The redbreast sunfish (Lepomis auritus) is a species of freshwater fish in the sunfish family (family Centrarchidae) of order Perciformes. The type species of its genus, it is native to the river systems of eastern Canada and the United States. The redbreast sunfish reaches a maximum recorded length of about 30 cm (12 in), with a maximum recorded weight of 790 g (1.7 lb).
The species prefers vegetated and rocky pools and lake margins for its habitat. Its diet can include insects, snails, and other small invertebrates. A panfish popular with anglers, the redbreast sunfish is also kept as an aquarium fish by hobbyists. Redbreast sunfish are usually caught with live bait such as nightcrawlers, crickets, grasshoppers, waxworms, or mealworms. They can also be caught using small lures or flies. Most anglers use light spinning tackle to catch redbreast sunfish. It is popular with fly anglers in the winter because it will more readily strike a moving fly than will bluegills in cooler water.
As is typical for the sunfishes, the female redbreast sunfish lays her eggs (about 1000) in a substrate depression built by the male. The male guards the eggs and fry.
The specific epithet, auritus, is Latin for big-eared.
The species native range is condensed to eastern North America, in Canada and south to the rivers emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. The species has been introduced as far west as Texas. This fish primarily feeds on small insect larva, small crayfish, and sometimes small fish. Lepomis auritus thrives in streams and rivers with shelter and structure, usually around banks with the water pH around 7.0-7.5. The redbreast sunfish is a spring spawner in sand-gravel substrate depending on location, or when water temperatures reach 16-26°C. Average clutch size for the sunfish is around 2000 depending on the age of the female. The average length of the sunfish is around 11 cm with a record 30.5 cm. The record weight for the fish is 1.75 pounds. Rarely are limits set on the number of fish that can be harvested due to their large numbers and high reproductive capabilities. If a particular area is subject to overfishing or habitat destruction, managements plans should be put into effect to preserve the population.
The redbreasted sunfish tends to be more of a cool-river species, but also inhabits freshwater lakes and streams. The species has been introduced as far west as Louisiana and West Texas. Native range of the sunfish is a relatively large area with the species new introduction points not straying far from its native habitats.
Redbreast sunfish mainly consume immature aquatic insects. Mayflies, small fish, and dragonfly larvae consist of the majority of the sunfish’s diet based on stomach content. Being an opportunistic feeder, the fish competes with other sunfish and larger predatory fish that prey on the same food they do. Larger piscivorous fish are the main predators of smaller redbreast sunfish. Micropterus species are a major threat to sunfish because of the shared habitat and the large availability of the sunfish. The sunfish prefers structure around banks and overhanging branches that provide shade to provide food and protection. Lepomis auritus survives best in water with current and a pH between 7.0 and 7.5. Lack of current or too acidic or basic water can dramatically affect the sunfish’s survival rate. Human influence on abiotic and biotic factors such as sunlight and predator numbers can have a major influence on sunfish. Factors such as clearing debris bank cover can increase amount of sunlight into the water and increase water temperature and decrease defense habitats, also decreasing the number of predators by eating larger predatory fish will increase the survival rate of the redbreast sunfish.
The redbreast sunfish is a fall spawner on sand-gravel substrate depending on location, or when water temperature reaches 16-26°C. According to Stanley Sharp, “The mature male generally builds a nest in shallow water or may simply use the abandoned nest of another Centrarchid. The female eventually enters the nest, releases her adhesive eggs, and then leaves. The male remains to guard and fan the eggs and possibly even to guard the young for a brief period. The male and female will then move out of the shallow water after spawning and into deeper water. A male sunfish will breed with more than one female, just as female sunfish will breed with more than one male. Average clutch size for the sunfish is around 2000 depending on the age of the female. Mature ova are around 1.1 mm in diameter. Reproductive maturity is reached the second year of life. They have been known to have a maximum lifespan of around seven years for primarily males. Currently, humans do not play a large role in influencing life history due to large populations and secluded areas.
Currently, the redbreast sunfish is not on the federal or state endangered or threatened species list. The species is thriving in its natural habitat. They are not currently under any conservation easements because of their excellent success rate.
Nevertheless, this species still requires some attention to make sure it receives the proper attention. If the species ever becomes threatened or endangered, areas should be set aside where they are intensely managed. Also, if the population numbers are drastically decreased due to invasive species, then the native species should be protected.
- FishBase: Lepomis auritus
- ITIS: Lepomis auritus
- Ellis, Jack (1993). The Sunfishes-A Fly Fishing Journey of Discovery. Bennington, VT: Abenaki Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-936644-17-6.
- Rice, F. Philip (1964). America's Favorite Fishing-A Complete Guide to Angling for Panfish. New York: Harper Row.
- Malo, John (1981). Fly-Fishing for Panfish. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Dillon Press Inc. ISBN 0-87518-208-9.
- Cooke, Steven, and David P. Philipp. Centrarchid Fishes: Diversity, Biology, and Conservation. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. Print.
- Dewoody, Andrew, Dean Fletcher, and David Wilkins. "Molecular Genetic Dissection of Spawning, Parentage, and Reproductive Tactics in a Population of Redbreast Sunfish, Lepomis Auritus." Evolution 52.6 (1998): 1802-810. Print.
- Nadig, Susan G. Evaluating Potential Alteration of Genetic Diversity in Populations of Redbreast Sunfish (Lepomis Auritus) Using RAPD ASSAY. Thesis. The University of Tennessee Knoxville, 1996. Print.
- Sharp, Stanley K. Serum Levels of 17B-Estradiol and Testosterone as Indicators of Environmental Stress in Redbreast Sunfish, Lepomis Auritus. Thesis. The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, 1994. Print.
- Shepard, Kenneth L. Use of Standard Metabolic Rate as an Indicator of Environmental Stress in Redbreast Sunfish, Lepomis Auritus. Thesis. The University of Tennessee Knoxville, 1988. Print.
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