Lepomis cyanellus

green sunfish



Type Locality:

Ohio River (Rafinesque 1819).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Lepomis, Greek, meaning “scaled gill cover”; cyanellus, Greek, meaning “blue” (Pflieger 1975).



Lepomis cyanellus: Rafinesque 1819:420; Forbes and Richardson 1908:248-250; Smith 1965:9

Telipomis cyanellus: Nelson 1876:37

Apomotis cyanellus: Jordan 1878:45; Large 1903:24; O’Donnell 1935:486



Maximum size: Up to 250 mm TL (Lee 1980).


Life colors: Dark spot at posterior base of dorsal fin; black spot on dorsal fin without a pale margin (Hubbs et al 1991). Head olivaceous; cheeks randomly spotted and streaked with bluish green; back olivaceous to brownish; sides greenish with 7-12 indistinct dark, vertical bars; opercle black with light margin; abdomen whitish yellow. Dorsal, caudal, and anal fins with a yellowish white border and a dark basal spot on second dorsal and anal; all fin membranes dusky with randomly scattered light spots. Yellowish white border of dorsal, caudal, and anal fins intensified in breeding male (Sublette et al. 1990). Dominant fish are generally lighter colored (Howard 1974). Color mutation is the Texas golden green sunfish, appearing golden in color (White 1971).


Counts: 35-55 scales on complete lateral line; 3 anal spines; 6-13 dorsal fin spines; 6 or 7 branchiostegals (Hubbs et al 1991); 10-1 dorsal rays; 9-10 anal rays; 13-14 pectoral rays (Ross 2001).


Body shape: Strongly compressed laterally (Sublette et al. 1990). Body depth usually contained two to two and one-half times in standard length (Hubbs et al 1991).


Mouth position: Terminal oblique. Palantine teeth are present (Goldstein and Simon 1999), in older individuals (Sublette et al. 1990).


External morphology: Gill rakers in adults long, when depressed reaching beyond base of second raker below; supramaxilla two-thirds width of maxilla; opercle stiff to its margin (not including membrane); posterior edge of opercle within opercular membrane smooth; pectoral fins short and rounded; pectoral fin contained 3.75 or more times in standard length; lateral line present; scales ctenoid (Hubbs et al 1991).


Internal morphology: Intestine long and well differentiated; peritoneum white to silvery; pyloric caeca present (Goldstein and Simon 1999).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Restricted originally to east-central North America, west of the Appalachians chain southward into Mexico; widely introduced elsewhere in United States (Lee 1980).


Texas distribution: Occurs throughout the state (Hubbs et al 1991). Warren et al. (2000) list the following drainage units for distribution of Lepomis cyanellus in the state: Red River (from the mouth upstream to and including the Kiamichi River), Sabine Lake (including minor coastal drainages west to Galveston Bay), Galveston Bay (including minor coastal drainages west to mouth of Brazos River), Brazos River, Colorado River, San Antonio Bay (including minor coastal drainages west of mouth of Colorado River to mouth of Nueces River), Nueces River.


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, NGO)

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


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Ecologically tolerant of many habitats, but does not normally occur in brackish water (Lee 1980). Common in ponds and streams, lakes, and in areas of river with little flow (Sublette 1990; Ross 2001).


Mesohabitat: Preferred sites have low velocity within the temperature range of 26-31 degrees C (Stuber et al. 1982). Laboratory studies indicate a preferred temperature of 28.2 degrees C (Beitenger et al. 1975). Species will tolerate alkalinities up to 2,000 mg/1. In California area, abundant in small intermittent streams at lower elevations, especially in warm, turbid, muddy-bottomed pools with large amounts of vegetation and with Micropterus salmoides and Gambusia affinis (Carlander1977). Collected from Sister Grove Creek, an intermittent prairie stream in N-central Texas (Meador and Matthews 1992). Lepomis cyanellus common in many of the clearer tributaries of Lake Texoma (Oklahoma and Texas; Riggs and Bonn 1959). Captured in both the saline and freshwater reaches of the Pecos River, Texas, but highest capture rate was in freshwater reach (Rhodes and Hubbs 1992). Baughman (1946) collected L. cyanellus from residual pools of a recently drained rice canal near Barbour’s Hill (Chambers Co.), Texas.



Spawning Season: Begins in spring and continues until late summer in water temperatures between 15-31 degrees C (Hubbs and Cooper 1935; Tin 1982; Stuber et al. 1982).


Spawning Location:  Nest spawners. Polyphils; miscellaneous substrate and material nesters that have adhesive eggs either attached or occur in clusters on any available substrate (Simon 1999). Eggs are laid in nests scooped out of gravel or sandy silt by the male in depths of 4-355 cm (Stuber et al. 1982). Nests built in large colonies in less than 40 cm water, on gravel with maximum sunshine (Carlander 1977). Nests seldom located in water deeper than 35 cm; small males may construct nests in water as shallow as 4 cm; nests built in rocks, logs, clumps of grass, or occasionally abandoned sunfish nests (Hunter 1963).


Reproductive Strategy: Males fan out a depression in shallow water. Males actively court females by rushing out toward them, and then returning rapidly to the nest. Gruntlike sounds produced by nesting males to attract females (Gerald 1971, Ross 2001). Guarders (Simon 1999); nests are defended by male until larvae emerge (Sublette et al. 1990).


Fecundity: Fertilized eggs are demersal, adhesive, and range from 1.0-1.4 mm in diameter. Larvae hatch at about 4.2 mm TL (Meyer 1970; Taubert 1977).


Age at maturation: Occurs at age one in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, but not until age three in Michigan; mature males reported as 76 mm and 45 mm and females at 66 mm and 6 – 10 g (Carlander 1977). Texas golden green sunfish reaches sexual maturity in less than 6 months (White 1971).




Longevity: In Bull Shoals Reservoir (Arkansas and Missouri) no fish lived to the end of their 6th year (Applegate et al. 1967). 7.5 years in captivity (Carlander 1977).


Growth and Population Structure: In Bull Shoals Reservoir (Arkansas and Missouri) Lepomis cyanellus reached 45.7 mm TL after one year and 71.1 mm, 91.4 mm, 109.2 mm, and 121.9 mm TL for years 2-5, respectively (Applegate et al. 1967). Males generally larger than females (Hubbs and Cooper 1935). A study showed most older fish were males (Carlander 1977). Lepomis cyanellus have a well-developed social system with dominant and subordinate individuals. Dominant fish are generally lighter colored and are usually the largest individuals (Howard 1974).


Food habits: Trophic classifications: Invertivore/carnivore; drift/whole body feeder. Trophic mode: water column/ambush. Main foods are insects, mollusks, and small fishes (Goldstein and Simon 1999). Species has larger mouth than most other sunfish of same size and eats larger food items. Young feed on zooplankton. Adults feed on insects, crayfish, terrestrial arthropods, Micropterus salmoides eggs and fry, other fishes including Gambusia affinis (Carlander 1977); aquatic and terrestrial insects appear to be most important food item (Stuber et al. 1982). In Bull Shoals Reservoir (Arkansas and Missouri) fish smaller than 48 mm TL feed primarily on aquatic insects and small crustaceans (copepods and cladocerans); from 51-76 mm TL, major prey include large aquatic insects such as mayfly larvae; fish longer than 102 mm TL feed heavily on large crustaceans such as crayfishes (Applegate et al. 1967); Applegate (1966) noted L. cyanellus feeding on bryozoans (Fredericella sultana). In streams where L. cyanellus is not native, species has been implicated in causing the disappearance of several native minnows (Lemly 1985).


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes

Lepomis cyanellus possibly most primitive species of typical Lepomis. It is similar to L. gulosus (warmouth; Branson and Moore 1962; Lee 1980), but may be separated from this species, L. megalotis (longear sunfish), and L. macrochirus (bluegill) by a large mouth; short, rounded pectoral fins; anal fins with three spines; and the tongue (except in older individuals) and pterygoids without teeth (Sublette et al. 1991). Known to hybridize with at least five other Lepomis (Lee 1980), including L. macrochirus (bluegill; Childers and Bennett 1961), L. megalotis (longear sunfish), L. humilis (orangespotted sunfish), L. auritis (redbreast sunfish), and L. microlophus (redear sunfish; Childers 1967).


Host Records

Gyrodactylus macrochiri host (Hoffman and Putz 1964; Harris et al 2004). Cestoda: Bothriocephalus claviceps, Proteocephalus amblopliti; Trematoda: Actinocleidus fergusoni, Actinocleidus flagellatus, Actinocleidus fusiformes, Actinocleidus gracilis, Actinocleidus longus, Actinocleidus maculatus, Bucephalus elegans, Caecincola parvulus, Cercaria flexicorpa, Cleidodiscus, Cleidodiscus bedardi, Cleidodiscus diversis, Cleidodiscus globus, Cleidodiscus robustus, Cleidodiscus similis, Crepidostomum cooperi, Haplocleidus dispar, Haplocleidus furcatus, Oncocleidus cyanellus, Pisciamphistoma reynoldsi, Pisciamphistoma stunkardi, Posthodiplostomum minimum, Posthodiplostomum minimum centrarchi, Urocleidus attenuatus, Urocleidus chaenobryttus, Urocleidus cyanellus, Urocleidus dispar, Urocleidus ferox, Urocleidus grandis, Urocleidus principalis; Nemata: Camallanus oxycephalus, Camallanus trispinosus, Capillaria, Contracaecum, Contracaecum spiculigerum, Spinitectus carolini, Spinitectus gracilis, Spinitectus micracanthus, Spiroxys contorta; Acanthocephala: Eocollis arcanus, Leptorhynchoides thecatus, Neoechinorhynchusconstrictus, Neoechinorhynchus clyindratum (Allison 1967 ; McGraw and Allison 1967 ; Meade and Bedinger 1972 ; Underwood and Dronen 1984 ; Mayberry et al. 2000).


Commercial or Environmental Importance

White (1971) notes the golden color of Texas golden green sunfish may make it particularly susceptible to predation and a good forage fish. Lepomis cyanellus found to be major food source for Micropterus salmoides (largemouth bass) in a desert impoundment (Biggins 1968). Usually individuals do not become large enough to interest anglers. Species is easily handled and make good bioassay animals (Carlander 1977).


[Additional literature noting collection of this species from Texas locations includes, but is not limited to the following: Brazos County (Bonham 1946); lower Rio Grande River (Robinson 1959); Horkel and Pearson (1976); Colorado River System (Echelle et al 1977); Devils River (Harrell 1978); Hillebrandt Bayou (Linam and Kleinsasser 1987); Oyster Creek (Linam and Kleinsasser 1987); lower Rio Grande River (Edwards and Contreras-Balderas 1991); Matthews et al. (1996); Bosque, Leon, and Lampasas River watersheds (Middle Brazos River Basin; Armstrong 1998).]



Allison, T.C. 1967. Three new species of monogenetic trematodes from the gills of Lepomis cyanellus Rafinesque and Lepomis megalotis Rafinesque of Texas and the proposal of a new genus, Macrohaptor. The Journal of Parasitology 53(5):1005-1007.

Applegate, Richard L. 1966. The use of a bryozoan, Fredericella sultana, as food by sunfish in Bull Shoals Reservoir. Limnology and Oceanography 11(1):129-130.

Applegate, R.L., J.W. Mullan, and D.I. Morais. 1967. Food and growth of six centrarchids from shoreline areas of Bull Shoals Reservoir. Proc. S.E. Assoc. Game Fish Comm. 20:469-482.

Armstrong, M.P. 1998. A fishery survey of the Middle Brazos River Basin in North-Central Texas. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 2. Arlington, Texas. 26 pp.

Baughman, J.L. 1946. An interesting association of fishes. Copeia 1946(4):263.

Beitinger, T.L., J.J. Magnuson, W.H. Neill, and W.R. Shaffer. 1975. Behavioral thermoregulation and activity patterns in the green sunfish, Lepomis cyanellus. Animal Behavior 23:222-229.

Biggins, R. G. 1968. Centrarchid feeding interactions in a small desert impoundment. Univ. Ariz., Tucson. MS Thesis. 44pp.

Bonham, K. 1946. Management of a small fish pond in Texas. The Journal of Wildlife Management 10(1):1-4.

Branson, B.A. and G.A. Moore. 1962. The lateralis components of the acoustico-lateralis system in the sunfish family Centrarchidae. Copeia 1962 (1):1-108.

Carlander, Kenneth D. 1977. Handbook of Freshwater Fishery Biology. The Iowa State University Press, Ames 2:431 pp.

Childers, W. F. 1967. Hybridization of four species of sunfishes (Centrarchidae). Illinois Natural History Survey Bulletin 29(3):159-214

Childers, W. F. and G. W. Bennett. 1961. Hybridization between three species of sunfish (Lepomis). Illinois Natural History Survey Biological Notes 46. 15p.

Echelle, A.A., A.F. Echelle, and F.B. Cross. 1977. First records of Cyprinodon rubrofluviatilis (Cyprinodontidae) from the Colorado and Arkansas River Systems, Texas. The Southwestern Naturalist 22(1):142-143.

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.

Forbes, S. A. and R. E. Richardson. 1908. The fishes of Illinois. Illinois State Laboratory of Natural History cxxxi + 357 pp. + separate atlas containing 102 maps.

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.

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

Harris, P. D., A. P. Shinn, J. Cable and T. A. Bakke. 2004. Nominal species of the genus Gyrodactylus von Nordmann 1832 (Monogenea: Gyrodactylidae), with a list of principal host species. Systematic Parasitology 59:1-27

Hoffman, Glenn L., and Robert E. Putz. 1964. Studies on Gyrodactylus macrochiri n. sp. (Trematoda: Monogenea) from Lepomis macrochirus. Proceedings of the Helminthological Society 31(1):76-82

Horkel, J.D., and W.D. Pearson. 1976. Effects of turbidity on ventilation rates and oxygen consumption of green sunfish, Lepomis cyanellus. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 105(1):107-113.

Howard, J.W. 1974. Dominance and relation to coloration in green sunfish, Lepomis cyanellus. Behav. Biol. 12:559-565.

Hubbs, C. L. and G. P. Cooper. 1935. Age and Growth of the long-eared and the green sunfishes in Michigan. Papers of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters 20(1934):669-696

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. The Texas Journal of Science, Supplement 43(4):1-56

Hunter, J. 1963. The reproductive behavior of the green sunfish, Lepomis cyanellus. Zoologica; Scientific Contributions of the New York Zoological Society 48:13-23

Jordan, D. S. 1878. A Catalogue of the Fishes of Illinois. Bulletin of the Illinois State Laboratory of Natural History 1(2):37-70

Large, T. 1903. A list of the native fishes of Illinois with keys. Appendix to Report of the State Board of Fish Commissioners for Sept. 30, 1900 to Oct. 1, 1902. 30pp.

Lee, D. S. 1980. Lepomis cyanellus (Rafinesque), Green sunfish. pp. 591 in D. S. Lee et al. Atlas of North American Freshwater Fishes. N. C. State Mus. Nat. Hist., Raleigh, i-r+854 pp.

Lemly, A.D. 1985. Suppression of native fish populations by green sunfish in first-order streams of Piedmont, North Carolina. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 114:705-712.

Linam, G.W., and L.J. Kleinsasser. 1987. Fisheries use attainability study for Hillebrandt Bayou. River Studies Report No. 1. Resource Protection Division. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Austin. 18 pp.

Linam, G.W., and L.J. Kleinsasser. 1987. Fisheries use attainability study for Oyster Creek (segment 1110). River Studies Report No. 3. Resource Protection Division. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Austin. 15 pp.

Linam, G.W., and L.J. Kleinsasser. 1987. Fisheries use attainability study for Pine Island Bayou (segment 0607). River Studies Report No. 6. Resource Protection Division. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Austin. 21 pp.

Matthews, W.J., M.S. Schorrs, and M.R. Meador. 1996. Effects of experimentally enhanced flows on fishes of a small Texas (U.S.A.) stream: assessing the impact of interbasin transfer. Freshwater Biology 35:349-362.

Mayberry, L. F., A. G. Canaris, and J. R. Bristol. 2000. Bibliography of parasites and vertebrate host in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas (1893-1984). University of Nebraska Harold W. Manter Laboratory of Parasitology Web Server pp. 1-100.

McGraw, J.L., Jr., and T.C. Allison. 1967. Helminth parasites of centrarchidae from the Little River System of Texas. The Southwestern Naturalist 12(3):332-334.

Meade, T.G., and C.A. Bedinger, Jr. 1972. Helminth paracitism in some species of fresh water fishes of Eastern Texas. The Southwestern Naturalist 16(3/4):281-295.

Meador, M.R., and W.J. Matthews. 1992. Spatial and Temporal patterns in fish assemblage structure of an intermittent Texas stream. American Midland Naturalist 127(1):106-114.

Meyer, F.A. 1970. Development of some larval centrarchids. Prog. Fish-Cult. 32(3):130-136.

Nelson, E. W. 1876. A partial catalogue of the fishes of Illinois. Bull. Ill. Mus. Nat. Hist. 1(1):33-52.

O'Donnell, D. J. 1935. Annotated list of the fishes of Illinois. Illinois Natural History Survey Bulletin 20(5):473-500.

Pflieger, William L. 1975. The Fishes of Missouri. The Missouri Department of Conservation 343pp.

Rafinesque, C. S. 1819. Prodrome de 70 nouveaux genres d'animaux découverts dans l'intérieur des Etats-Unis d'Amérique, durant l'année 1818. J. de Physique de Chimie et D'Histoire Naturelle 88:417-429.

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

Riggs, C.D., and E.W. Bonn. 1959. Annotated list of the fishes of Lake Texoma, Oklahoma and Texas. The Southwestern Naturalist 4(4) :157-168.

Robinson, D.T. 1959. The ichthyofauna of the lower Rio Grande, Texas and Mexico. Copeia 1959(3):253-256.

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

Simon, T. P. 1999. Assessment of Balon’s reproductive guilds with application to Midwestern North American Freshwater Fishes, pp. 97-121. In: Simon, T.L. (ed.). Assessing the sustainability and biological integrity of water resources using fish communities. CRC Press. Boca Raton, Florida. 671 pp.

Smith, P. W. 1965.  A Preliminary Annotated List of the Lampreys and Fishes of Illinois.  Illinois Natural History Biological Notes 54.  12p.

Stuber, R.J., G. Gebhart, and O.E. Maughan. 1982. Habitat suitability index models: green sunfish. U.S. Dept. Int., Fish. and Wildl. Serv. FWS/OBS-82/10.16, 32 pp.

Sublette, J.E., M.D. Hatch, and M. Sublette. 1990. The Fishes of New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque. 393 pp.

Taubert, B.D. 1977. Early morphological development of the green sunfish, Lepomis cyanellus, and its separation from other larval Lepomis species. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 106(5):445-448.

Tin, H.T. 1982. Family Centrarchidae, sunfishes, p. 524-580. In: Auer, N.A. (Ed.), Identification of larval fishes of the Great Lakes Basin with emphasis on the Lake Michigan drainage. Great Lakes Fish. Comm. Spec. Publ. 82-83.

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.


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.

White, G.E. 1971. The Texas golden green: A color mutation of the green sunfish. Prog. Fish-Cult. 33(3):155.