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Which Sunfish Live In Your Pond?

By Ethan Stokes

It is important to know what species of sunfish are in your pond because different species of sunfish play distinct and important roles in your pond’s ecosystem. While all species are fun to catch and have some eye catching colors, some species compete with your bass for resources, while others are an important food source.

If you've spent much time down by the pond or out fishing, you have likely come across several species of sunfish here in Texas. Many sunfish share very similar characteristics that can make it difficult to differentiate the species. Like many species of fish, sunfish species have accumulated a wide variety of names (bream, perch, etc.) for the same species, which often leads to confusion when communicating with others from different regions. For this blog, we are going to use widely accepted common names for each sunfish species.  

I have assembled a quick, easy-to-use key to identify a few of the common species you are likely to find in your pond, focusing on Bluegill, Redear Sunfish, Longear Sunfish, Green Sunfish, and Warmouth.  

*Instructions: Work down the list starting at #1a. If the fish has the characteristics described, follow the bullet points telling you which number to go to next, or which species you have.

Sunfish Quick Identification Key

1a. Sunfish with dark markings or lines radiating from the eye, tongue with a patch of teeth, and an upper jaw that extends beyond the eye

    • Warmouth (Lepomis gulosus)

Warmouth

  • 1b. Sunfish with an upper jaw that does not extend beyond the middle of the eye (except adult green sunfish), and has no dark lines radiating from the eye
    • Go to #2
  • 2a. Pectoral fins are often wide and rounded and, when gently folded forward, do not extend beyond the eye 
    • Go to #3
  • 2b. Pectoral fins are usually pointed and, when gently folded forward, extend beyond the eye
    • Go to #4
  • 3a. Has a large mouth, the rear of gill flap is stiff (not including ear flap), and an earflap that is not greatly elongated
    • Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus)

Green Sunfish

  • 3b. Has a small mouth, the rear of gill flap is flexible (not including earflap), and an earflap that is typically elongated, especially in males
    • Longear Sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)

Longear Sunfish

  • 4a. Rear part of soft dorsal containing dark spot, ear flap without red/orange border
    • Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)

Blue Gill

  • 4b. Soft dorsal containing no spots, ear flap with red/orange border
    • Redear (Lepomis microlophus)

Red Ear

 

List of Sunfish Characteristics 

Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)

  • Small mouth
  • Pectoral fin extends beyond eye when folded forward 
  • Earflap lacking red/orange margin
  • Dark spot on rear of soft dorsal 

Redear (Lepomis microlophus)

  • Small mouth
  • Pectoral fin, long and pointed and extends beyond eye when folded forward 
  • Earflap with red/orange margin
  • Soft dorsal without spots

Longear Sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)

  • Small mouth
  • Pectoral fins, rounded and do not extend beyond eye when folded forward
  • Earflap often elongated (especially in males)
  • Pectoral fin with 14 rays

Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus)

  • Large mouth
  • Earflap not elongated 
  • Pectoral fin, rounded and does not extend beyond eye when folded forward
  • Often has dark spot on posterior of soft dorsal 
  • Does not have dark line radiating out from eye on operculum (gill cover)

Warmouth (Lepomis gulosus)

  • Large mouth
  • Dark lines radiating out from eye on operculum (gill cover)
  • Pectoral fins, rounded and does not extend beyond eye when folded forward

Know Which Sunfish You Want in Your Pond

Each species of sunfish play distinct roles in your pond’s ecosystem. By knowing which species of sunfish are present in your pond, you can then adjust your management strategies accordingly.  Sunfish, such as Warmouth and Green Sunfish, compete with bass for resources and are not recommended for your pond. Beneficial species include Bluegill, which are needed for forage sustainability, and Redear that will act as a biological control for parasite prevention. For more in-depth information on each species, contact Pond King, and we will be happy to answer any questions.

Tags: Fish and Fishing, Pond Management

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