Sunfish

Species Identification

Sunfish are a family of fish comprised of both fresh and saltwater species, some of the more common ones being bluegill, pumpkinseed, largemouth bass, and ocean sunfish.This section will look in more depth at the redear sunfish, pumpkinseed, and bluegill.


Appearance

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Pumpkinseed
Ohio Department of Natural Resources

Redear Sunfish: Redear sunfish are a deep, slab-sided fish similar to the bluegill, except the ear flap (opercle) is black with a red or orange spot at the rear edge. Redear sunfish do not have distinct vertical bars like bluegills, but when they are present, they are broken and blotchy. Redear Sunfish also lack the black blotches at the rear base of the dorsal and anal fins that bluegills have.

Pumpkinseed: Pumpkinseed sunfish are a very colorful, deep-bodied, slab-sided fish with a small mouth. They have a orange to yellow belly and many small brown to orange spots scattered over their sides. They also have many spots on their dorsal fin, and much like longear and green sunfish they have wavy blue lines on their cheek. The ear flap or opercle is black with a distinctive red-orange spot at the rear edge. The opercle flap is also very short compared to that of a longear sunfish.

Bluegill: A deep slab-sided fish with a small mouth and a long pointed pectoral fin. They have 5-9 dark bars on their side and an overall dark green body color. When caught in muddy water they can appear more silver in over all coloration. Bluegill sunfish often have a black blotch near the back of the soft dorsal and anal fins. They have blue along the bottom edge of their jaw line and rear bottom edge of their gill covers. Their belly is white in young, yellow in females, and orange to a rusty red in breeding males.

Maximum Size

Redear Sunfish: IGFA World Record of 5 pounds 7 oz (2.48 kg).


Pumpkinseed: IGFA World Record of 1 pound 6 oz (0.63 kg).

Bluegill: IGFA World Record of 4 pounds 12 oz (2.15 kg).

Geographic Range

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Redear Sunfish
Duane Raver/USFWS

Redear Sunfish: Their native range are the southern states but have been stocked in various locations across North America.


Pumpkinseed: Northeastern North America, though it has been introduced elsewhere, including Europe where it is considered an invasive species.

Bluegill: A wide range in North America, stretching from Quebec through most of the United States and into Mexico.

Habitat

Redear Sunfish: Redear sunfish prefer clear waters with more rooted aquatic vegetation than that of the bluegill sunfish. Redear sunfish do poorly in flowing streams. Redearsunfish use specially modified teeth in their throat that allow them to crush the shells of snails and other mollusks, giving them their nickname "shellcrackers."

Pumpkinseed: This species prefers clear, non-flowing water and substrates of organic debris and dense submerged aquatic vegetation. Pumpkinseed Sunfish are rarely found in fast flowing streams.

Bluegill: They are most abundant in clear lakes and ponds that have some rooted aquatic vegetation. They are usually not the dominant sunfish species in most streams but do make up a portion of the over all sunfish population in nearly every stream.

Food

Redear Sunfish: Preferred diet is snails but will eat a wide variety of aquatic and terrestrial insects as well.

Pumpkinseed: Larval insects, some adult insects, snails, and occasionally small fish.

Bluegill: Zooplankton, insects, and other invertebrates.

Spawning

Redear Sunfish: Redear sunfish, like most other sunfish, are communal nest spawners. Spawning normally occurs in May or June, and the male guards the nest until the eggs hatch. Following spawning, redear sunfish move to deeper water for the summer months.

Pumpkinseed: Pumpkinseed sunfish are nest spawners with the male digging the nest in water as shallow as 6 to 12 inches (15-30 cm). Spawning occurs in May or June and the males guard the nest until the eggs hatch. The female will lay between 1,600 to 2,900 eggs. Several females may lay eggs in a single nest.

Bluegill: Bluegills typically build nests in large groups, or colonies. They spawn multiple times between May and August. The females then lay between 10,000 to 60,000 eggs in the nest which is guarded by the male. The eggs usually hatch in about five days. Young bluegills eat primarily zooplankton or microscopic animals.

Information courtesy of Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

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