Last year, Nick Little – a former VLM colleague, now a keeper at the National Zoo – and I went in search of the elusive candy darter Etheostoma osburni, an exceptionally beautiful fish. Darters are reclusive by nature and finding them at all is the main challenge; in a full day last year, we saw seven (5 males 2 females). Due to the success of that trip, I returned this year a bit later in the season to attempt to photograph them and capture them on video and I was well prepared to finally get some extended video and quality photos, though they still do them no justice. Most darters have very specific habitat requirements and the majority of species live among the boulders and cobble in the swift, cold mountain streams of western Virginia. A pristine Virginia mountain stream at warm weather water levels
Candy darters in particular are native to only the New River drainage in Virginia, and not abundant anywhere throughout their range. Despite their gaudy colors, and relatively large size for a darter, they are still very difficult to spot, especially the females.
A male candy darter shows off his colors
A female candy darter (above) is much less conspicuous
We display many species of darters here at the VLM, including the federally Threatened and Endangered Roanoke logperch Percina rex, but not the candy darter. This species is protected in Virginia and therefore they likely will never be on public display unless we are able to procure animals that were part of a captive breeding program, as were the Roanoke logperch we acquired.
It is just as well, because such an elusive animal, one so adapted to such a specific environment and one almost unmatched in beauty, is best left alone in nature where they truly belong.