List of Types of Sunfish Species 2023 [Updated]
Sunfish are a group of laterally compressed fish native to North America. This is a diverse group with a variety of forms from the massive largemouth bass to the tiny and colorful pygmy sunfish. There are over thirty species, divided into nine genera with most species sought after by humans as sportfish or aquarium fish. This group of fish contains some of the most notable North American sportfish including the black basses and the more colorful true sunfish.
List of Common Sunfish Species
1) Mud sunfish (Acantharchus pomotis)
The mud sunfish is the lone member of the genus Acantharchus with a dark reddish-brown or olive body and several stripes running horizontally along its body. Some individuals are mottled or plainly colored without any solid lines. They are small compared to other sunfish, around 5.5 inches (14 cm) on average, so they are more attractive to naturalists and conservationists than anglers.
This species appears to be primarily insectivorous, with some parts of their diet including crustaceans. In addition, mud sunfish typically hunt at night. They can be found in dark water, usually stained with tannins from woody debris. Most male sunfish construct a nest during the breeding season, and mud sunfish are no exception.
While they are not threatened throughout their range, some populations in states such as New York and New Jersey, are dwindling or extinct.
2) Flier (Centrarchus macropterous)
This next sunfish is a modest silver fish with a horizontal stripe running through its eye, forming a rounded teardrop shape underneath the eye. This sunfish is small, averaging around 5 inches (13 cm), and, as a result, they are of little interest to sport fishers outside of their use as bait fish. Of any sunfish species, they have the most dorsal spines, around 11 – 13.
The distribution for fliers ranges from Texas along the gulf coast into New York. They can be found in several water bodies, from swamps to lakes, and prefer areas with soft, muddy bottoms. Their diet consists of aquatic insects, crustaceans, and small fish. Fliers spawn slightly earlier than other sunfish, starting in early spring and ending in late spring. During this time, males construct nests in groups for females to lay their eggs. The males defend eggs and larvae until they leave the nest.
Although common throughout their range and officially listed as least concern, they are locally imperiled in states like Missouri.
3) Blackbanded sunfish (Enneacanthus chaetodon)
This tiny, ornate sunfish can be found in the slow-moving waters of the eastern United States. Its range follows the east coast from central Florida up into New York. Blackbanded sunfish average around 2 inches (5 cm) in length; all members of the genus Enneacanthus are similarly small. Blackbanded sunfish have a striking black-and-white banding pattern with flecks of olive and gold, possessing an appearance, unlike any other sunfish. The blackbanded sunfish is also far rarer than most sunfish.
Its rarity is due, in part, to its strict habitat requirements. Blackbanded sunfish require clean, slow-moving water with very little turbidity and abundant submerged vegetation. As a result, plants are everything to this species of sunfish. Not only do aquatic plants provide blackbanded sunfish with adequate hunting grounds, but plants also provide cover and spawning habitats for this species.
The blackbanded sunfish is recognized globally as near-threatened and has been eliminated from some parts of its native range.
4) Blue-spotted sunfish (Enneacanthus gloriosus)
Arguably the most beautiful of the Enneacanthus sunfish is the blue-spotted sunfish. This dark-colored, almost black sunfish is dotted with iridescent green-blue spots. It is similar in appearance to the banded sunfish, but the blue-spotted sunfish’s colors are more intense and striking. They are larger than blackbanded sunfish, with an average length of around 2.7 inches (7 cm).
Blue-spotted sunfish can hide amongst vegetation and submerged debris of sandy or muddy-bottomed rivers and lakes. As juveniles, they venture out of weed beds to hunt, but adults are more likely to be found within the weed beds. They hunt during the day for small fish and aquatic invertebrates. In addition, they are more tolerant of variable habitat conditions than blackbanded sunfish, capable of occupying brackish and slightly turbid waters.
Blue-spotted sunfish are not of conservation concern, although they are introduced to some regions of New York and Mississippi.
5) Banded sunfish (Enneacanthus obesus)
The final Enneacanthus species resembles a mixture of blue-spotted and blackbanded sunfishes. They possess both the vertical bars found in blackbanded sunfish and the iridescent blue-green spots found in blue-spotted sunfish. Sometimes blue-green iridescent patterns form short horizontal or vertical stripes unique to this Enneacanthus species. Size-wise they fall between the blue-spotted and blackbanded sunfish with an average length of 2.4 inches (6.1 cm).
Banded sunfish primarily consume aquatic invertebrates amongst the substrate or roots of submerged plants. Their habitat requirements and reproductive habits are similar to that of other Enneacanthus species.
Banded sunfish are not of conservation concern except in states where they are rare or declining, such as New York. Population reductions are primarily attributed to draining suitable habitats and urban development.
6) Black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)
Like many other popular sportfish, the black crappie has been introduced throughout the United States to stock sportfish fisheries. Black crappies are sunfish with a dark, mottled appearance and are extremely popular among sport fishers.
Black crappies are typically small, with an average length of 10.8 inches (27.4 cm). Crappies are crepuscular hunters, meaning they feed during the morning and evening, so anglers should search for them during these times. They are also schooling fish, so more are sure to be present where one is found.
Black crappies are not considered endangered and are actually prolific within and outside of their range.
7) White crappie (Pomoxis annularis)
The only other member of the genus Pomoxis is the white crappie. This species can be found in large rivers and lakes. White crappies are silver-colored sunfish with distinctive vertical black bars. Like the black crappie, they are popular among sport fishers. Due to their smaller size, they are known as panfish, a general term for any delicious fish species small enough to cook in a single pan. Compared to black crappies, white crappies are slightly smaller, reaching an average length of around 9.8 inches (25 cm), and can live up to ten years.
White crappies reach maturity between two and three years of age at a slightly slower rate than black crappies. Young white crappies eat small crustaceans; as they age, they eventually graduate to small fish. As such, minnows are one of the recommended baits for this species. They are visual hunters, so using a flashy bait or a lure will grant you more luck catching one.
During the mating season, which typically overlaps with the black crappie mating season, males congregate in vegetated areas and scoop nests out of the substrate. Sometimes males line the nest with debris. Once eggs are laid within the nest, the male will protect them for several days until they hatch.
White crappies are not of conservation concern.
8) Sacramento perch (Archoplites interruptus)
The monotypic (single species) genus Archoplites contains a single species, the Sacramento perch. Despite the “perch” in the common name, the Sacramento perch is not a member of the Percidae family; instead, it is a sunfish. While most sunfish are native to the eastern United States, the Sacramento perch is the only sunfish with a native range along the west coast.
While not as large as massive sunfish like the largemouth bass, the Sacramento perch is still rather sizeable with an average length of 12 inches (30 cm) and a record individual more than double that at 27 inches (69 cm). As a result, they were historically trendy sportfish, resulting in intentional stocking outside of their native range, which may contribute to the survival of this species because populations restricted to their native range are dangerously imperiled.
Interestingly, Sacramento perch are endangered in their native range, but introduced populations are doing well. The decline in the Sacramento perch population is attributed to the introduction of non-native white catfish (Ameiurus catus) in the Sacramento perch native range. Sacramento perch are also a poor competitor against other sunfish in the same feeding niche. For example, the bluegill is known to outcompete Sacramento perch when bluegill are introduced to Sacramento perch habitats.
9) Rock bass (Ambloplites rupestris)
Rock basses are not considered temperate basses (family Moronidae) nor black basses (sunfishes in the genus Micropterus). Instead, the rock bass is the type species for the genus Ambloplites, collectively called the rock basses. They are a type of sunfish and therefore share characteristics with black basses. Typically, rock bass are a dull green or brown color, they usually have striking red eyes that help distinguish them from other species. If you count the spines on their anal fins, they should have six.
This species is not as common as other large sunfish species. It prefers clear water with loose gravel substrates and patchy, but not dense, vegetation. As is typical with sunfish, males construct a nest in the substrate, and females leave their adhesive eggs for them to care for and protect.
Their diet includes insects, fish, and aquatic invertebrates like crayfish. They can change their color within a limited range from silver to dark gray to camouflage themselves.
Rock bass are not endangered or threatened.
10) Shadow bass (Ambloplites ariommus)
The elusive shadow bass is similar in size and appearance to other rock basses. The genus Ambloplites refers to this group’s large eyes, and the shadow bass is no exception. Some individuals possess striking red eyes. Native to only a few states in the United States South, the shadow bass is less common than other well-known bass species. The silver and black splotching pattern on a shadow bass can help distinguish it from other rock basses. On average, a shadow bass will reach 4 inches (10 cm) in length.
Localized populations sometimes vary in coloration, with individuals found in sandy streams possessing a lighter coloration than those in rocky streams. This adaptation allows them to hide from predators more effectively. This species specializes in invertebrates, with juveniles consuming small insects and adults primarily hunting crayfish and small fish.
Most shadow bass populations are not threatened, although some Louisiana populations suffer due to habitat fragmentation.
11) Roanoke bass (Ambloplites cavifrons)
Roanoke bass are restricted to a small range shared between Virginia and North Carolina. Young individuals are similar in appearance to shadow bass, and as they age, they lose the mottling pattern and turn an olive-green color. Fortunately, the two species’ ranges are separated, so it is easier to identify a rock bass based on where you found it than color.
An average length for this species has not been reported, but they are known to grow substantially, growing more than 12 inches (30 cm) in length. As such, many anglers consider them sportfish and they are regulated as one in their native range. One source recommends using live bait like minnows and small jigs if you are an angler in Virginia or North Carolina looking for Roanoke bass; another recommends using live bait like minnows and small jigs.
This species prefers clear, flowing water with gravel substrates. Therefore, they are not often found in impoundments or river systems altered by damming and have seen declines in Roanoke bass.
12) Ozark bass (Ambloplites constellatus)
The rock bass with the most restricted range is the Ozark bass, found only in the upper reaches of the White River system. This species develops an olive-green color with some black speckling, although breeding males are darker than females.
Little is known about this species’ biology and life history characteristics, given its narrow range and lack of importance to humans. While these aspects of the Ozark bass are thought to be similar to that of other rock basses in the genus Ambloplites, more research is needed to understand the impact of human development in the region on Ozark bass populations.
Ozark bass are sometimes targeted as sportfish, and some attempts have been made to stock this species outside of its range for this purpose with little success. Therefore, this species is not of conservation concern despite potential threats to Ozark bass populations.
13) Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)
The United States’ most popular sportfish is the largemouth bass. Their high popularity among sport fishers led this eastern United States native to become introduced and widely distributed throughout the country. Largemouth bass are giant sunfish, but their common name refers more to the size of their mouths and their capacity to consume large prey items than their size. On average, a largemouth bass reaches around 16 inches (41 cm), but they can grow to be up to 38 inches (97 cm).
This species will hide amongst aquatic plants to ambush unsuspecting prey items. Such prey items might include other fish, amphibians, leeches, insects, small mammals, and birds. When fishing for largemouth bass, live bait works best. Potential bait items might include smaller sunfish or native shad—target areas near aquatic weed beds.
14) Smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu)
The aptly named smallmouth bass is the smaller and almost as famous cousin to the largemouth bass. Both species are green sunfish with spotted or barred patterns. One feature to pay attention to is the edge of their mouths. In largemouth bass, the edge of the mouth extends well past the back edge of the eye, whereas in smallmouth bass, the edge stops before the edge of the eye towards the tail fin. Both species belong to the black bass group, which includes all basses in the genus Micropterus. Anglers can expect to catch smallmouth bass between 12 and 19.5 inches (30 to 50 cm) in length.
Smallmouth bass can be caught along rocky shorelines and stony weed beds. They are highly predacious and accept many types of bait. This species will construct nests during the springtime spawning season to protect their eggs. Male smallmouth bass will defend the eggs until they hatch and can often easily be seen during this period. Some sources recommend targeting these protective males or using them as a clue that there may be other smallmouth bass in the area.
15) Shoal bass (Micropterus cataractae)
Shoal bass are large, aggressive olive-green sunfish with a maximum adult size of around 24 inches (61 cm). As a result, they are popular sportfish within their range. Their diet includes various food items, from crayfish and small fish to insects. So, anglers may want to use natural baits found in the same habitat as shoal bass to catch one.
Habitat requirements for shoal bass are relatively narrow. This species prefers moderate to fast-flowing rivers with rocky substrates and an abundance of woody debris. They are not found in impoundments or lakes and tend to avoid this habitat. During the breeding season, males will construct nests hidden by woody debris or boulder.
This species is near threatened and suffers from several sources of population decline, including habitat degradation and hybridization with other bass species like the spotted bass.
16) Spotted bass (Micropterus punctulatus)
Found in the Mississippi River drainage basin, the spotted bass is one of the most popular black basses for sportfishing. As with the smallmouth and largemouth basses, the spotted bass has been stocked extensively outside its range. This species has a lightly colored belly with a dark dorsal surface separated by a dark horizontal diamond pattern.
Males will construct nests of areas with a slower current. Once hatched, juveniles stick to shallow, nearshore areas, while adults can be found in deeper waters. Their diet preferences also change as they age, with juveniles targeting tiny plankton and insects while adults target small fish and crustaceans.
When fishing for spotted bass, rocky shorelines are the best place to look. They will accept a variety of live and artificial baits and can be commonly caught with crankbaits, poppers, and other angling methods.
Spotted bass are not of conservation concern.
17) Other black basses (Micropterus spp.)
There are several locally restricted black bass species without substantial information available that can only be found within a limited range or a single river system. For example, the Florida bass (M. floridanus) is native to peninsular Florida, and the Suwannee bass (M. notius) can be found in only Florida and Georgia. Other species are far more restricted by the Tallapoosa bass (M. tallapoosae), the Chattahoochee bass (M. chattahoochae), Coosa bass (M. coosae), and the Cahaba bass (M. cahabae), which are native to the river systems after which they are named.
While extensive research is absent for these species, one can generally assume that they follow the same reproductive habits and growth habits as other black basses. In addition, many species are local favorites as sport fishes.
In general, black basses are not of conservation concern, although some populations of the more local species, like the Suwanee bass, are declining. In addition, the central Texas native Guadalupe bass (M. treculii) is considered near-threatened.
18) Orangespotted sunfish (Lepomis humilis)
While most black basses possess an olive-colored pattern, there is far more variability and stunning colors in the “true sunfish” Lepomis genus. Additionally, black basses produce solitary nests, while true sunfish build nests in large colonies. The orangespotted sunfish is no exception with its vibrant iridescent blue and red patterns. As the name suggests, this fish is donned with many orange specks.
This species can be found in calm pools and oxbows amongst vegetation and submerged debris. They can tolerate some turbidity. Their small size, around 3 inches (7.6 cm), makes them more valuable as prey for sportfish than as sportfish themselves. In addition, they predate heavily on aquatic insects, a trait shared amongst most true sunfish, and help control insect populations.
Orangespotted sunfish are not endangered or threatened.
19) Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
The bluegill is another stunning sunfish with a greyish-brown colored body and fins tipped with blue and orange. Unfortunately, they are no longer a popular sportfish in Montana because they stay small and, as a result, are no longer routinely stocked. However, unlike other piscivorous sunfish, the bluegill does not accumulate as many toxic metals and is, therefore, safer to eat.
Like the pumpkinseed, they are primarily insectivorous but will also consume snails, worms, and small fish.
Spawning occurs in warm water between May and July. As is characteristic of sunfish, the male will guard the nest until the eggs hatch. Male bluegill tend to be particularly aggressive during the breeding season, and while they are not dangerous, they will try to attack swimmers if they come too close to the nest.
Bluegill are not endangered or of conservation concern.
20) Warmouth (Lepomis gulosus)
The warmouth or redeye is a brown, mottled sunfish with a size and fight comparable to that of the renowned black basses. They are not as colorful as the pumpkinseed or orangespotted sunfish, but males sometimes possess a vibrant orange spot on their dorsal fin. Additionally, adults may have striking red eyes.
The sluggish waters of muddy lakes and swamps are the preferred habitat for this species. Despite their rather aggressive name, warmouths are shy and tend to hide amongst debris in the water, such as tree roots, rocks, or other large submerged objects. They can also be found in vegetated areas.
Unlike smaller members of its genus, the warmouth can grow more than 12 inches (30 cm) long. They are large panfish, making them exciting and delicious to catch. They will take a variety of baits, from insects and minnows to artificial lures like jigs and spoons. They are also popular among fly fishing communities.
Warmouths are not threatened or endangered.
21) Bantam sunfish (Lepomis symmetricus)
Bantam sunfish are light to darkly colored with abundant vertical stripes along their sides. They are a small species with an average length of 2 inches (5 cm). Therefore, this species is considered among the smallest of the sunfish species. Unusually, this species is not sexually dimorphic, so females and males are challenging to tell apart.
This species prefers sluggish ponds and swamps with abundant aquatic vegetation and muddy substrate. They specialize in invertebrates, with the bulk of their diet composed of tiny insect larvae and marine snails.
While this species is not threatened throughout its range, it is considered imperiled in certain states like Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.
22) Green sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus)
Lepomis cyanellus is a small, green sunfish with an iridescent, blue-speckled pattern and an ear spot just above its pectoral fin. They also have yellow to white edging along their pelvic and anal fins. An average green sunfish is around 7.9 inches (20 cm). Although they rarely grow large enough to make a decent catch, they are considered delicious panfish.
To catch a green sunfish, an angler should try to fish in areas with abundant aquatic vegetation and refugia in the form of sunken wooden debris. One source suggests placing live bait on a bobber rig, such as a worm or crickets.
They are nest spawners, a trait that is characteristic of sunfish. The green sunfish diet mainly consists of aquatic invertebrates, although they sometimes predate upon smaller fish. When introduced, green sunfish compete with other invertivores and have been responsible for several local extirpations of native species.
The green sunfish is not of conservation concern.
23) Redbreast sunfish (Lepomis auritus)
Redbreast sunfish are beautiful sunfish with a striking blue pattern and orange bellies. They are similar in appearance to orangespotted sunfish, but the two species are unlikely to be found within the same range. Redbreast sunfish have a long ear spot on the edge of their operculum, the flap that covers their gills.
In several states, especially Texas, the redbreast sunfish have been introduced outside of their native range, where they compete with other native sunfish species and are a species of ecological threat. Besides competition, other concerns include the spread of diseases and parasites to native species, competition for nest sites, and hybridization.
Despite this, within their native range, redbreast sunfish are a beautiful and essential part of their natural ecosystem. Like other small sunfish species, they predate upon insect larvae and small crustaceans and provide food for fish-loving predators.
Redbreast sunfish are not threatened or endangered.
24) Dollar sunfish (Lepomis marginatus)
Dollar sunfish display substantial local variations in color with light to dark colorations and typically with iridescent, blue flecking along the sides. This species is duller than the ornate redbreast or orangespotted sunfish but still displays some iridescent coloration. Given their small size and variable coloration, dollar sunfish are sometimes kept as aquarium pets.
This species can be found in swamps and backwaters of the southeastern United States and is notorious for hiding in extremely murky and weedy waters. Where they co-occur, dollar sunfish are known to compete with bluespotted sunfish because they consume the same prey items, small insects, and crustaceans.
This species is not of conservation concern.
25) Northern sunfish (Lepomis peltastes)
Once considered a subspecies of the longear sunfish, this rare and secretive fish is native to the northeastern United States and Canada. Interestingly, it is one of the few true sunfish in this region; most fish in the genus Lepomis are native to the southern United States or can be found along the east coast. They are highly similar in appearance to the longear sunfish and other colorful sunfish species. Some key characteristics can be found here.
This species prefers pristine, shallow aquatic environments and has an affinity for muskgrass, a submerged aquatic plant. This is possible because nests are constructed in beds with dense vegetation, with the plant as cover from predators.
The IUCN has not evaluated this species as a possible species of concern.
26) Longear sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)
The longear sunfish may be the most visually striking of the true sunfish, with intense contrasting orange and blue coloration and an elongated earspot at the edge of the operculum. They are very similar in appearance to the redbreast sunfish. However, the earspot of the longear sunfish is bordered with an iridescent blue stripe that runs along the edge of the operculum. Additionally, longear sunfish possess more red and blue patterning on the face of the fish. The natural ranges of these two fish seldom overlap. However, the redbreast sunfish has been introduced into parts of the longear’s range.
Longears predate almost exclusively on aquatic invertebrates and fish eggs. During the breeding season, which lasts from May to August, there is evidence to suggest that female longear sunfish select males with longer ear spots, leading to an exaggeration of the trait over time. This species fiercely competes for mating rights and aggressively defends its nests. However, if a nest is left unattended for too long, other members of its species might eat the male’s eggs.
Longear sunfish are not threatened or endangered.
27) Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus)
This round and beautiful sunfish sports an iridescent blue and orange coloration. Also known as just “pumpkinseed,” they are native to the northeastern United States. Like most non-native sunfish, they are introduced intentionally as sportfish and have also been introduced illegally. Pumpkinseeds are abundant in Montana and fun for kids to catch because they are striking and easy to fish.
This sunfish is smaller than the smallmouth and largemouth bass, with a maximum length of 15 inches (38 cm) and an average length of 3 inches (7.6 cm). They almost exclusively consume invertebrates and snails. In areas where they are introduced, they adversely affect invertebrate populations and readily hybridize with other sunfish.
Pumpkinseed spawn in the spring and the summer. Like the largemouth and smallmouth basses, the males construct and guard a nest. Then, over the next 3 – 5 days, the male will tirelessly protect and care for the eggs until they hatch.
The pumpkinseed is not of conservation concern.
28) Redear sunfish (Lepomis microlophus)
Where there’s largemouth and bluegill, there’s usually redear sunfish. These three often co-occur, but unlike the other two generalist feeders, the redear sunfish specializes in snails. Redears are smaller, mottled, green-colored sunfish with a black and red eyespot at the top of their gill covers. Their pectoral fins are also longer than other similarly sized sunfish.
Redear sunfish are best targeted using insect baits like waxworms or earthworms. During the spawning season, mature adults congregate in reed beds where visitors can easily fish them. First, adult males make popping vocalizations to gain the favor of nearby females. Then, like other sunfish species, the males construct nests and care for the eggs.
The redear sunfish is of least concern.
29) Redspotted sunfish (Lepomis miniatus)
Once considered a subspecies of spotted sunfish (L. punctatus), the redspotted sunfish was recently distinguished as its own species in 1992. This species has a more western distribution than the spotted sunfish, extending past Alabama, where the spotted sunfish’s range would stop, and into Mexico. In addition, the redspotted sunfish is further distinguished from the spotted sunfish by the presence of orange spots instead of black spots along its sides.
One might find the redspotted sunfish lurking in quiet, muddy, or sandy-bottomed swamps of the southern United States. Here, they enjoy a diet of bottom-dwelling aquatic insects and crustaceans. During the breeding season, males claim territory in shallow waters, and this species follows typical sunfish mating practices and parental care.
The redspotted sunfish is not endangered, but it is a species of conservation concern in at least one state, Illinois. This species needs ample vegetation in its habitat, so recent introductions of grass carp into the state have adversely affected redspotted sunfish by decimating submerged aquatic plant communities.
30) Pygmy sunfish (Elassoma spp.)
The genus Elassoma contains seven minute species of sunfish, rarely exceeding 1.5 inches (4 cm) in length. These species were once considered a distant relative of sunfish but have recently been moved into the same family. Colors vary between species, but generally, they are darkly colored with bright blue iridescent specks or fins. The most striking of the seven species would be the Gulf Coast pygmy sunfish (E. gilberti). This fish is almost entirely black with bright blue iridescent fins and patterns. Females are generally more plainly colored than males.
Most Elassoma can be found in creeks or shallow water beds with extremely dense aquatic vegetation. They are also strict invertivores and do not do well with predators present in their environment.
During the breeding season, males will attempt to court females by performing a dance in which the male wiggles his fins and swims around the female to show off his colors.
Several species of pygmy sunfish are vulnerable to extinction, but only the spring pygmy sunfish (E. alabamae) is critically endangered.