Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 45, Issue 3, pp 249–257

Convergence of a cryptic saddle pattern in benthic freshwater fishes

  • Jonathan W. Armbruster
  • Lawrence M. Page

DOI: 10.1007/BF00003092

Cite this article as:
Armbruster, J.W. & Page, L.M. Environ Biol Fish (1996) 45: 249. doi:10.1007/BF00003092


Many North American stream fishes have a similar color pattern of four dark saddles against a light background. An interesting feature of the pattern, in addition to its widespread taxonomic distribution, is its consistent configuration. The interval between the first and second saddle is usually the largest, and the last (third) interval is the smallest. All saddled North American freshwater fishes live on uneven, rocky substrates, and nearly all live in flowing water. It is hypothesized that these fishes achieve crypsis through disruptive coloration; the light spaces between the saddles mimic rocks and the dark saddles appear as shadows or gaps between rocks. Saddles are spaced unevenly because rocks in streams are a mixture of sizes; a fish that mimics a series of rocks of similar sizes is more conspicuous than one that mimics rocks of different sizes. The placement of saddles was measured on five North American species. In four of five North American species measured (a sculpin and three darters), the longest spaces are towards the head where the body is also the widest, this is thought to enhance crypsis because pieces of gravel tend to be round or square. In the madtom, the saddle pattern tends more towards even spacing. The madtom may not rely on camouflage to the same extent as other species examined because of decreased predation pressure associated with being nocturnal and possessing sharp spines and venom glands.

Key words

CamouflageDisruptive colorationEtheostoma blenniusE. variatumPercina uranideaNoturus flavaterCottus carolinae

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan W. Armbruster
    • 1
  • Lawrence M. Page
    • 1
  1. 1.Illinois Natural History SurveyChampaignU.S.A.