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Rainbow Darter

Fact File

Scientific Name: Etheostoma caeruleum

Classification: Fish, Order Perciformes, Family Percidae

Size: Rainbow Darters in Virginia average 1.5 to 3 inches in length

Life Span: Rainbow Darters in Virginia can live for about 4 years

Identifying Characteristics

  • Moderately robust in body shape
  • 2 dorsal fins
    • Spiny front dorsal has a thick turquoise margin
    • Second dorsal has a thin turquoise margin, with orange radiating out from the base
  • Medium sized mouth, with a frenum present
  • Turquoise bars with areas of orange-red between
  • Two orange spots at the base of the caudal (tail) fin
  • Incomplete lateral line


Like other members of the darter family, the Rainbow Darter is a benthic (bottom-dwelling) species of fish, and specializes in using the gaps between rocky stream substrates for protective cover and opportunistic feeding. Rainbow Darters require clean, fast moving water and are considered an indicator species of overall watershed health, as their required habitat is degraded by erosion and siltation.


Rainbow Darters often feed on an array of benthic macroinvertebrates such as Caddisflies, Mayflies, and Stoneflies.


Rainbow Darters have a limited distribution within Virginia, found only within certain areas of the Big Sandy, Kanawha, Potomac, and Upper Tennessee River watersheds.

Last updated: April 24, 2024

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources Species Profile Database serves as a repository of information for Virginia’s fish and wildlife species. The database is managed and curated by the Wildlife Information and Environmental Services (WIES) program. Species profile data, distribution information, and photography is generated by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, State and Federal agencies, Collection Permittees, and other trusted partners. This product is not suitable for legal, engineering, or surveying use. The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources does not accept responsibility for any missing data, inaccuracies, or other errors which may exist. In accordance with the terms of service for this product, you agree to this disclaimer.