Lake Pontchartrain and lagoons around New Orleans (Cuvier in Cuvier and Valenciennes 1829).
Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name
Lepomis, Greek, meaning “scaled gill cover”; gulosus, Latin, meaning “large-mouthed” (Pflieger 1975).
Pomotis gulosus: Cuvier in Cuvier and Valenciennes 1829:367.
Chaenobryttus gulosus: Nelson 1876:37; Jordan 1878; Forbes 1884:69; Forbes and Richardson 1908:245-247; O’Donnell 1935:487; Smith 1965:9.
Choenobryttus gulosus: Large 1903:23.
Maximum size: Up to 284 mm TL (Trautman 1957; Carlander 1977; Edwards 1997).
Life colors: Black spot on opercular flap (Ross 2001); eye reddish with 3-5 reddish to purplish streaks radiating across the eye and operculum; body and upper sides brownish to olivaceous with faint vertical bars; abdomen greenish yellow. Single fins darkly mottled; pelvic fins with melanophores. Breeding male is yellow; eye distinctly red (Sublette et al. 1990).
Tooth patch: Teeth on tongue and pterygoids (Hubbs et al. 1991).
Counts: 3 anal spines (rarely 2 or 4); 6-13 dorsal fin spines; 6 or 7 branchiostegals (Hubbs et al. 1991); 36-44 lateral line scales; 10 dorsal rays; 9-10 anal rays; 13-14 pectoral rays (Ross 2001).
Body shape: Somewhat elongate and robust (Ross 2001). Body depth usually contained two to two and one-half times in standard length (Hubbs et al. 1991).
Mouth position: Terminal (Goldstein and Simon 1999).
External morphology: Supramaxilla longer than breadth of maxilla; maxillary width less than suborbital; lateral line present; scales ctenoid (Hubbs et al. 1991). Gill rakers on first arch long and thin; pectoral fin short and rounded, not reaching past the eye when bent forward; opercle bone (gill cover) stiff to its posterior margin; opercular flap short; lateral line arched anteriorly (Ross 2001).
Distribution (Native and Introduced)
U.S. distribution: Ranges from Kansas and Iowa to southern Wisconsin, lower Michigan, and west Pennsylvania, south to Rio Grande and Florida (Larimore 1957, Lee 1980). Presumed native on Atlantic slope north into Virginia, perhaps to Maryland. Transplanted west of Rockies and to portions of Atlantic slope (Lee 1980).
Texas distribution: Found statewide with the exception of the plains streams in the Texas Panhandle area (Hubbs et al. 1991). Warren et al. (2000) list the following drainage units for distribution of Lepomis gulosus 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).
Macrohabitat: Solitary fish inhabiting swamps, bayous, borrow ditches, oxbow lakes (Larimore 1957; Edwards 1997).
Mesohabitat: Prefers heavily vegetated habitats with limited flow (Lee 1980; Glenn 1999). Found in waters with muddy substrates, detritus, dense beds of vegetation; these habitats having sources of cover including brushpiles, stumps, cypress knees, discarded tires and barrels. Sometimes found in impoundments, generally in backwater areas with extensive brushpiles or stumps (Larimore 1957; Edwards 1997). Occasionally found in somewhat turbid waters; seem to prefer clear water with thick growths of vegetation (Gatz and Adams 1994). Species collected from pool-rootwad, backwater, backwater-bank snag habitat in the Sulphur River, Texas (Gelwick and Morgan 2000; Morgan 2002; Osting et al. 2003). Collected from riffle, run, snag habitats in Cibolo Creek, Texas; run, riffle/bank/snag, run/bank/snag habitats in the San Antonio River; riffle/channel/snag habitat in the Guadalupe River (Edwards 1999). Rose and Echelle (1981) reported collection of species mainly in pools and backwaters. Fish less than about 127 mm TL tend to remain in shallow water, usually in some form of dense cover, but larger fish occur more in deep water (Larimore 1957). Reported in brackish water up to 4.1 ppt (Carlander 1977); abundant where introduced in saline water of lowermost Colorado River, Arizona (Minckley 1973). Critical oxygen level is 3.6 ppm at 20 degrees C (Larimore 1957); however, it survives for short periods at levels as low as 1.0 ppm (Gould and Irwin 1962). Absent from much of the Great Plains, primarily because of lack of suitable backwaters, and other flooded lowland-type habitats (Tomelleri and Eberle 1990; Edwards 1997). Increased flow velocities and decreased vegetative cover will likely lead to the lateral migration of this species from a river channel onto floodplain habitats (Welcomme 1979; Glenn 1999).
Spawning season: Reproductive development begins when water temperature begins to rise above 4.5 degrees C, and actual spawning occurs at 21.1 degrees C (Ross 2001). Small Lepomis gulosus measuring less than 16 mm SL taken from late March through July suggesting spawning season from early March – July, in Texas (Edwards 1997). Larimore (1957) reported spawning from April – October, in Texas, with larger females spawning over a longer period than smaller females.
Spawning location: Lithophils; rock and gravel nesters (Larimore 1957; Simon 1999); Male constructs nest near a stump, clump of vegetation, cover that is not on clean sand at depths of 15 cm – 1.5 m; nests may be clumped if sites are limited, otherwise nests are separated (Larimore 1957).
Reproductive strategy: With gill covers flared and mouth open, courting male approaches potential mate. Body color of male changes rapidly to yellow and eyes become blood-red. Receptive female directed to nest by male and both fish swim in circular pattern with female nearer center of nest. Female jerks her body violently while releasing her eggs, actually striking face of the male. This contact apparently stimulates the release of sperm. Male may court and spawn with several females (Larimore 1957). Guarders (Larimore 1957; Simon 1999); nests are guarded by males until fry are free-swimming, 5-6 days after spawning (Carlander 1977; Robison and Buchanan 1988).
Fecundity: Potential fecundity of all ova (not only “ripe” ova) estimated range from 4,500 to 63,200 eggs; water hardened eggs averaged 1.010 ± 0.049 mm. Eggs adhesive, translucent, and light amber in color. Eggs hatch 33-36 hours after fertilization at temperatures between 25.0-26.4 degrees C (Larimore 1957). After hatching, young immediately hide among sand and gravel particles at the bottom of the nest (Carlander 1977). Tomelleri and Eberle (1990) report reasonably low reproductive potential for this species.
Age at maturation: Usually reach adulthood at age 1, at a size of 75 – 100 mm TL. Size presumed to be of more importance than age in attaining maturity (Larimore 1957).
Longevity: About 3 years in most Texas aquatic environments (Larimore 1957; Edwards 1997).
Growth: Species attains relatively large size for sunfishes. Largest specimen found in Texas research museums is 170 mm SL (Edwards 1997). Individuals range from 41-114 mm TL after one year of growth and are 77-122 mm, 108-147 mm, 125-178 mm, 180-196 mm, 203-204 mm, 215-221 mm, and 217 mm TL at ages 2-8, respectively (Carlander 1977). Males slightly larger than females (Larimore 1957).
Food habits: Trophic classifications: Invertivore/carnivore; drift/whole body. Feeding behavior: water column/chasing. Main food items are insects, snails, and fishes (Larimore 1957;Goldstein and Simon 1999). Larval fish feed on small crustaceans (copepods, ostracods, cladocerans; Pflieger 1975; Ross 2001). Individuals often ambush prey by quickly darting out from cover and attacking unsuspecting prey. Diet includes small fishes, crayfish, larval aquatic insects (Ephemeroptera, Odonata, Tricoptera), and isopods (Larimore 1957; Carlander 1977; Layzer and Clady 1991; Edwards 1997). Majority of feeding activity occurs at night, during dusk, or at dawn; relatively little feeding activity occurs during midday (Larimore 1957). During summer, individuals may consume prey amounts equivalent to 4% of their body weight per day; at water temperatures of 24-25 degrees C they are able to completely digest a meal equivalent to 2.2-3.5% of their body weight in 26.2 hours (Hunt 1960).
Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes
Lepomis gulosus most similar to Lepomis cyanellus, the green sunfish, from which it can be separated by the presence of dark bars on the cheek and a tooth patch on the tongue. L. gulosus may be confused with Ambloplites rupestris, the rock bass, from which it differs in having 3 rather than 5-6 anal spines (Ross 2001). In contrast to its ecological equivalent, Lepomis cyanellus (green sunfish), L. gulosus inhabit larger streams, bayous, and rivers with suitable habitats while L. cyanellus inhabit smaller creeks and tributaries (Layzer and Clady 1991). Species known to hybridize with at least four other Lepomis spp., including L. cyanellus and L. macrochirus; also hybridizes with Micropterus salmoides (largemouth bass), and Pomoxis nigromaculatus (black crappie; Merriner 1971; Lee 1980). Considerable ontogenetic and individual variation occurs within species, but little, if any geographic variation (Smith 1979).
Gyrodactylus macrochiri (Harris et al. 2004); host for Posthodiplostomum minimum, the strigeid fluke; Proteocephelus ambloplites, the bass tapeworm; Camallanus oxycephalus, a nematode; Illinobdella moorei, a leech (Larimore 1957). Trematoda (Allacanthocasmus varius, Homalometron pearsei, Crepidostomum cormutum, Pisciamphistoma stunkardi, Posthodiplostomum minimum); Cestoda (Proteocephalus sp.); Nematoda (Cammalanus oxycephalus, Capillaria catenata, Contracaecum spiculigerum, Contracaecum sp., Spinitectus carolini, Spinitectus gracilis, Agamonema sp.); Acanthocephala (Leptorhynchoides thecatus, Neoechinorhynchus cylindritus, Pallisentis sp.; Arnold 1967).
Commercial or Environmental Importance
Lepomis gulosus transport well, survive low dissolved oxygen levels, good bioassay animals, popular sportfish, and are excellent to eat. Unlike other sunfishes, species does not tend to overpopulate ponds and develop stunted populations (Carlander 1977).
[Additional literature noting collection of this species from Texas locations includes, but is not limited to the following: Colle (1976); Eagle Mountain Lake (Gruninger et al. 1977); Lake Nasworthy (Colorado River Basin; Yeh 1977); Edwards (1978); Devils River (Harrell 1978); Mosier (1984); Upper San Marcos River (Hays Co.; Underwood and Dronen 1984); Hillebrandt Bayou (Linam and Kleinsasser 1987); Oyster Creek (Linam and Kleinsasser 1987); Pine Island Bayou (Linam and Kleinsasser 1987); Lower Rio Grande River (Edwards and Contreras-Balderas 1991); Linam et al. (1994); Village Creek (Hardin Co.; Moriarty and Winemiller 1997); Pinto Creek (Garrett et al. 2004).]
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