Species Profile: Lepomis microlophus – Redear Sunfish

Scientific Name: Lepomis microlophus

Common Name(s): Redear Sunfish, Stumpknocker, Shellcracker, Bream, Cherry Gill, Sun Perch

Identification:  

The redear sunfish, Lepomis microlophus, is easily distinguished from all other sunfish by the spot of red on the “ear flap” and the long, pointed fins on its sides. Redear sunfish are olive-green on the back with silvery sides mottled with greenish brown spots. The sides may have dark vertical bars, especially in younger fish. The ear flap is short with a crescent-shaped red or orange spot on the border. The belly is yellowish and their mouth is small in comparison to their large body. The dorsal fin has 9-11 sharp spines and no dark blotch at the end (like in bluegill). Redear sunfish are Arkansas’ largest species of sunfish, often ranging from 8-10inches in length and around 1lb in weight in farm ponds and reservoirs.  Although, 1-1.5lbs is not uncommon. When caught in streams and rivers they are usually much smaller.  The current state record is 2lbs 14oz and 15 inches long from Bois D’Arc Lake.

                     

Range:

Lepomis microlophus is native to the southeastern United States and has been stocked in water bodies all over North America for its popularity as a sport fish.  In Arkansas, it is native to all major water bodies, and is stocked extensively in ponds and lakes all over the state.

Ecology: 

The redear sunfish is considered to be a warm water fish, preferring water temperatures around 73-77°F.  They prefer clear, calm water with plenty of logs, stumps, brush, and aquatic vegetation.  Its attraction to submerged timber is what inspired its nickname “stumpknocker.” They are normally found in calm water that has a mud bottom, but can sometimes be found in pools of streams.  The redear sunfish is a popular game fish although its bottom feeding habits sometimes make it harder to catch than other sunfish species.

Redear sunfish spawn multiple times from April to August when water temperatures range from 66-70°F.  Males build nests by fanning their tail fins, making a circular indention in the substrate.  The males gather and create nests close together in colonies, and the females visit to lay eggs.  A female 9-10inches in length can lay 35,500-64,000 eggs.  Males guard the nests after spawning until the young start to swim off.  Sexual maturity is usually reached around 2 years and maximum life span is 6-7 years.

Redear sunfish consume mainly snails and other small mollusks and crustaceans.  They have broad, flat teeth in the back of the mouth (pharyngeal teeth) that are excellent at crushing shells, which inspired their nickname “shellcracker.” There propensity for eating aquatic snails limits the spread of fish parasites that use snails as intermediate hosts.  They are also know to feed on insect larvae and other material taken near the bottom.  The best angling success is with natural baits fished near the bottom.

Special Notes: 

Here in Bella Vista, redear sunfish can be found in all of the lakes and Little Sugar Creek.  Fishermen hoping to catch a redear sunfish should use natural bait like earthworms, crickets, grubs, maggots, catalpa worms, or freshwater shrimp, because redear rarely take artificial bait.  Fishing near the bottom around logs, stumps, and other submerged timber or vegetation would be helpful.  Known gravel beds at 15 to 20 feet in depth can also productive.  Our lakes grow redear sunfish to trophy size especially on lakes Windsor and Lomond.  The redear sunfish is our most likely candidate for a state record of all species here in Bella Vista.