Sunfishes and Freshwater Basses (Centrarchidae)
The sunfish family is widely distributed in North America, and some species have been introduced elsewhere. Most species are important gamefish and panfish. Many a devout bass angler has been surprised to find out that their venerable largemouth and smallmouth bass are not really “basses” at all, but are members of the sunfish family. Sunfish are generally deep-bodied fishes. They have two dorsal fins (one spiny, one soft) that are either attached or not widely separated. The pelvic fins are thoracic, and the anal fin has three or more spines. All but the banded sunfish have concave or slightly forked tails. Sunfish are similar in appearance to the temperate basses and the perches, but lack opercular serrations or spines.
There are eleven sunfish species in Connecticut, only three of which are native. All sunfish species spawn in the spring. The males construct nests, which are typically conspicuous and in shallow water, and guard the eggs and young for a while. All species in the genus Lepomis readily hybridize, which can make identification challenging.
Click on the species' names below to learn more.
Members of the sunfish family are typically easy to keep in home aquariums. Most can be trained to eat dried fish food, but require at least some fresh/live food. Most are also territorially aggressive. Similar to keeping cichlids in captivity, aggression in sunfish species tends to be inhibited when they are slightly overcrowded. See specifics under the “Habits” section for each species.
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.