Cover photo credit: Alan Dextrase



“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 took effect in 2008, and was re-classified as endangered on March 18, 2010.

Read the Assessment Report

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 Eastern Sand Darter is found in Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie, West Lake, Big Creek and in the Grand, Sydenham, Thames and Detroit rivers.

The species may have disappeared from several other rivers in southwestern Ontario. In 2008 it was rediscovered in Big Creek after an absence of more than 50 years.

map of eastern sand darter range

View a Larger version of this map (PDF)

What threatens it

The main threat to the 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.

Dams can also be a problem by interrupting natural stream flows and preventing upstream and downstream movement of this species.

Another threat to the darter is the invasive fish species Round Goby that is colonizing rivers in southern Ontario.

Action we are taking

Endangered Species and their general habitat are automatically protected

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

  • The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry tracks species at risk such as the Eastern Sand Darter. Report a sighting of an endangered animal or plant to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful.


  • Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.

Be a good steward

  • Private land owners have a very important role to play in species recovery. If you find an Eastern Sand Darter in a watercourse on or adjacent to your property, you may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
  • Invasive species seriously threaten many of Ontario’s species at risk. To learn what you can do to help reduce the threat of invasive species, visit:
  • Farmers and land owners can help improve fish habitat and keep Ontario’s water safe and clean by maintaining natural vegetation next to creeks and rivers, and keeping pollution and soil from washing into Ontario’s streams and rivers. For more information about programs and funding assistance for eligible land owners visit the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association website.

Report illegal activity

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 has vanished entirely from some areas.
  • Eastern Sand Darter usually matures at one year and lives for four years.