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Thread: Sunfish

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    Sunfish

    There are ~30 species of sunfish, all located in freshwater habitats throughout North America. They are especially widespread in Florida, common in almost all springs, rivers and lakes in the state. They are very curious and even friendly towards divers (so make excellent subjects for photos!!).


    Sunfish at Alexander Springs,
    Photo by Joe Stillman

    Male sunfish use their tail to build a circular nest, and then the female lays more than a thousand eggs in this nest, usually in early summertime. The males then guards the eggs and the young sunfish for a short time after they hatch.

    Sunfish are bottom feeders, and they hunt and feed mainly during the day. They have a varied diet and will eat anything from fish eggs, insect larvae, snails, clams, shrimp, crayfish, and even small fish! Sunfish eat lots and often, they grow fast and many live to be more than 6 years old!


    Redbreast Sunfish, Lepomis auritus, at Alexander Spring, Central Florida


    Close up of Redbreast Sunfish, Alexander Springs
    Photo courtesy of Agnes Milowka


    Redbreast sunfish at Cow Springs


    Diver and Redbreast sunfish, Ginnie Springs


    Redear Sunfish, Lepomis microlophus, at Cow Spring, North Florida
    Redear sunfish use the grinding teeth in the back of their throat to break open the shells of snails and clams (their favorite food), hence their common name of "shell-cracker".


    Female redear sunfish, distinguishable by the orange edge on its operculum, males have an cherry red coloration in this area. Males and females are very similar in appearance, but the male is much more colorful.



    Closeup shot of a blue gill at Alexander Spring
    Photo by Joe Stillman

    The bluegill is by far the most common sunfish in Florida. Blue gills get their name from the bright blue-colored edging along its gills, and they can be distinguished from similar sunfish species by the (not always pronounced) vertical bars along its sides.


    Bluegill, Lepomis macrochirus, in Peacock 3 Basin
    Bluegills feed on insects, worms and very small fish. They are able to elude their own predators (adult channel catfish, largemouth bass and turtles) by hiding in submerged tree stumps for weeks on end without needing food!


    Group of Blue gills at Peacock Springs
    Bluegills are a schooling fish, and often travel in groups of 20-30.


    Close up of Blue Gill, Alexander Springs
    Photo courtesy of Agnes Milowka


    Spotted sunfish, Lepomis punctatus, Ginnie Springs run
    Photo courtesy of Agnes Milowka
    Spotted sunfish can be distinguished from other sunfish as they have turquoise colored lower eyes, and distinctive spots.
    This species is most common in Florida's deeper springs.
    Last edited by denise; 12-01-2011 at 08:15 PM.
    Denise Byrne Johnson
    Marine Biologist/OW, Tech and Cave Instructor
    denise@dayo.com
    Orlando, Florida

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