shellcracker, stump-knocker, yellow bream, bream.
Distribution. Native to North America, redear sunfish are found from about the Savannah River in South Carolina to the Nueces River in Texas, north toward the Mississippi River basin to southern Indiana and Illinois, with some populations in western states. They have been introduced to waters in Africa and Latin America.
Habitat. Redear sunfish inhabit ponds, swamps, lakes, and vegetated pools of small to medium rivers; they prefer warm, clear, and quiet waters.
The redear sunfish is a popular sportfish that reaches a relatively large size and can be caught in large numbers. Like other members of the Centrarchidae family of sunfish, it is good to eat, with white, flaky meat.
Identification. Light golden-green above, the redear sunfish is roundish and laterally compressed; an adult has dusky gray spots on the sides, whereas a juvenile has bars. It is white to yellow on the belly, with mostly clear fins, and the breeding male is brassy gold with dusky pelvic fins. The redear sunfish has a fairly pointed snout and a small mouth, with blunted molaform teeth that make shell cracking possible. It has connected dorsal fins and long, pointed pectoral fins that extend far beyond the eyes when bent forward. The ear flaps are short and black, with a bright red or orange spot or a light margin at the edges.
Size/Age. The redear sunfish can reach large sizes, although it averages under a half pound and about 9 inches. The all-tackle world record is a 5-pound, 7-ounce fish taken in South Carolina in 1998. It can live up to 8 years.
Spawning behavior. Some redear sunfish are able to spawn when they are only 5 inches long and 1 year old, although most do so after they are age 2 or older. Spawning occurs when waters reach 70°F and extends through early fall. Males build and guard shallow circular nests, often built in colonies near vegetation in 2- to 8-foot depths.
Food. An opportunistic bottom feeder, the redear sunfish forages mostly during the day on aquatic snails, which gives it its common name, "shellcracker." These fish also feed on midge larvae, amphipods, mayfly and dragonfly nymphs, clams, fish eggs, and crayfish.
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