younger individuals may take shelter in in stream substrate of slower, shallower streams. 

Characteristic category

Life Cycle

Characteristics
Reproduction

Candy darters begin breeding around 2 years of age. Candy darters are brood-hiding, bottom spawners and spawn in mid to late spring. Females select areas of finer pebble and gravel among riffles to deposit their eggs.  Male candy darters display aggressive, territorial behavior during spawning. After nipping and chasing away competitors, the larger male successfully fertilizes the eggs. Adult candy darters do not care for their young after spawning. 

Life Span

Candy darters can live up to three years.

Life Cycle

Spawning occurs from late April to mid-June, depending on location. While information is limited, incubation of fertilized eggs lasts five to 25 days depending on water temperature. Candy darters are considered juveniles until reaching adults lengths of 2.4 inches (60 mm) for females, and 2.6 inches (65 mm) for males. 

Characteristic category

Physical Characteristics

Characteristics
Size & Shape

Candy darters are small, colorful fish with slender bodies and vibrant striped markings. 

MeasurementsLength: Adults are 2 to 3 inches (51 to 92 millimeters) in length. Young of the year are approximately 1.8 inches (35 to 40mm,) and juveniles are approximately 2.4 inches (35 to 58mm.)  

Physical Characteristics

Candy darters live up to 3 years and begin breeding around 2 years of age. Spawning in mid- to late spring, candy darters are brood-hiding, bottom spawners. Females select areas of finer pebble and gravel among riffles to deposit their eggs. Male candy darters display aggressive, territorial behavior during spawning. After nipping and chasing away competitors, the larger male successfully fertilizes the eggs. Adult candy darters do not care for their young after spawning. 

Adult candy darters are often observed near rock cover and may overwinter under the cover of rocks or woody debris. Younger individuals may take shelter in in stream substrate of slower, shallower streams. 

Color & Pattern

Named for their vibrant colors, male candy darters have five black saddles along their backs and nine to 11 vertical bands that alternate red-orange and blue-green along the sides of their bodies. Though females maintain a similar marking pattern, they appear mostly olive green and black. 

Geography

Characteristics
Geography

Candy darters are a small freshwater fish native to the Gauley, Greenbrier and New River watersheds in Virginia and West Virginia. Following a review of the best available scientific information, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to list the candy darter as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Nearly half of the 35 known candy darter populations have disappeared since the species was first described in 1932.

Range

The candy darter range is endemic to second order and larger streams within portions of the upper Kanawha River Basin. This area is also known as the Gauley and greater New River watersheds in Virginia and West Virginia. 

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