Western Sand Darter
  • Side view adult.
  • Side view adult.
  • Side view adult.
  • Top view adult.
  • Bottom view adult.
  • Head-on view adult.
  • Close-up flank.
  • Close-up head.
  • Close-up mouth and snout.
  • Close-up tail.
  • Close-up dorsal fin.
  • Close-up anal fin.
  • Close-up pectoral fin.
  • Close-up pelvic fin.
  • Close-up anal fin: The anal fin has 1 spine and 9-12 rays.
  • Close-up mouth: The mouth is subterminal; there are no obvious teeth and no frenum.
  • Close-up doral fin: The 1st dorsal lobe has 10-12 spines, the 2nd lobe has 9-12 rays.
  • Close-up flank: The sides are light colored and show 10-12 small blotches/spots.
  • Head-on view: Note that there is no stripe or there is a gap at tip; there is no frenum.
  • The body is elongated and has 69-81 pored lateral line scales.
  • Alternative side view of an adult.
  • Alternative side view of an adult.
  • Alternative top view of an adult.
  • Alternative top view of an adult.
DescriptionSimilar Species
Perches (Percidae)
Mouth and snout: Mouth subterminal, horizontal, minute teeth on jaws. No barbels. Body patterning, color, and scales: Back and sides translucent silvery or light tan, belly silvery white. Back with speckling of pigment and a row of 12 or more faint spots or blotches, sides with 10-12 small faint to moderately dark oval blotches or spots. Fins generally clear. 89-95 ctenoid lateral scales. Body shape and size: Body cylindrical and elongated; round in cross section. Typically 50 mm (2 in) TL; maximum in Wisconsin about 65 mm (2.5 in).
Tail, dorsal and other fins: Square to slightly forked tail. Dorsal fin with 2 lobes, distinctly separate and far apart, the first with 10-12 spines and the second with 9-12 (usually 15) rays. Pelvic fins thoracic. Adipose fin absent. Anal fin with 1 spine and 7-14 rays.
Distinguishing Characteristics
The western sand darter can be distinguished by its small (not extending to anterior of eye) subterminal mouth without obvious canine teeth, its greatly elongated body, with a body depth of less than 14% of standard length, its unscaled belly without a modified scale between the pelvic fins, and its single anal fin spine. See also similar species information.
Breeding Adults
Similar to non-breeders; males with minute tubercles on fins (no photos).
Similar to adults.
Compare Similar Species
Body Depth/SL
Darter, Bluntnose14-18%
Darter, Crystal11-13%
Darter, Iowa14-18%
Darter, Johnny14-18%
Darter, Least16-20%
Darter, Western Sand11-13%
Darter, BluntnoseAbsent
Darter, CrystalPresent
Darter, IowaPresent
Darter, JohnnyAbsent
Darter, LeastPresent
Darter, Western SandAbsent
Snout Stripe
Darter, BluntnoseContinuous over snout
Darter, CrystalContinuous over snout
Darter, IowaGap at tip of snout
Darter, JohnnyGap at tip of snout
Darter, LeastContinuous or gap at tip
Darter, Western SandAbsent or gap at tip
Anal Spines/Rays
Darter, Bluntnose1/7-9
Darter, Crystal1/15-16
Darter, Iowa2/7-9
Darter, Johnny1/7-9
Darter, Least1-2/5-6
Darter, Western Sand1/9-12
Dorsal Spines/Rays
Darter, Bluntnose8-9/9-11, lobes separate
Darter, Crystal14/14-16, lobes close
Darter, Iowa8-12/10-12, lobes separate
Darter, Johnny7-9/11-14, lobes close
Darter, Least5-7/9-10, lobes close
Darter, Western Sand10-12/9-12, lobes far apart
Lateral Scales
Darter, Bluntnose52-58, <25 pored
Darter, Crystal9-95, all pored
Darter, Iowa55-65, <35 pored
Darter, Johnny37-50, all pored
Darter, Least32-38, 0-7 pored
Darter, Western Sand69-81, all pored
Similarity Index
Darter, BluntnoseModerately similar
Darter, CrystalVery similar
Darter, IowaModerately similar
Darter, JohnnyModerately similar
Darter, LeastModerately similar
Darter, Western SandN/A