Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus) - Introduced

12 cm green sunfish.

A 5-inch adult green sunfish.

Identification. Body moderately deep. Large mouth reaches to below center of pupil. Pectoral fins short and rounded. Opercular flap short and black with lighter (usually reddish or yellowish) posterior edge. Light yellowish margin on soft dorsal, anal and tail fins. A dark blotch at base of anal and soft dorsal fins in adults. Anal spines 3. Usually dark olive on back fading to greenish-brown on sides to tan on belly. Often the whole fish is very dark compared with other sunfish. Typically there are about 7 faint vertical bars on sides. Many aqua-colored wavy lines and spots on cheeks and in the area above the anal fin (may be faint). In juveniles, look at relative mouth size, body width, and light edges on opercular flap and dorsal and anal fins.

11 cm green sunfish.

Aquarium photo of a 4-inch green sunfish.

Size. Commonly 3 to 6 inches. State survey max. size 7.5 inches. Max. reported size 12.2 inches.

Distribution. Native to the Central United States from South Dakota to Pennsylvania and from Texas to Missouri. Have since been introduced to many other areas, including most of the East Coast and California. In Connecticut, the green sunfish is most common in the upper Thames watershed and in several of the western coastal streams, where it is typically uncommon to rare in abundance. Its range appears to be slowly expanding in Connecticut.

Green sunfish distribution map.

All maps created in 2009. See CT DEEP Fish Community Data for updated distributions.

Habits. Prefer small, slow-moving streams, but may also be found in lakes and ponds. Often associated with vegetation. Can be readily taken on a variety of small lures and baits (especially worms). Their larger mouths result in their being taken by angling at smaller sizes than most other sunfishes. Green sunfish are very easy to keep in home aquariums. They readily accept dried food and most individuals are not typically as aggressive as pumpkinseed or bluegill.

Green sunfish in a tank.

This 2-inch juvenile green sunfish can be identified by its relatively large mouth, the light posterior edge on the opercular flap, and the light margins on its pelvic and anal fins.

Comments. Introductions of green sunfish have been implicated with adverse impacts on other fish species. In Connecticut, they do not seem to be able to compete well in the presence of our other sunfish species. They readily hybridize with other sunfishes in the Lepomis genus.


Text and images adapted from Jacobs, R. P., O'Donnell, E. B., and Connecticut DEEP. (2009). A Pictorial Guide to Freshwater Fishes of Connecticut. Hartford, CT. Available for purchase at the DEEP Store.