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New Jersey freshwater fish identification

Sunfish and Bluegills

Family Centrarchidae

There are over 20 species of sunfish, with many hybrids. They are part of the bass and crappie family,

and have been introduced throughout North America to areas where they did not occur naturally.

Sunfish are laterally compressed with 2 dorsal fins, the first with spines, the second with rays, and are

joined so they appear as one fin. Male sunfish build nests of gravel or vegetation by fanning his fins,

and after spawning remains to guard the eggs and young.


Mud sunfish (Acantharchus pomotis) can grow to about 8 inches. They have a rounded caudal fin, and

3 - 4 parallel black stripes across the face and side of its green body. They have larger eyes than most

other sunfish, a short snout, large mouth and an upper jaw that extends below the eye. A black spot with

an orange edge can be found on the ear flap, and the fins are clear to olive in color.

Bluespotted sunfish (Enneacanthus gloriosus) are small, growing to only about 4 inches. They have a

more slender caudal peduncle, with rows of blue or silvery spots along the side, that are less distinct

in adults. A dark spot can be found on the ear flap, and is smaller than the pupil.

Banded sunfish (Enneacanthus obesus) grow to around 4 inches, and have a rounded caudal fin, and

a deep compressed body. The body is olive in color, with dark bars that stripe from top to bottom along

the sides with rows of purple to gold spots. The dark spot on the ear flap is larger than the eye pupil.

Blackbanded sunfish (Enneacanthus chaetodon) can grow just over 3 inches. They can be identified by

6 black bars on the side, with the first through the eye. The first 2 or 3 membranes on the dorsal fin are

black, with black mottling on the other fins.

Green sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus) can grow to 12 inches, and like other lepomis species are often found

in polluted water. They have a long snout, and a thick body, with green sides, often with yellow flecks,

often with dusky bars along the sides. The ear flap is very rigid, with dark color in adults, young may have

some red color in the ear spot. Adults have a black spot at the rear of the second dorsal and anal fin.

Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus) can reach sizes of 16 inches. They have small black spots or lines on the

dorsal fin, and often a dusky spot at rear of anal fin. The ear flap is long, and is black on the back edge.

The rear edge of the gill cover is thin and flexible. The body is normally olive in color, but varies from dark

yellow to green with greenish flecks. The chin to the edge of the gill cover has 2 blue streaks. Breeding males

have a blue head and back, with a bright orange breast and belly.

Redear sunfish (Lepomis microlophus) can grow to 10 inches, and have a long pointed pectoral fin. They

have a black ear flap with a light-colored edge with a bright red or orange spot, and a pointed snout. They

are light gold-green to white-yellow, with dusky gray spots on adults, or bars on the young. Fins are clear.

Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus) grow to 16 inches, and have a pointed pectoral fin. These fish have a

short, black ear flap with a bright red or orange spot and a light-colored edge. The olive colored sides have

many gold and yellow flecks, with blue-green and orange spots. Many bold dark orange or brown wavy

lines can be found on the fins. Young and adult females have dusky chainlike bars along the sides.

Longear sunfish (Lepomis megalotis) reach about 9 inches, and have a very long ear flap, especially in

adult males, that are bordered above and below with a blue line. They have a short and rounded pectoral

fin. Adults are dark red on top, and orange below with chainlike bars. Young have olive back and sides

with yellow spots. These sunfish have very short, thick rakers on the first gill arch.

Dollar sunfish (Lepomis marginatus) are very similar to longear sunfish, only grow to under 5 inches. They

have a shorter, upwardly slanted ear flap. They sometimes have a red streak along the lateral line of the body.

These fish are found in more swamplike habitats than the longear sunfish.

Redbreast sunfish (Lepomis auritus) can reach around 9 inches in length. They have a very long, narrow ear

flap, that is no wider than the eye, and is black to edge, and bordered above and below by a blue line. They

have wavy blue lines on the cheek and opercle. The colors are dark olive on back and sides, with rows of

red-brown to orange spots on upper sides, and orange spots scattered on lower sides. Breeding males have

a bright orange breast and belly, and orange fins.


There is no size limit on sunfish and bluegills, and the daily bag limit is 25 fish.

questions about fish terminology? GO TO: FISH BODY CHARTS

GO TO NJ FRESHWATER FISH ID MAIN PAGE

GO TO NJ COMMON FRESHWATER FISH PAGE

GO TO NJ UNCOMMON FRESHWATER FISH PAGE

By Joe M. Cianci. See main page for list of sources. Send E mail to me at joecianci@comcast.net Comments welcome!

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04/11/99