Pumpkinseed sunfish (Lepomis)
The coloration of pumpkinseed sunfish is one of the most vibrant of any fish in fresh water. It ranges from olive-green to brown, yellow, green and blue on the top and sides. The breast and belly are usually a light color such as cream, white or yellow and occasionally orange. The sides are covered with vertical bars that are faint green to blue and more prominent in females.
Orange spots may cover the dorsal, anal, and caudal (tail) fins. The cheek has undulating blue lines and the black ear flap (gill cover) has an orange-red spot on the margin that can be used to quickly identify the species. The leading edge of the dorsal spines is black, while the pectoral fins may be amber or clear. The remaining fins are usually gray, though sometimes they may appear yellow.
Pumpkinseed sunfish have a small with a flat, disk-shaped body. They have a small mouth and an upper jaw that stops just under the eye pupil. The gill cover has an inflexible rear edge and short, thick rakers on the first arch. The front dorsal fin is spiny and the pectoral fin is long and pointed and can be extended past the eye when bent forward.
Pumpkinseed sunfish have been introduced throughout North America. Although they can now be found from Washington and Oregon on the Pacific Coast to New Brunswick and Georgia on the Atlantic Coast, they are primarily found in the north-eastern United States and southern Canada.
Their natural range extends from New Brunswick down the east coast of North America to South Carolina and Georgia. From the coast their range runs inland through Ontario and Quebec to the middle part of the continent. It then extends south through Iowa and back east through Pennsylvania.
The greatest concentrations of pumpkinseed sunfish are found in the northeastern region of the United States. They are rarely or never found in the south-central or southwestern United States.
Pumpkinseed sunfish usually reside in warm, calm lakes, ponds, and pools of creeks and small rivers that have abundant vegetation. They prefer clear water where they can hide within underwater weed patches, docks, logs, and other cover. Generally they will stay near the shore and can be found in substantial numbers in shallow, protected areas. Pumpkinseed tend to travel in schools and are more likely than other sunfish to be found in moving water.
The spawning season for pumpkinseed sunfish runs from late spring to early summer, commonly May or June. Males construct small, circular nests, most often in water 6 to 12 inches deep.
Females are attracted to the nest where they lay 1,500 to 3,000 eggs. Several females may deposit eggs in the same nest. After fertilizing the eggs with their milt, males remain nearby to guard the nest and chase away predators that might eat the eggs.
Eggs hatch 3 to 5 days later, depending upon water temperature. Once hatched, the fry move quickly to shallow water and begin feeding on zooplankton.
Pumpkinseed sunfish feed on a variety of small food at both the surface and the bottom. Favored foods include insects and larvae such as dragonfly nymph, mayfly nymph, water beetles, ants, and worms. They also consume snails, larval salamanders, and mollusks. Small fish and fish eggs are also part of their diet. Occasionally they will eat small pieces of aquatic plants.
Though many expert anglers consider the pumpkinseed sunfish to be a nuisance fish, they are extremely popular with young fishermen because of their willingness to bite worms, extensive distribution, large numbers, and location close to shore.
Many people consider the meat to be a worthy meal, though their small size means it can take several to satisfy an appetite. This size issue is a limiting factor in its popularity as a sport fish.
Pumpkinseed sunfish can be caught utilizing the same fishing techniques used to catch any of the panfish, such as bluegill. Because of their small mouths, an angler must use small hooks and baits. They are attracted to almost any natural bait, providing it is small enough for them to consume. A worm on a small hook with light line (6-pound test or lighter) is the most effective method of fishing for these fish. In addition, many small artificial lures have proven successful with pumpkinseed sunfish.
Fishermen looking for these fish should find a lake, pond, or stream and focus on shoreline with thick vegetation or underwater debris.
- Pumpkinseed sunfish get their Latin name from lepomis meaning scaled gill cover, and gibbosus meaning wide margin.
- Pumpkinseed sunfish will breed with other sunfish in the wild. The resulting variety of hybrids can make exact identification difficult in areas with more than one species of sunfish.
- Although they have been widely introduced throughout the world, some places, particularly Europe, have reported unfavorable ecological effects after their introduction. They are considered a nuisance in Europe.
- Hawks, ducks, herons and other shorebirds, as well as muskrats and raccoons prey upon pumpkinseed sunfish.