Lepomis cyanellus

Species overview: The green sunfish was originally found west of the Appalachian Mountains, throughout the Mississippi watershed. It has been introduced elsewhere in the East, and is now found in most of North Carolina. The species name “cyanellus” means “blue.”

Identification: The green sunfish’s back and sides are olive, with a blue-green sheen and small, scattered dark specks. The lower sides and the belly have a brassy-gold tint and the head has bright-blue spots or lines. The gill flap is black with a pale-red, pink or yellow edge, and the pectoral fins are short and rounded. There is a black blotch on the rear portion of the dorsal fin and at the base of the anal fin. The green sunfish’s mouth is larger and the lips are heavier than in most sunfish. The top jaw extends past the front of the eye. Dorsal, caudal and anal fins are edged with a white, yellow or orange border. Green sunfish reach eight or nine inches in length.

Habits: The green sunfish likes sluggish pools and backwaters in streams and rivers. It also lives in the shallows of ponds and lakes and is tolerant of siltation. Green sunfish do not roam far from their small home range.

Life history: Green sunfish spawn over several months, between June and August. The fish mature at two years of age, although they may be only three inches long. The males fan several dishlike depressions in the bottom with the tail, and defend the nests vigorously against other green sunfish males. Green sunfish may nest in colonies, and readily hybridize with other sunfish, like bluegills and pumpkinseeds. The females spawn 2,000 to 10,000 eggs onto the nests of several males, and the males stay with the nest about a week while the eggs develop. Green sunfish are prolific producers. They tend to overpopulate the shallow water areas where they live. Their rather large mouth lets them eat insects, snails, crayfish and even small fish.