Redear sunfish (Lepomis)
Redear sunfish have thin, circular bodies almost as deep as they are long. Coloration is dark olive-green on the back and upper sides, green to yellow on the lower sides, and whitish on the belly. Males have a black ear flap (gill cover) with a blood- red edge from which the species gets its name. The edge of the females gill cover is orange. In some regions, olive-brown spotting is present on the sides and head.
Redear sunfish have two dorsal fins that are so smoothly connected they appear as one long fin. The first dorsal fin has 9 to 11 spines and the second has a near equal number of soft rays. The anal fin has three spines followed by a similar number of soft rays as the second dorsal fin. The tail is slightly forked. Pectoral fins are long and pointed, its mouth is small, and the eyes are red with black pupils.
Redear sunfish are distinguished from bluegill, pumpkinseed and other sunfish by the black ear flap atop the gill cover, which features a bright red (male) or orange (female) coloring around the entire edge.
Redear sunfish are bottom feeders, feeding mostly during the day on their preferred prey, aquatic snails. Redear sunfish have specially adapted teeth in the back of their mouth used to crush the snails shell before devouring the meat inside. It is this feeding practice that gives them the common name shellcracker.
Despite their preference for snails, they are opportunistic feeders and supplement their diet with aquatic insect larvae, clams, crayfish, and fish eggs. Young redear sunfish feed exclusively on zooplankton.
Redear sunfish are native to the eastern half of the United States, from South Carolina to Texas in the south, and from southern Illinois east to the Atlantic Coast in the north. They have been introduced to waters in many other western states including New Mexico and California, as well as to Africa and Latin America.
Redear sunfish inhabit clear lakes, ponds, reservoirs, and rivers. Like other sunfish, they prefer warm, protected bodies of water with little or no current. Redear sunfish relate to the bottom structure of the lake or river they inhabit and thrive in water with an abundance of cover from aquatic vegetation or submerged trees.
- Because snails have the potential to spread disease, many aquaculturists stock redear sunfish to eliminate the snail population.
- The all-tackle world record is 5 pounds, 3 ounces caught in 1994 in California.