Cover photo credit: Alan Dextrase


Threatened (Southwestern Ontario population)

“Threatened” means the species lives in the wild in Ontario, is not endangered, but is likely to become endangered if steps are not taken to address factors threatening it.

Endangered (West Lake population)

"Endangered" means the species lives in the wild in Ontario but is facing imminent extinction or extirpation.

Date added to the Species at Risk in Ontario List

The Eastern Sand Darter was listed as threatened when the Endangered Species Act, 2007 took effect in 2008 and was re-classified as endangered on March 18, 2010.

In 2022, the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario recognized the species as having two separate populations in Ontario and assessed both populations as at risk. The Southwestern Ontario and West Lake populations of Eastern Sand Darter were added to the Species at Risk in Ontario List on January 29, 2024.

Read the assessment report for the Southwestern Ontario population [PDF]

Read the assessment report for the West Lake population [PDF]

What it looks like

The Eastern Sand Darter is a small member of the perch family that grows just four to seven centimetres long.

It is a slender fish with a translucent body that is faintly white, yellow, or silvery and is marked with dark spots along each side.

Its colouring makes it perfectly camouflaged to blend in with the sandy river bottoms where it lives.

This darter has relatively large eyes and a small mouth.

Where it lives

The Eastern Sand Darter prefers shallow habitats in lakes, streams, and rivers with clean, sandy bottoms.

It often buries itself completely in the sand.

It feeds on aquatic insects, but due to its small mouth is limited in the size of prey it can eat.

Where it’s been found in Ontario

In Ontario, the Southwestern Ontario population of Eastern Sand Darter is found in the Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie watersheds.

The West Lake population represents a new population of the species that is found in the nearshore areas off Sandbanks Provincial Park. It had not been identified until recently. The West Lake population is genetically distinct from the Southwestern Ontario population.

What threatens it

The direct threat to both the West Lake and Southwestern Ontario populations of Eastern Sand Darter is the siltation of its preferred sand habitats.

Siltation occurs when too much soil washes into a river, lake or stream from nearby urban and agricultural areas.

This can make the water muddy and cover sand bars with fine sediment, which can kill fish eggs.

Another threat to the Eastern Sand Darter is the invasive fish species Round Goby that is colonizing rivers in southern Ontario. The greatest threat to the West Lake population is also Round Goby.

Other factors that threaten it include:

  • availability of food resources
  • population recovery capacity
  • fragmentation of populations
  • climate change

Action we are taking

As endangered and threatened species, the West Lake and Southwestern Ontario populations of Eastern Sand Darter, respectively, and their habitats are protected under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA).

The ESA also requires us to prepare recovery guidance for endangered and threatened species such as the West Lake and Southwestern Ontario populations of Eastern Sand Darter to guide recovery efforts for the species in Ontario.

All species listed on the Species at Risk in Ontario List may be eligible for consideration for government funding through the Species at Risk Stewardship Program.

Recovery strategy

A recovery strategy advises the ministry on ways to ensure healthy numbers of the species return to Ontario.

Read the executive summary (May 31, 2013)

Read the recovery strategy (May 31, 2013)

Government response statement

A government response statement outlines the actions the government intends to take or support to help recover the species.

Read the government response statement (March 14, 2014)

Review of progress

A review of progress made toward protecting and recovering a species is required no later than the time specified in the species’ government response statement, or not later than five years after the government response statement is published if no time is specified.

Read the report on progress towards the protection and recovery of 16 species at risk, including Eastern Sand Darter (Ammocrypta pellucida) (2019).

Habitat protection

A habitat regulation defines a species’ habitat and may describe features (e.g., a creek, cliff, or beach), geographic boundaries or other unique characteristics.

Read the habitat summary (January 1, 2015)

Read the regulation (January 1, 2015)

What you can do

Report a sighting

Submit your observations of species at risk to the Natural Heritage Information Centre (NHIC), which is Ontario’s conservation data centre. Join the "(NHIC) Rare Species of Ontario" project in iNaturalist to make submitting your observations quick and easy.


Volunteer with species at risk programs, such as community science surveys, through your local nature club, a provincial park or other conservation organizations.

Be a good steward

Private land owners have a very important role to play in species recovery.  If you find species at risk on your land, you may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats. Learn more about the Species at Risk Stewardship Program.

Invasive species seriously threaten many of Ontario’s species at risk. Learn more about invasive species in Ontario and how you can help.

Report illegal activity

Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to Toll-free: 1-866-MOE-TIPS (663-8477).

Quick facts

  • During the breeding season, the normally drab-looking, male Eastern Sand Darters become flushed with yellowish colouration and can develop metallic blue and green colours on their cheeks.
  • Rivers and streams that are muddy looking often have too much silt in the water. When silt settles on sand bars, there is less oxygen available for Eastern Sand Darter when they bury themselves in the sandy bottoms, as well as for their eggs. The burrowing behaviour of this species is unusual for a Canadian freshwater fish.
  • The Eastern Sand Darter was once much more common and widespread throughout its North American range. Populations have been dwindling since the start of the 20th century and it have vanished entirely from some areas.
  • Eastern Sand Darter usually mature at one year and lives for four years.