Leopard darter

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Leopard darter
Percina pantherina.jpg
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Perciformes
Family: Percidae
Genus: Percina
Species: P. pantherina
Binomial name
Percina pantherina
(Moore and Reeves, 1955)

The leopard darter (Percina pantherina) is a small freshwater fish native to the United States, where it can be found only in Oklahoma and Arkansas. It has been listed as a threatened species in the United States since 1978, and the IUCN lists it as vulnerable.

Leopard darters rarely exceed three inches (8 cm) in length. They have 11-14 large, dark spots on their sides. These spots contrast against a light background that ranges from pale olive on the back to yellowish-olive on the underside. The back of the fish has numerous saddles and bars.

Leopard darters typically live less than two years, but individuals older than three years have been found. Spawning occurs in March and April, but may occur as early as February, on gravel-bottomed riffles. The fertilized eggs are buried in gravel. The average clutch size is about 65 eggs. Young leopard darters begin to appear in May of each year. Food items include aquatic insects and microcrustaceans. Leopard darters are found in medium to large streams. Typically, they are not found in smaller, headwater streams. From May to February, leopard darters prefer small, noisy pools with a rubble and boulder substrate. Spawning occurs on gravel substrates; however, the dominant riffle substrate may be gravel, rubble, boulder, and bedrock.

Historically, the leopard darter was limited to upland, large stream habitats of the Little River drainage in Oklahoma and Arkansas. Currently, scattered populations are found within its historic range. In Oklahoma, it occurs within the Little River drainage (Mountain Fork, Glover, and Little Rivers) in LeFlore, McCurtain, and Pushmataha Counties. In Arkansas, the leopard darter occurs in the Cossatot, Robinson Fork, and Mountain Fork Rivers in Howard, Polk, and Sevier Counties.

Leopard darters have likely never been common. The greatest threat to the survival of the species is the loss of habitat due to the construction of reservoirs. These impoundments also isolate populations, which further endangers the species. Logging activity, agricultural and industrial runoff, and gravel removal all pose threats as well.

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