freshwater sunfish

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Freshwater - sunfish - 1



The freshwater sunfish is a member of the freshwater fish family, also known as the sunfish family, belonging to the order Perciformes, and is one of the most popular fishing species in North America. This family includes 38 different freshwater species grouped into three distinct subgroups. The most notable features of the freshwater sunfish are their rough scales and two spiny dorsal fins.

The species can be found in warm, diverse habitats and has been introduced from native waters in North America, and can now be found in lakes, ponds and streams throughout Africa and Europe.

3 Facts About Freshwater Sunfish

green sunfish
The green sunfish is the most showy of the freshwater sunfish.

© Pocket Draw/

  1. Of the 38 identified species of freshwater sunfish, four are extinct.
  2. All species of freshwater sunfish are carnivores, preying on smaller fish.
  3. Freshwater sunfish can grow up to 18 inches in length.

freshwater sunfish species

There are 44 different species of freshwater sunfish. Four of them are extinct. They belong to the nesting fish family Centrarchidae. Sunfish or Lepomis is one of the largest groups of centarchids and it is a small species.

Here are some of the most popular freshwater sunfish species:

  • Perch (Micopterus salmoides)
  • Perch (Pomoxis)
  • Bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus)
  • Sunfish (Lepomis microlophus)
  • Long sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)
  • Pumpkin Seed Sunfish (Lepomis gibbosus)
  • Sunfish (Lepomis gulosus)
  • Red-breasted sunfish (Lepomis auritus)
  • Green sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus)
  • Orange sunfish ( Lepomis humilis )
  • Blackband sunfish ( Enneacanthus chaetodon )

Below you can find a complete list of all species of live freshwater sunfish:

mud sunfish sage
Shadow Bass Mylabris
Roanoke Bass Grouper
black bass Constellation spotted grouper
rock bass Grouper
Sacramento Perch decapitated lizard
leaflet Bigfin
black striped sunfish Ratchetosaurus
blue sunfish Nine Tails
banded sunfish Red Thorn Bean
Plains sunfish jellyfish
red breast sunfish goldfish
green sunfish cyanobacteria
pumpkin seeds Fish scale fish
warmouth sea cucumber
orange sunfish coir raincoat
bluegill sunfish Periplaneta
dollar sunfish jellyfish
long-eared sunfish Kingfish
sunfish small scale fish
Red-spotted sunfish small scale fish
northern sunfish waterweed
Spotted sunfish Razor fish
Everglades sunfish jellyfish
bantam sunfish symmetrical fish
sea bass blackfin bass
Shoal Bass cataract smallfin fish
Chattahoochee Bass Smallfin perch
red eye bass blackfin bass
smallmouth bass Whitefin
florida bass florida smallfin
Alabama Bass anchovies
Suwanee Sea Bass small fin fish
Spotted Bass spotted fish
largemouth bass Salmon
Taraposa Sea Bass sea bass
Guadalupe Sea Bass blackfin bass
warrior perch yellowfin perch
white crappie ring acne
black bass Black Spotted Worm


black bass
Black bass are members of the ancient subfamily Centrarchinae.

© Smithsonian Center for Environmental Research / Flickr – License

The oldest Centrarchidae fossils, found in Montana and South Dakota, are estimated to be about 28 million years old. These specimens belong to the now extinct species of freshwater sunfish, but scientists believe they belong to the subfamily Centrarchinae, which shares differences with modern freshwater sunfish such as perch and perch, so these fish may be some of the oldest surviving members of the Centrarchidae family member.

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All freshwater sunfish have a pancake-shaped body structure, which gives them a flattened appearance. They have two dorsal fin rays, one with sharp spines and the other with soft rays. Each species has from three to nine anal fins and two fused but distinct dorsal fins.

They have anywhere from 6 to 13 spines on their fins, and the smallest species of sunfish, the blackband sunfish, can grow to just 3.1 inches in length, while largemouth bass can grow as long as 3.3 feet in some cases. The average length of most freshwater sunfish is 18 inches.

Certain species of freshwater sunfish have rounder bodies, which are not as flat as others, and have smaller mouths. Other species, usually from the genus Micropterus, have streamlined bodies and larger mouths. The size of the mouth determines how freshwater sunfish feed, as the largemouth sunfish uses ram feeding (a feeding method in which the sunfish opens its mouth to swim into prey), while the smallmouth sunfish uses sucking (a sunfish method of feeding by sucking prey).

Freshwater color varies by species, but is usually reddish-brown, green, blue, or silver.

orange sunfish
The orange-spotted sunfish is a North American freshwater sunfish in the family sunfish or perciformes.

©M Rose/

Distribution, Population and Habitat

largemouth bass
Largemouth bass are one of the most popular freshwater sunfish species for sport fishing.

©Pierre Rebollar/


Freshwater sunfish are native to parts of North America, but they are now found throughout the waters of Europe and Africa. You can find freshwater sunfish in New Jersey inhabiting some of the state's largest reservoirs, lakes, and small farm ponds. The main species found in New Jersey are the redbreast, pumpkin seed and bluegill sunfish. The red-breasted species of freshwater sunfish is found in Ohio, Tennessee, Missouri, South Dakota, and Arkansas.

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There are 38 identified species of freshwater sunfish; four of these species are now extinct. They are found throughout North America, Europe and Africa. The larger species of freshwater sunfish are considered endangered, so the sale and fishing of these particular species is banned to prevent further declines in populations.


Freshwater sunfish inhabit a variety of different water systems, from small lakes and ponds to large streams and rivers. They prefer warm, clear waters. Certain species of freshwater sunfish can also be found in low-flow streams and marshes. The bluegill freshwater sunfish can be found east of the Rocky Mountains, while other fish, such as the popular red-breasted sunfish, inhabit river systems in eastern Canada and the United States.


Crappie jumps out of the water
Bass eat mainly insect larvae.


Young freshwater sunfish begin to eat fish larvae, either through inhalation or ram feeding. Sunfish are considered carnivores, and they primarily eat small invertebrates such as insects, molluscs, crustaceans, snails, and small fish. Small freshwater sunfish that use suckers feed on fish larvae and very small fish. Micropterus species are ram feeders that feed in swampy areas in open areas.

Reproduction and Lifespan

A distinctive feature of bluegills is the black spot at the end of their dorsal fin.
Bluegill sunfish can live up to 11 years and grow about an inch each year they live.

©Clint H/

Freshwater sunfish are nest builders, digging circular nests along the shorelines of lakes and streams during late spring in preparation for breeding. The nest contains dirt, sand and gravel and is usually dug by the male. Sunfish can become very territorial and aggressive when nesting and are very protective of their eggs.

While the female lays eggs, the male builds and protects the nest until the larvae develop into fry and are large enough to swim. The female freshwater sunfish will lay eggs in the nest after the male completes the dancing courtship ceremony. The larger the male freshwater sunfish, the easier it is to attract females.

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The average freshwater sunfish lifespan is 4 to 6 years, but some species, such as the bluegill sunfish, can live up to 10 years.

Freshwater Sunfish in Fishing and Cooking

Spotted Bass
Many of the most popular fish are freshwater sunfish, such as smallmouth bass.


Freshwater sunfish have been caught by still fishing, baitcasting, drift fishing and fly fishing. They can use worms as bait and make popular anglerfish. They are more suitable for experienced anglers and you need to find the right spot, use the right equipment and try different techniques to successfully catch freshwater sunfish. Sunfish is most popular in the United States, but make sure it is legal to fish this species in your area, as some species are endangered.

You can eat freshwater sunfish, which many say taste like black bass or tuna. They are a good source of essential minerals and can be baked, grilled or fried.

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Freshwater sunfish are found mainly in North America, but have also been introduced to Europe and Africa. Here, freshwater sunfish inhabit warm freshwater ponds, streams, creeks, lakes and reservoirs.

There are three types of freshwater sunfish: black bass, crappie and true sunfish. You can also get the ocean sunfish found in the ocean, more commonly known as sunfish.

The term panfish is used to describe small pan-fried fish. The sunfish is a popular fish that is smaller and considered a panfish.