by Heston Anderson, 2013

The New River Valley is replete with biodiversity and breathtaking scenery.  The New River starts in the Blue Ridge Mountains and flows into West Virginia before dumping into Bluestone Lake (VDGIF 2013).  This river is unique not only because it flows north, but because it is also the oldest river in North America (VDGIF 2013). The New River is home to many sports fish such as largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu), muskellunge (Esox masquinongy), and walleye (Sander vitreus).  The Virginia state record for largest muskellunge was caught less than 20 km from Radford University.  When observing a river as vast as the New, we tend to focus only on the large game fish.  However, the river is a vast community of plants, fish, and animals that all depend on each other for survival.  There would be no large game fish without our small non-game species in the family Percidae.

Facts & Experience
According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, there are around 55 species of percids in Virginia (VaFWIS 2013).  In Radford University’s database, we have 48 specimens of nine species.  These species were collected from Montgomery County, Bland County, Luisa County, Tazewell County, Radford City, and Hanover City.   The species in our database include: fantail (Ethiostoma flabellare), greenside (E. blennioides), Roanoke (Percina roanoka), stripedback (E. nuchale), tessellated (E. olmstedi), snubnose (E. simoterum) and shield darters (Percina peltata), as well as the walleye, and yellow perch (Perca flavescens).          

As a student at Radford University I have experienced firsthand the importance of these museum specimens.  An example is the Fantail Darter shown in the figure below. I collected in fall 2012 in Dr. Francl’s General Zoology clas. During this class we conducted a stream survey of Connelly’s Run in Radford, VA. Throughout this project, I was able to learn how to assess a stream while collecting samples (under a state scientific permit) for the Radford University Department of Biology’s natural history collection database. This collection is used to teach students about the biodiversity of the New River Valley, and give them hands-on experience with local species and their habitats.  This museum collection is the flagship of our Biology courses. By teaching students various collection techniques, species anatomy, and identifying characteristics, we hope that in the future these students will become key players in the conservation and research of game and non-game species -  like the ones in the family Percidae. 

Family Percidae & Biodiversity
Percid darters feed mainly on Diptera and Trichoptera (Adamson, and Wissing 1977).  Their habitats are the shallow parts of the river or in small streams, such as Connelly’s Run, that feed into a larger riverine system.  These fish are significant for biodiversity because they provide much needed food and nutrition for larger game fish such as largemouth bass, muskellunge, and pickerel.  By sustaining these larger game fish, the smaller fish are a vital asset to the New River ecosystem.      

Oftentimes we look past these small non-sports fish, but the fact remains that these fish are an important asset to the river system. They provide sources of energy for our large sport fish, and are just some of the numerous and fascinating species found in the majestic New River. 

Adamson, Scott W., and Thomas E. Wissing. (1977) Food Habits and Feeding Periodicity of the Rainbow, Fantail, and Banded Darters in Four Mile Creek. Ohio Journal of Science 77(4): 164-169.

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. (2013). New River. Retrieved from (accessed February 21, 2013).

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. (2013). Virginia Fish and Wildlife Information Service, Retrieved from (Accessed March 20, 2013).