Anhinga melanogasterdarter(Also: Oriental darter)

Geographic Range

Anhinga melanogaster (also known as Oriental darters or snake-birds) is native to the Indian subcontinent. Anhinga melanogaster can be found as far west as Pakistan and as far north as the Indian-Nepalese border. Indian darters typically live in India, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and also in the island countries of the Philippines, and Indonesia. (Birdlife International, 2008; Birdlife International, 2012)


Anhinga melanogaster typically lives in trees or bamboo thickets, near watery environments and roosts in large communities. These watery environments often include deep estuaries, lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, or marshes. The water in these environments need only be deep enough for diving and swimming. ("Anhinga melanogaster", 2012; Baker, 1929; Birdlife International, 2008; Birdlife International, 2012; Blanford, 1898; Keswal, 1886; Neelakantan, 1976; ; Whistler, 1949)

  • Average elevation
    0 m
    0.00 ft

Physical Description

Anhinga melanogaster is a long necked bird, similar in size and shape to cormorants. On average, A. melanogaster is between 850 and 900 mm in length. It possesses a long, straight bill, long neck, long tail (202 to 240 mm long), and webbed feet. The wings of A. melanogaster are generally 331 to 357 mm in length. Typically, adult males are slightly larger than females. Oriental darters' feathers are semi-permeable to water, which aids in swimming. ("Anhinga melanogaster", 2012; Baker, 1929; Blanford, 1898; Pennant, 1790; Sharpe and Ogilvie Grant, 1898; Whistler, 1949; WoRMS, 2011)

Anhinga melanogaster also possesses a bend in the 7th, 8th, and 9th vertebrae, which allows for a sudden shooting movement of their neck to capture fish. It is for this behavior that darters earned their name. (Whistler, 1949; Zoological Society of London, 1882)

Adult male and female A. melanogaster are alike in coloration; juveniles, however, have different coloration. Their crown and rear neck is brown and the back of their head is blackish. Their bill is long and yellow and serrated along each edge. The underside of their neck is white; there is also a white line along each side of their head. Their back and long tail is black. Their tail is composed of 12 feathers. Their wings, however, have black feathers interspersed with white feathers. Their legs are black; their feet have four digits and are webbed. ("Anhinga melanogaster", 2012; Blanford, 1898; Pennant, 1790; Sharpe and Ogilvie Grant, 1898; Whistler, 1949; WoRMS, 2011)

The crown and rear neck of juveniles is a more pale brown. The underside of their neck is white, but the white lines on the lateral sides of their neck are absent. Darters' white wing feathers are a more yellow-white in juveniles. (Blanford, 1898; Sharpe and Ogilvie Grant, 1898)

Anhinga melanogaster molts and may lose so many feathers that they may be unable to fly for several days. They often have a "crinkled" appearance during this period. (Sinclair, 1899)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range length
    850 to 920 mm
    33.46 to 36.22 in
  • Average length
    900 mm
    35.43 in
  • Range wingspan
    331 to 357 mm
    13.03 to 14.06 in


Anhinga melanogaster is serially monogamous and typically breeds in colonies. Males attract and greet mates with displays, including wing flapping. Mates build nests of twigs, approximately 40 to 50 cm in diameter and line them with leaves. These nests are typically in trees overhanging water and may be reused from year to year. Both male and female mates defend the nest and young by hopping, hissing, and snapping if threatened. Mates communicate with each other through calls, as well as wing flapping displays. ("Anhinga melanogaster", 2012; Baker, 1929; Blanford, 1898; ; Whistler, 1949)

The breeding season of A. melanogaster can last for several months, up to all year, depending on the monsoon season's effects on water levels in the region. Oriental darters usually lay when water levels are high and fish are abundant. For example, their breeding season is from July to August in Northern India and Burma and from January to February in Madras and Sri Lanka. ("Anhinga melanogaster", 2012; Baker, 1929; Blanford, 1898; ; Whistler, 1949)

After mating, eggs are laid and incubated by both the male and female for 25 to 30 days before hatching. The eggs usually hatch asynchronously. These eggs are oval in shape and covered in a greenish-white coating (which may turn brown due to incubation). Underneath this coating, the egg is a pale greenish blue. ("Anhinga melanogaster", 2012; Baker, 1929; Blanford, 1898; ; Whistler, 1949)

Adolescents leave the nest and live independently at around 50 days of age. Sexual maturity occurs at about 2 years of age. ("Anhinga melanogaster", 2012; )

  • Breeding interval
    Anhinga melanogaster breeds once per breeding season.
  • Breeding season
    The breeding season is dependent on region and weather.
  • Range eggs per season
    2 to 6
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    25 to 30 days
  • Average time to hatching
    28 days
  • Average fledging age
    50 minutes
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 years

Once hatched, the altricial young are cared for by both parents. For the first several weeks, the young are fed regurgitated food as many as 6 to 9 times per day by the parents. ("Anhinga melanogaster", 2012; )

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


The average lifespan of A. melanogaster is 9 years in the wild. The oldest known individual died in captivity at the age of 16 years. ("AnAge entry for Anhinga melanogaster", 2012; )

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    16 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    9 years


Oriental darters spend most of their time roosting or swimming. Since their feathers are not completely waterproof, they absorb water and are less buoyant, allowing for faster swimming and diving. Darters swim with their wings extended and paddle with their webbed feet. After swimming, darters sit on branches in the sun and spread their wings to preen and allow them to dry. On, or close to the ground, they are rather ungainly. ("Anhinga melanogaster", 2012; Baker, 1929; Blanford, 1898; ; Whistler, 1949; Zoological Society of London, 1882)

Darters may sit on top of the water, or actively swim. While swimming, only their heads and necks are exposed, with the remainder of their body submerged. They may abruptly dive from on top of the water, or from a tree branch. ("Anhinga melanogaster", 2012; Baker, 1929; Blanford, 1898; ; Whistler, 1949)

In flight, A. melanogaster is very similar to cormorants. They are powerful flyers and can soar for very long distances without flapping their wings. (Keswal, 1886)

Home Range

Anhinga melanogaster lives in large colonies of up to several hundred individuals. These colonies roost close together in wooded areas, or bamboo groves. The exact size of these areas is unknown, as most evidence is anecdotal. Often times, darters live near and build nests alongside colonies of cormorants and herons. Cormorants and darters also hunt and rest in each other's company. Ordinarily, A. melanogaster does not migrate; however, those living in more extreme areas will migrate to other areas. (Birdlife International, 2008; Birdlife International, 2012; Neelakantan, 1976; ; Whistler, 1949)

Communication and Perception

Oriental darters communicate with one another, primarily via calls. Their distinctive call is a hoarse croak-like "kah-kah-kah", with hissing and clicking. Darters' voices are similar to cormorants' voices, but they are slightly lower. While breeding, mates call out to each other and will communicate via wing flapping displays. When approached, or surprised by humans, they will often crane their necks and flap their wings, possibly as a warning to others in the vicinity. ("Anhinga melanogaster", 2012; Baker, 1929; Blanford, 1898; ; Pennant, 1790; Whistler, 1949)

Food Habits

Darters are most known for their fishing strategies. Oriental darters are no exception and may capture their prey one of several ways. They may dive from their perch, or dive from the surface, to slowly stalk or chase fish. Others wait for fish to rise to the surface, or swim past. At this point, they will attempt to shoot their neck out, to spear the fish. This sudden movement is possible due to the bend in their neck, at the 7th through 9th vertebrae. Once their prey is impaled, darters rise to the surface and throw the fish up in the air, swallowing it headfirst. Darters may also swallow the fish whole while underwater, instead of spearing. Afterwards, darters usually exit the water and dry their wings. ("Anhinga melanogaster", 2012; Baker, 1929; Blanford, 1898; ; Whistler, 1949; Zoological Society of London, 1882)

Anhinga melanogaster usually eats fish, but has been found to eat insects, aquatic reptiles (turtles, snakes) and amphibians (frogs, newts), shrimp, mollusks, sponges, and various plant grasses and seeds in small quantities. However, the presence of these plant materials in their stomachs may have been accidental. (Dostine and Morton, 1989)

  • Animal Foods
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • fish
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • echinoderms
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts


Parental care usually precludes predation of the young. Scientific literature has not detailed the identity of these predators. It is also unknown if adult darters have any natural predators. ("Anhinga melanogaster", 2012)

Ecosystem Roles

Anhinga melanogaster is a host to several different parasitic roundworms including Schwartzitrema anhinga, Contracaecum rudolphii, Contracaecum carlislei, Contracaecum microcephalum, and Contracaecum tricuspis. Studies found these nematodes present in darters' gastrointestinal tracts; however, they listed the host as Anhinga melanogaster and did not differentiate between Oriental darters and African darters subspecies. Although Anhinga melanogaster is a piscivore, their impact on fish populations and the environment in general, is unknown. (Barson and Marshall, 2004; Gupta, 1964)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Anhinga melanogaster is hunted for sport and for their plumage. Hunters often only shoot those with good plumage and not those undergoing molting. Humans also collect A. melanogaster eggs and nestlings for food. (Birdlife International, 2008; Keswal, 1886)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

It is unknown if A. melanogaster negatively affects humans.

Conservation Status

Anhinga melanogaster is listed as a near threatened species by the IUCN. They are currently threatened by habitat loss (through draining bodies of water, cutting down trees, and intrusion of breeding and feeding areas), as well as egg collection, hunting, and pollution. Pollution may be due to chemical runoff or algal blooms in their habitat. One innovative solution enacted in 2002 at Prek Toal on Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia, involved hiring former egg hunters as guards for the colonies. As guards, they protected and monitored darters populations. From 2002 to 2011, nest numbers increased from 241 to over 6,000. Proposed conservation actions include discovering, monitoring, and protecting new colonies, as well as public awareness campaigns. It is hoped that the public can be persuaded to be proud of darters (as well as other large waterfowl) to reduce hunting and poaching. ("Anhinga melanogaster", 2012; Birdlife International, 2008; Birdlife International, 2012)


Jason Ning (author), The College of New Jersey, Matthew Wund (editor), The College of New Jersey, Leila Siciliano Martina (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


an area where a freshwater river meets the ocean and tidal influences result in fluctuations in salinity.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


an animal that mainly eats fish


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year


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2012. "Anhinga melanogaster" (On-line). Life in the Suburbs. Accessed October 12, 2012 at

Baker, E. 1929. Anhinga melanogaster. The Indian Darter or Snake-bird. Pp. 282-283 in E Baker, ed. The Fauna of British India Including Ceylon and Burma, Vol. 6, 2 Edition. London: Taylor and Francis. Accessed October 23, 2012 at

Barson, M., B. Marshall. 2004. First record of Contracaecum spp. (Nematoda: Anisakidae) in fish-eating birds from Zimbabwe. Journal of the South African Veterinary Association, 75 (2): 74-78. Accessed November 12, 2012 at

Birdlife International, 2012. "Anhinga melanogaster" (On-line). IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. Accessed October 12, 2012 at

Birdlife International, 2008. "Oriental Darter Anhinga melanogaster" (On-line). Birdlife International. Accessed October 12, 2012 at

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Dostine, P., S. Morton. 1989. Food of the Darter Anhinga melanogaster in the Alligator Rivers Region, Northern Territory. Emu, 89: 53-54. Accessed October 12, 2012 at

Gupta, R. 1964. Schwartzitrema anhingi sp. nov. from the Indian Darter, Anhinga melanogaster Pennant, with a remark on the taxonomic position of the genus Schwartzitrema (Vigueras, 1940) Vigueras, 1941 (Trematoda: Strigeidae). Revista de Biología Tropical, 12 (1): 75-79. Accessed November 12, 2012 at

Keswal, 1886. Notes on the Waters of Western India. The Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, 1: 97-123. Accessed October 23, 2012 at

Neelakantan, K. 1976. Where Do Darters Sleep?. Newsletter for Birdwatchers, Vol 16. No. 6: 9. Accessed October 23, 2012 at

Pennant, T. 1790. Indian Zoology Second Edition. London: Robert Faulder. Accessed October 23, 2012 at

Sharpe, R., W. Ogilvie Grant. 1898. Catalogue of the Plataleae, Herodiones, Steganopodes, Pygopodes, Alcae, an Impennes in the Collection of the British Museum. London: Longmans & Co.. Accessed October 23, 2012 at

Sinclair, W. 1899. Plumage of the Snake-Bird (Plotus melanogaster). The Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, 12: 784. Accessed October 23, 2012 at

Whistler, H. 1949. Popular Handbook of Indian Birds. London: Gurney and Jackson. Accessed October 23, 2012 at

WoRMS, 2011. "Anhinga melanogaster Pennant, 1769" (On-line). WoRMS World Register of Marine Species. Accessed October 12, 2012 at

Zoological Society of London, 1882. Proceedings of the general meetings for scientific business of the Zoological Society of London for the year 1882. Zoological Society of London: 208-212. Accessed October 23, 2012 at