Fantail Darters

There are 11 species of darters found in the riffles (shallow fast moving areas) of small streams in Maryland.   They are less than 6” long and you will find them on the stream bed rather than up in the water.  They move rapidly (darting) over the gravely bottoms and eat mostly aquatic insects and other small benthic (bottom-dwelling) animals. 

While some fantails are brightly colored, fantails are a dull yellowish brown with stripes.  What makes them unique is their unusual breeding strategy.  A male clear just enough silt out to fit his body under a smooth flat rock.  He then attracts a female by pressing his dorsal fin against the nest roof.  Each tip of the dorsal fin looks like a fantail egg making females think (falsely) that this is a successful nest.

You can visit the Maryland stream health map to find what darters live in streams near you.  You can click on any dot or triangle for information but the dots give you much more data.

Goal:  Since it’s a little cold to play in streams this morning, visit some links below to make you own stream survey items.

Fair entries:

  • Aquatic Habitat or Investigation Item:  Any of the tools from the resources below
  • Aquatic Identification Item:  cards, poster, display or other item for identification of darters
  • Aquatic Education Item:  poster, tri-fold, coloring or educational booklet, journal, model, magnets, games, diagrams, website post, computer games, etc about darters.
  • Aquatic Discovery backpack:  Put together a few items to help you explore a stream
  • Aquatic Photo Series:  Take pictures of your new tools and the fish or macroinvertebrate that you catch with them


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