Lepomis auritus

redbreast sunfish



Type Locality

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Linnaeus 1758 in Eschmeyer 1990).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Lepomis: scaled operculum; auritus: eared, in reference to the elongate opercular flap (Ross 2001).



Labrus auritus Linnaeus 1758:283 in Eschmeyer 1990.



Maximum size:  241 mm TL (Carlander 1977).


Coloration: Back dark brown or olive, with sides lighter olive and belly yellow (in females) or reddish (in males). Dorsal, anal, and caudal fins dusky and sometimes reddish (Ross 2001). Opercular membrane dark to its margin (Hubbs et al. 1991). Belly of breeding males orange-red, flanks flecked with red, median fins blue-green to olive, and lips pale blue (Ross 2001). Peritoneum colorless (Goldstein and Simon 1999).


Counts: Fewer than 55 lateral line scales [Ross (2001) lists 41-50]; 3 anal spines (rarely 2 or 4); 6-13 dorsal fin spines; 6 or 7 brachiostegals (Hubbs et al. 1991); 10-11 (9-12) dorsal rays; 9-11 anal rays; 13-15 pectoral rays (Ross 2001).


Body shape:  Body depth usually contained two to two and one-half times in standard length (Hubbs et al. 1991). Elongate for sunfishes (Ross 2001).


Mouth position: Terminal, somewhat oblique (Goldstein and Simon 1999).


External morphology: Opercle produced into a thin flexible projection lying within the opercular membrane; posterior edge of opercle within opercular membrane fimbriate; pectoral fins short and rounded; pectoral fin contained 3.75 or more times in standard length; supramaxilla absent or shorter than breadth of maxilla; maxillary width less than suborbital; scales ctenoid; lateral line present (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Internal morphology: Villiform teeth present on palatines, vomer, premaxillary, and dentary (Hubbs et al. 1991; Ross 2001). Intestine well differentiated; pyloric caeca present (Goldstein and Simon 1999).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Occurs naturally in the southeastern United States along the Atlantic Slope drainages from New Brunswick and Maine south to central Florida and west along the Gulf of Mexico Coast to the Apalachicola and Choctawhatchee Rivers in western Florida. It had been widely introduced outside of its native range, especially in Texas and Louisiana (Lee 1980; Ross 2001), and has been reported from the Black Warrior River drainage in Alabama (Mettee et al. 1989).


Texas distribution: Introduced from its original range of the streams of the Atlantic slope, this species now occurs throughout the eastern and southern parts of the state as far west as Independence Creek (Pecos Drainage; Hubbs et al. 1991). Species seemed to be restricted to Falcon Reservoir (lower Rio Grande River; Edwards and Contreras-Balderas 1991). Garrett et al. (2004) reported Lepomis auritus rarely collected from Pinto Creek (Kinney Co.), Texas.


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, NGO):

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


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Tends to be more of a river species than other Lepomis (Lee 1980). Occupy streams as well as lakes and reservoirs, often being found in cool lakes that also support trout (Carlander 1977). They are particularly common in established beaver ponds (Levine et al. 1986).


Mesohabitat: In western Florida, habitats range from sand-bottom creeks to highly vegetated sloughs (Hellier 1967). Found in cool, upland streams, but are also found in lower reaches of rivers, examples being the tidally influenced areas of the Chickahominy River in Virginia (Richmond 1940) and lower reaches of the Suwannee River in Florida (Bass and Hitt 1975). In Texas, this species was present in upstream and downstream collections from Canyon Reservoir (Comal Co.), but appeared to be negatively impacted in the cold downstream waters (change in water temperature due to hypolimnion water releases; Edwards 1978). In the Devils River, Texas, Cichlasoma cyanoguttatum with Lepomis auritus, was one of only three species associations that existed pre-flood, and remained post-flood (Harrell 1978).



Spawning season: Occurs in the spring, from April - October at water temperatures of 16.8-25.6°C; peak spawning activity during late spring and summer (Davis 1972; Bass and Hitt 1975).


Spawning location: Nests are solitary, usually adjacent to logs or some other structure; nests range from 30-94 cm in diameter, are 15-20 cm deep at center, and are usually constructed over sand (Miller 1964; Davis 1972).


Reproductive strategy: Only centrarchid not producing sound during courtship (Gerald 1971). Once spawning occurs, males guard nest area from potential predators (Breder 1936).


Fecundity: Females produce an average of 3302 eggs, with a range of 322-9206, depending on their body size. Mature ova average 1.2 mm in diameter (Sandow et al. 1975).


Age./size at maturation:  2nd year of life, at sizes of 75-102 mm TL (Carlander 1977; Sandow et al 1975; Levine et al. 1986).




Longevity: May live to 7 years, though older age classes tend to have more males than females (Levine et al. 1986; Sandow et al. 1975).


Food habits:  Goldstein and Simon (1999) list main food items as immature aquatic insects; first and second level trophic classifications for species are invertivore, and drift, respectively; trophic mode: water column. Observed to be opportunistic feeders. Major prey includes aquatic insects (especially dipteran larvae), beetles, large mayfly and dragonfly larvae, and crustaceans such as crayfishes (Flemer and Woolcott 1966; Davis 1972; Coomer et al. 1977; Cooner and Bayne 1982).In beaver bond habitats, dipteran larvae (chironomids and ceratopogonids) and microcrustaceans (copepods and cladocerans) were the most commonly occurring prey, although mayflies, small fishes and dragonfly larvae made up more of the diet by volume (Levine et al. 1986). In tidally influenced reaches of rivers, fish also feed on various crab species, including blue and fiddler crabs (Bass and Hitt 1974). With increasing size, fish consume larger quantities of terrestrial insects (Cooner and Bayne 1982).


Growth: Fish average 41-59 mm TL after their first year, and 75-90 mm, 102-125 mm, 128-153 mm, 147-181 mm, 205 mm, and 222 mm TL for ages 2-7 respectively (Levine et al. 1986; Sandow et al. 1975)


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes

Most similar to the longear (Lepomis megalotis) and green (L. cyanellus) sunfishes. It differs from L. cyanellus in having a smaller mouth and short, versus long, gill rakers. It differs from L. megalotis in having a shallower body depth for a given length (although in both species relative body depth increases with increasing fish size), and in having the width of the opercular flap narrower than the eye diameter. It differs from both L. megalotis and L. cyanellus in lacking a light border around the edge of the opercular flap (Ross 2001). Wainwright and Lauder (1992) placed L. auritus as sister taxon to a clade which, among other species, includes the following found in Texas: L. microlophus, L. macrochirus, L. marginatus, and L. megalotis. Mabee (1993) considered L. auritus to be the sister taxon to L. megalotis.


Host Record

Posthodiplostomum minimum, Spinitectus carolini, S. micracanthus, and S. gracilis reported from Lepomis auritus in the upper San Marcos River, Texas (Underwood and Dronen 1984). Trematoda (2), Nematoda (1), Acanthocephala (1), Leech (1), Crustacea (1; Hoffman 1967).


Commercial or Environmental Importance

Important sportfish in native range along Atlantic coastal drainages. Ross (2001) recommends that no further introductions of this species be made into Mississippi, due to the potential for negative impact on native sunfishes or other native fish species. In Texas, Lepomis auritus is one among several nonnative species which have become established within the range of the Devils River minnow (Dionda diaboli ; Edwards 1999), a species listed as threatened by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Texas Organization for Endangered Species (TOES 1995) and the Endangered Species Committee of the American Fisheries Society (Williams et al. 1989).


[Additional literature noting collection of this species from Texas locations includes, but is not limited to the following: San Marcos River (Wallace 1984); Dolman (1990); Rhodes and Hubbs (1992); Bosque River watershed (within Middle Brazos River Basin; Armstrong 1998); Independence Creek (Bonner et al. 2005).]



Armstrong, M.P. 1998. A fishery survey of the Middle Brazos River Basin in north-central Texas. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arlington, Texas. 26 pp.

Bass, D.G., Jr., and V.G. Hitt. 1975. Ecological aspects of the redbreast sunfish, Lepomis auritus, in Florida. Proc. S.E. Assoc. Game Fish. Comm. 28:269-307.

Bonner, T.H., C. Thomas, C.S. Williams, and J.P. Karges. 2005. Temporal assessment of a West Texas stream fish assemblage. The Southwestern Naturalist 50(1):74-106.

Breder, C.M., Jr. 1936. The reproductive habits of the North American sunfishes (family Centrarchidae). Zoologica 21:1-48.

Carlander, K. D. 1977. Handbook of Freshwater Fishery Biology. The Iowa State University Press, Ames. 431 pp.

Coomer, C.E., Jr., D.R. Holder, and C.D. Swanson. 1977. A comparison of the diets of redbreast sunfish and the spotted sucker in a coastal plain stream. Proc. S.E. Assoc. Fish. Wildl. Agencies 31:587-596.

Cooner, R.W. and D.R. Bayne. 1982. Diet overlap in redbreast and longear sunfishes from small streams of east-central Alabama. Proc. S.E. Assoc. Fish Wildl. Agencies 36:106-114.

Davis, J.R. 1972. The spawning behavior, fecundity rates, and food habits of the redbreast sunfish in southeastern North Carolina. Proc. S.E. Assoc. Game Fish Comm. 25:556-560.

Dolman, W.B. 1990. Classification of Texas reservoirs in relation to limnology and fish community associations. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 119:511-520.

Edwards, R.J. 1978. The effect of hypolimnion reservoir releases on fish distribution and species diversity. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 107(1):71-77.

Edwards, R.J. 1999. Ecological profiles for selected stream-dwelling Texas freshwater fishes II. Report to the Texas Water Development Board. 69 pp.

Edwards, R.J., and S. Contreras-Balderas. 1991. Historical changes in the Ichthyofauna of the lower Rio Grande (Rio Bravo del Norte), Texas and Mexico. The Southwestern Naturalist 36(2):201-212.

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

Flemer, D.A. and W.S. Woolcott. 1966. Food habits and distribution of the fishes of Tuckahoe Crook, Virginia, with special emphasis on the bluegill, Lepomis m. macrochirus Rafinesque. Chesapeake Sci. 7(2): 75-89.

Garrett, G.P., R.J. Edwards, and C. Hubbs. 2004. Discovery of a new population of Devils River minnow (Dionda diaboli), with implications for conservation of the species. The Southwestern Naturalist 49(4):435-441.

Gerald, J.W. 1971. Sound production during courtship in six species of sunfish (Centrarchidae). Evolution 25(1):75-87.

Goldstein, R.M., and T.P. Simon. 1999. Toward a united definition of guild structure for feeding ecology of North American freshwater fishes. pp. 123-202 in T.P. Simon, editor. Assessing the sustainability and biological integrity of water resources using fish communities. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida. 671 pp.

Harrell, H.L. 1978. Response of the Devils River (Texas) fish community to flooding. Copeia 1978(1):60-68.

Hellier, T.R., Jr. 1967. The fishes of the Santa Fe River system. Bull. Fla. State Mus. Biol. Ser. 2(1):1-46.

Hoffman, G.L. 1967. Parasites of North American Freshwater Fishes. University of California Press, Berkeley. 486 pp.

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

Levine, D.S., A.G. Eversole, and H.A. Loyacano. 1986. Biology of redbreast sunfish in beaver ponds. Proc. S.E. Assoc. Fish Wildl. Agencies 40:216-226.

Lee, D.S. 1980. Lepomis auritus (Linnaeus), redbreast sunfish, p. 590 in D. S. Lee, et al.  Atlas of North American Fishes.  N. C. State Mus. Nat. Hist., Raleigh, i-r+854 pp.

Mabee, P.M. 1993. Phylogenetic interpretation of ontogenetic change: sorting out the actual and artefactual in an empirical case study of centrarchid fishes. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 107:175-291.

Mettee, M.F., P.E. O'Neil, J.M. Peterson, and R.D. Suttkus. 1996. Fishes of Alabama and the Mobile Basin. Oxmoor House, Birmingham, AL.  820 pp.

Miller, H.C. 1964. The behavior of the pumpkinseed sunfish, Lepomis gibbosus (Linnaeaus), with notes on the behavior of other species of Lepomis and the pigmy sunfish, Elassoma evergladei. Behaviour 22: 88-151.

Rhodes, K., and C. Hubbs. 1992. Recovery of Pecos River fishes from a red tide fish kill. The Southwestern Naturalist 37(2):178-187.

Richmond, N. 1940. Nesting of the sunfish, Lepomis auritus (Linnaeus), in tidal waters. Zoologica 25(3):329-330.

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

TOES. 1995. Endangered, threatened, and watch list of Texas vertebrates, 4th revision. Publ. 10, Texas Organization for Endangered Species, Austin. 22 pp.

Underwood, H.T., and N.O. Dronen, Jr. 1984. Endohelminths of fishes from the upper San Marcos River, Texas. The Southwestern Naturalist 29(4):377-385.

Wainwright, P.C., and G.V. Lauder. 1992. The evolution of feeding biology in sunfishes (Centrarchidae). pp. 472-491. In: Mayden, R.L. (ed.). 1992. Systematics, Historical Ecology, and North American Freshwater Fishes. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. 969 pp.

Wallace, S.A. 1984. The food habits of redbreast sunfish in the San Marcos River, Texas. M.S. Thesis, Southwest Texas State University, San Marcos. 59 pp.

Warren, M.L., 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 25(10):7-29.

Williams, J.E., J.E. Johnson, D.A. Hendrickson, S. Contreras-Balderas, J.D. Williams, M. Navarro-Mendoza, D.E. McAllister, and J.E. Deacon. 1989. Fishes of North America endangered, threatened, or of special concern: 1989. Fisheries 14(6):2-20.