Longear sunfish (Lepomis)
The longear sunfish is one of the most colorful of all freshwater fish. Coloration is olive-green to rusty-brown on the back and sides, speckled with blue, yellow, and orange markings. The belly and parts of the lower side are bright orange, yellow, or red, and the side of the head has blue-green or turquoise wavy stripes. Males change coloration when breeding.
They get their moniker longear from the extended, upward-slanting gill cover flap of adult longear sunfish that is unique in North American freshwater fish. This ear flap, which is often dark colored bordered in blue, can help positively identify this species in the wild.
The body is thin (though not as thin as the closely related bluegill or pumkinseed) and deep-bodied, and has a spiny, long dorsal fin that curves upward halfway across its length. The tail fin is forked.
Longear sunfish subsist mainly on aquatic insects but will also eat mollusks, algae, small crustaceans, fish eggs, and small fish.
They feed at the surface more than other sunfishes, and when feeding on the bottom they will often follow feeding turtles and suckers and devour the insect larvae and crustaceans that are stirred up.
Longear sunfish are found in scattered populations in North America west of the Appalachian Mountains from southern Quebec and Minnesota in the north and from New Mexico to the gulf coast of Florida in the south.
Longear sunfish inhabit creeks, small streams, ponds, lakes, and reservoirs. When in flowing bodies of water, they gravitate to pools, inlets, and margins of weed beds to avoid strong current areas.
Longear sunfish require clear, moderately warm water and clean substrates of gravel, cobbles, or sands, favoring substrates that slope moderately. They favor areas near vegetation or some other form of cover to avoid predation from birds.
- The species name megalotis means great ear.
- Because of their demanding habitat needs, longear sunfish populations are on the decline. This trend is unfortunately aided by changes man is making in the environment that add silt to the bodies of water that longear sunfish inhabit.