Longear Sunfish Fact Sheet
New York Status: Threatened
The longear sunfish is a small, thin, deep-bodied fish that averages 4-4.5 inches in length. Often mistaken for a pumpkinseed, the longear can be distinguished from its cousin by looking at the pectoral fins and the gill covers. The longear has short, round pectoral fins that do not extend above the lateral line; a long flexible ear flap on the upper part of both gill covers; and gill covers with flexible, frilled margins. On the pumpkinseed, the pectoral fins are long, pointed, and extend above the lateral line, and the gill-cover margins are stiff and smooth. The longear sunfish is very colorful, with an olive to rusty-brown back, bright orange belly and blue-green bars on the sides of the head.
Longear sunfish spawn in August. Males construct saucer-shaped nests in shallow water areas with sand or gravel bottoms. Although solitary nests are occasionally found, nests are generally built close together to form colonies. Male longear sunfish remain with the nest to care for and protect the eggs and young. Snails, leeches, and aquatic insects make up the bulk of this sunfish's diet.
Distribution and Habitat
The longear sunfish is restricted in range to certain large streams in east-central North America. Its range includes from southern Quebec and Ontario through the eastern United States and west to Oklahoma, Texas and northeastern Mexico. In New York State, the longear sunfish is repeatedly found in Tonawanda Creek, while the other few locations have not been documented a second time. It prefers densely weeded areas with a gravel or sand bottom. It avoids strong currents and silt.
Although no accurate population statistics are available about New York's longear sunfish population, it has apparently declined in the State. Biologists attribute the decline in this sunfish's numbers to several causes including: siltation, water quality deterioration, and hybridization with other sunfish.
The Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) goal is to protect several self-sustaining populations of the longear sunfish, and it will continue to monitor the status of the Tonawanda population at Millersport.