Distribution. Similar in range to the green sunfish, the longear sunfish occurs in east-central North America, west of the Appalachian Mountains from southern Quebec and western New York throughout the Mississippi Valley, and westward through Minnesota and Nebraska and south into Texas, as well as along Gulf Coast drainages to western Florida.
Habitat. This species inhabits rocky and sandy pools of headwaters, creeks, and small to medium rivers, as well as ponds, bays, lakes, and reservoirs; it is usually found near vegetation and is generally absent from downstream and lowland waters.
Similar in size and general appearance to the pumpkinseed and a member of the Centrarchidae family of sunfish, the longear sunfish is a small, excellent gamefish on light tackle, although in many places it is generally too small to be avidly sought. The white and sweet flesh is excellent to eat.
Identification. With a stout body, the longear sunfish is not as compressed as the bluegill or the pumpkinseed, its close relatives. It is one of the most colorful sunfish, particularly the breeding male, which is dark red above and bright orange below, marbled, and spotted with blue. The longear generally has red eyes, orange to red median fins, and a blue-black pelvic fin. There are wavy blue lines on the cheeks and the opercles, and the long, flexible, black ear flaps are generally edged with a light blue, white, or orange line. The longear sunfish has short and rounded pectoral fins, which usually do not reach past the eyes when they are bent forward. It has a fairly large mouth, and the upper jaw extends under each eye pupil.
Size. The longear sunfish may grow to 9V2 inches, averaging 3 to 4 inches and just a few ounces. The all-tackle world record is a 1-pound, 12-ounce fish, taken in New Mexico in 1985.
Spawning behavior. Spawning takes place from late May to mid-August, when water temperatures range in the upper 70s and lower 80s Fahrenheit, with longear sunfish that are at least 1 to 2 years old moving to gravel bottoms. Males build shallow, saucer-shaped nests in water 8 inches to 2 feet in depth, guarding the eggs until they hatch about a week after being deposited. Many nests are usually found close together.
Food. Longear sunfish feed primarily on aquatic insects but also on worms, crayfish, and fish eggs off the bottom.
Strongly resembling the rock bass in general color and shape, the mud sunfish is not actually a member of the Lep-omis sunfish genus, although it is called a sunfish. It has a rectangular, compressed body that is dusky reddish brown on the back and pale brownish underneath. The lateral-line scales are pale, and along the arch of the lateral line is a broad irregular stripe of dark scales about three scale rows wide. Below the lateral line are two straight dark bands, each two scale rows wide, and an incomplete third, lower stripe one scale wide. It is distinguished from the similar rock bass by the shape of the tail, which is round in the mud sunfish and forked in the rock bass. Also, young mud sunfish have wavy dark lines along the sides, whereas young rock bass have a checkerboard pattern of squarish blotches. The mud sunfish may reach a maximum of 6V2 inches.
In North America, mud sunfish are widely distributed in the Atlantic Coastal Plain and the lower Piedmont drainages from the Hudson River in New York to the St. Johns River in Florida, and in Gulf Coastal Plain drainages of northern Florida and southern Georgia from the Suwanee River to the St. Marks River. They usually occur over mud or silt in vegetated lakes, pools, and backwaters of creeks and in small to medium rivers. Adult fish are frequently seen resting head down in vegetation.
This species is generally an incidental catch for anglers.
Sunfish, Mud 217
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