Centrarchus macropterus




Type Locality

Charleston, SC (Lacepede 1802).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Centrarchus from the Greek, kentron meaning “spine,” archos, meaning “anus,” in reference to the development of the anal spines; macropterus, Greek, meaning “long fin” (Pflieger 1975).



Labrus macropterus Lacepède 1802:432 in Eschmeyer 1990.

Centrarchus irideus Hay 1881:63; Hildebrand and Towers 1928:130; Cook 1959:176.



Maximum size: In Virginia, it reaches 245mm (9.6 in) with an angler’s report of a 356 mm TL fish (Jenkins and Burkhead 1994).


Coloration: The sides are scattered with dark spots, the belly is light colored, and the back is olive. The eye line is nearly vertical and continues ventrally as a suborbital bar or teardrop. Small fish (less than about 45 mm SL) have a distinct ocellus (dark spot surrounded by red or orange) on the soft dorsal fin. Median fins are dusky with light reticulations (Ross 2001).


Pharyngeal teeth count:


Counts: LS 36-42. Dorsal fin with 11-13 spines and 14-12 soft rays. Anal fin with 7-9 spines and14-16 soft rays. Pectoral fin rays 12-14 (Etnier and Starnes 1993).


Body shape: Small strongly compressed sunfish (Ross 2001).


Mouth position: Oblique and moderate in size (Carr and Goin 1959).


External morphology: Anal fin with seven to eight spines and 13 to 15 soft rays; more than 24 gill rakers on first arch; preopercle finely serrate; Eleven to thirteen dorsal fin spines; five to eight anal spines; six to thirteen dorsal fin spines; lateral line present; scales ctenoid; six or seven brachiostegels; (Hubbs et al. 1991). Gill rakers long and slender, 30-35. Brachiostegal rays 7. Vertebrae 31 (Etnier and Starnes 1993).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Found in Atlantic coastal drainages extending from Virginia across Gulf coastal plain to Texas and extending North through the Mississippi Basin to Southern Illinois (Hubbs et al. 1991). Eastern Virginia south to north-central Florida and throughout much of the Gulf coastal plain (to eastern Texas) and Mississippi Valley, North to Southern Illinois. Original status of southern Maryland population uncertain but may be introduced (Lee and Gilbert 1980).


Texas distribution: This species is restricted in the state to lowland streams in Eastern Texas including Sabine, Neches, and San Jacinto drainages (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, NGO)

Not listed as threatened or endangered by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

(2006). Populations are currently stable in the southern United States (Warren et al. 2000).


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Sluggish lowland habitats and clear heavily vegetated waters (Lee and Gilbert 1980). In Village Creek, a blackwater stream of the Gulf coastal plain in east Texas, the species was relatively rare and found exclusively in backwaters, none being collected during the winter (Moriarty and Winemiller 1997).


Mesohabitat: Apparently, fliers do not do well in neutral to alkaline waters, and populations seem to be lower in areas with abundant bluegill or green sunfish populations (Ross 2001).



Spawning season: Breeding usually occurs March to May (14-17° C) but reported as early as February (Lee and Gilbert 1980).


Spawning habitat: In Missouri, Conley (1966) noted that gravid females were collected from a variety of habitats ranging from debris filled ditches with soft bottoms, to streams with gravel bottoms, to isolated borrow pits filled with heavy stands of vegetation; in water conditions ranging from clear to very turbid and from stagnant to a free-flowing situation.

Reproductive strategy:  Lithophils; rock and gravel nesters that have spherical or elliptical egg envelopes that are adhesive (Simon 1999). Nests are spaced fairly close together (Carlander 1977). Lawrence (1957. Data for Handb. Biol. Data: 1-29) discussed colonial nesting, guarding of nest and fry, winter schooling; nest in colonies and males guard fry (Carlander 1977).


Fecundity: Number of mature eggs produced by a female ranges from 1,900 to 37,500 in fish of 70-190 mm TL (Carlander 1977).


Age at maturation: One year of age and an average length of 70 mm (Conley 1966).




Growth and population structure: At the end of one year fish averaged about 40 mm TL and are 70.6 mm, 99.8 mm, 111.8 mm, 150.9 mm, 163.7 mm, and 183.7 mm TL at the end of ages 2-7, respectively (Carlander 1977).


Longevity: Fliers may reach their eighth year (Carlander 1977).


Food habits: Invertivore: feed heavily on Hemiptera and Corixidae (Simon 1999).


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes

Centrarchus is the sister group to Archoplites, and together these form the sister clade to Promoxis (Wainright and Lauder 1992; Mabee 1993).

The crappies (genus Promoxis) are similar in body form and coloration, differences occur in dorsal spines, fliers having 11 or more, compared to crappies (6-8). Crappies and all other sunfishes have only 6 or fewer anal spines, while fliers have 7 or more (Etnier and Starnes 1993).


Host Records

Trematoda: Phyllidostomum pearsei, Posthodiplostimum minimum; Cestoda: Proteocephalus sp.; Nemtoda: Spiroxys sp., Agamonema sp. (Arnold et al. 1967); Nematoda: Contracaecum spiculigerum; Acanthocephala: Neoechinoryhnchus cylindratus; Crustacea: Ergasilus caeruleus (Hoffman 1967).


Commercial or Environmental Importance

Conley (1966) states that value of the species in the field of food and sport fishes is restricted to the extent to which it is utilized as food by the carnivorous fishes that are especially valued by the angler.



Arnold, J.G., Jr., Ph.D., H.E. Schafer, M.S., R.L. Vulliet, BSMT.1967. The parasites of the freshwater fishes of Louisiana.

Carlander, K. D. 1977. Handbook of Freshwater Fishery Biology. The Iowa State University Press, Ames.

Carr, A., and C. J. Goin. 1959. Guide to the Reptiles, Amphibians and Fresh-Water Fishes of Florida. University of Florida Press, Gainsville, 341 pp.

Conley, J.M. 1966. Ecology if the flier, Centrarchus, macropterus (Lacepede) in southeast Missouri. MA. Thesis, Univ. Mo., Columbia, 119 pp.

Cook, F.A. 1959. Freshwater fishes in Mississippi. Mississippi Game and Fish Commission, Jackson.

Eschmeyer, W.N. 1990. Catalog of genera of recent fishes. California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco.

Etnier, D.A. and W.C. Starnes. 1993. The fishes of Tennessee. Univ. Tennessee Press, Knoxville.

Hay, O.P. 1881. On a collection of fishes from eastern Mississippi. Proc. U.S. Nat. Mus. 3:488-515.

Hildebrand, S.F. and I.L. Towers. 1928. Annotated list of fishes collected in the vicinity of Greenwood Mississippi, with descriptions of three new species. Bull. U.S. Bur. Fish. 43(2)105-136.

Hoffman G.L. 1967. Parasites of North American Freshwater Fishes. University of California Press. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA 1-486.

Hubbs, C., R.J. Edwards and G.P. Garret. 1991. An annotated checklist of freshwater fishes of Texas, with key to identification of species. Texas Journal of Science, Supplement 43(4):1-56

Jenkins, R.E., and N.M. Burkhead, eds. 1994. Freshwater fishes of Virginia. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, Md.

Lee, D.S. and C.R. Gilbert. 1980. Centrarchus macropterus (Lacepède), Western Flier.pp.583 in D.S. Lee et al. Atlas of North American Freshwater Fishes. N.C. State Mus. Nat. Hist., Raleigh, i-r+854 pp.

Mabee, P.M. 1993. Phylogenetic interpretation of ontogenetic change; sorting out actual and artefactual in an empirical case study of centrachid fishes. Zool. J. Linnean Soc. 107:175-291.

Moriarty, L. J. and K.O. Winemiller. 1997. Spatial and temporal variation in fish assemblage structure in Village Creek, Hardin County Texas. Tex. J. Sci., 49: 85-110.

Pflieger, W.L. 1997. The Fishes of Missouri. Revised Edition. Missouri Department of Conservation. Jefferson City, MO pp. 1-372.

Ross, S. T. 2001. The Inland Fishes of Mississippi. University Press of Mississippi, 624 pp.

Simon, T. P. 1999. Assessing the sustainability and biological integrity of water resources using fish communities. CRC Press. Boca Raton; London; New York; Washington.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Wildlife Division, Diversity and Habitat Assessment Programs. County Lists of Texas' Special Species. [30 May 2006]. Available online at http://gis.tpwd.state.tx.us/TpwEndangeredSpecies/DesktopModules/AcountyCodeKeyForWebESDatabases.pdf

Wainright, P.C. and G.V. Lauder. 1992. The evolution of feeding biology in sunfishes (Centrarchidae), pp. 472-491. In: Systematics, historical ecology, and North American freshwater fishes. R.L. Mayden ed. Stanford Univ. Press, Stanford, Calif.

Warren, L. W., Jr., B. M. Burr, S. J. Walsh, H. L. Bart, Jr., R. C. Cashner, D. A. Etnier, B. J. Freeman, B. R. Kuhajda, R. L. Mayden, H. W. Robison, S. T. Ross, and W. C. Starnes. 2000. Diversity, Distribution, and Conservation status of the native freshwater fishes of the southern United States. Fisheries, Conservation. 25(10):7-29.