Lepomis humilis

orangespotted sunfish



Type Locality

“Arkansas” (Girard 1858).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Lepomis, Greek, meaning “scaled gill cover”; humilis, Latin, meaning “humble” (Pflieger 1975).



Bryttus himilis Girard 1858:201.

Lepomis humilis Hay 1883:62; Hildebrand and Towers 1928:134; Cook 1959:181.



Maximum size: 177 mm TL (Carlander 1977).


Life colors: Ground color olivaceous to silvery blue on back and side; bright reddish orange spots on head and side of body of adult males, spots rusty red on females; opercular flap black with white or pale green margin extending completely around it; no blue green wavy lines on cheek or operculum, but indistinct reddish orange lines usually present. Breeding males brilliantly colored; belly, anal, and pelvic fins bright orange; entire margin of dorsal fin orange. Young have dusky vertical bars and no spots on side (Boshung and Mayden 2004). When ready to spawn, eyes of female become almost black (Miller 1964). No dark spot on posterior part of dorsal fin; opercle not margined with scarlet (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Tooth patch: Palantine teeth present; no teeth on tongue or pterygoids (Hubbs et al 1991; Goldstein and Simon 1999).


Scale counts: 3 anal fin spines; 7-9 anal fin rays; 6-13 dorsal fin spines; 6 or 7 branchiostegals (Hubbs et al 1991); 32-42 lateral line scales; 9-11 dorsal rays; 13-14 pectoral rays (Ross 2001).


Body shape: Compressed, slab-sided (Boschung and Mayden 2004). 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: Opercle flexible; gill rakers reaching at least to base of second below when depressed; pectoral fins long and pointed, upper pectoral fin rays much longer than lower; pectoral fin contained 3.5 or fewer times in standard length; supramaxilla absent or shorter than breadth of maxilla; maxillary width less than suborbital; lateral line present; scales ctenoid (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Occurs in the central United States to the south of the Great Lakes; a number of introductions have occurred into various systems as far south as the Rio Grande Basin (Hubbs et al 1991).


Texas distribution: Found throughout the northern half of the state to the Colorado River drainage (Hubbs et al 1991). Warren et al. (2000) list the following drainage units for distribution of Lepomis humilis 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.


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, NGO)

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


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Lakes, backwaters of streams, ponds and in barrow pits (Lee 1980; Ross 2001).


Mesohabitat: Found in quiet waters, vegetated areas; known from salinity of 0.74 ppt; tolerance for silt, mud, pollutants (Barney and Anson 1923; Miller 1964; Lee 1980). Collected from Allens Creek (including the Brazos River), Texas in turbid water over very soft sand/silt substrate; willows dominated stream bank cover; very little instream cover noted (Linam et al. 1994). Found in pool-rootwad, backwater, backwater-bank snag habitats in the Sulphur River, Texas (Gelwick and Morgan 2000; Morgan 2002; Osting et al. 2003); Burgess (2003) noted that adult Lepomis humilis were associated with channelized pools and were the only invertivorous species associated with the channelized reach of the South Sulphur River (these sites contained predominately pool habitat, having similar characteristics for water velocity to those of backwaters).  Rather common in silty bays, tributaries, and the headwaters of Lake Texoma (Oklahoma and Texas; Riggs and Bonn 1959). Species collected in shallow river-margin areas along the lower Brazos River, Texas (Li 2003). Due perhaps, in part to the parental care characteristic of L. humilis, the species was more abundant in Moehlman Slough, Texas (an oxbow lake of the Brazos River) where water levels are relatively stable and floods that disrupt nesting activity are less frequent, than in the river channel (Winemiller et al. 2004). Lepomis humilis has distinct sleeping posture: body from chin to pelvic fins touches the bottom while back part of body is elevated; pectoral fins spread at right angles to body, may also be in contact with the bottom. Fish usually return to specific area to sleep (Miller 1964).



Spawning season:, April-September in Louisiana, at temperatures above 18°C (Barney and Anson 1923); similar pattern likely in Mississippi (Cook 1959); May-July in northern portion of range (Lee 1980).


Spawning location: Lithophils; species restricted to spawning over gravel and rock substrates (Simon 1999). Males fan out a depression in shallow water (Miller 1964). Nests may be 15-18 cm in diameter, 3-4 cm deep at their center; constructed over mud, sand, or gravel (Barney and Anson 1923).


Reproductive Strategy: Male prepares for spawning by fanning out a depression in shallow water using powerful sweeping motions of his caudal fin. Male is almost vertical above the nest, while sweeping (Miller 1964). Males actively court females, by swimming quickly toward female, then rushing back to nest, producing a series of distinctive grunts the entire time (Gerald 1971).Guarders; nest spawners (Simon 1999); the male guards and fans eggs, keeping them oxygenated and free of silt, until hatching (Barney and Anson 1923; Lee 1980).


Fecundity: Fertilized eggs are demersal, adhesive and attach to stones at nest bottom. Ripe eggs average about 1 mm in diameter. Usually 6-15 eggs are released in each spawning sequence, which may be repeated several times in succession. Females may produce 175-4700 eggs during spawning season, depending upon body size. Eggs hatch in 5 days at water temperatures 18.3-21.1 degrees C (Barney and Anson 1923; Hildebrand and Towers 1928).


Age at maturation: Mature by second year. Females mature by about 30 mm TL (Barney and Anson 1923; Hildebrand and Towers 1928).


Migration: NA


Longevity: Up to 3 years, in Louisiana. 7 year lifespan documented in Iowa (Barney and Anson 1923).


Growth: Larvae are 10 mm TL at hatching. Individuals may reach 88 mm TL in first year (Barney and Anson 1923).


Food habits: Trophic classifications: insectivore; drift; trophic mode: water column/surface; feeding behavior: benthic and surface feeders. Tennessee specimens contained both chironomid larvae and terrestrial insects (Goldstein and Simon 1999).  In Iowa, aquatic insects make up the diet of all size groups, especially midges (chironomids), caddisfly and mayfly larvae (Kutkuhn 1955). Miller (1964) notes species will only accept live food, in captivity.


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes

Lepomis humilis is the sister taxon to a clade including L. auritus, L. megalotis, and L. microlophus, among others (Mabee 1993). All Lepomis fishes are closely related; however, genetically, L. humilis is more closely related to L. macrochirus and L. gulosus (Avise and Smith 1977; Branson and Moore 1962). Young L. humilis are superficially similar to young of other Lepomis, especially L. macrochirus (bluegill), L. cyanellus (green sunfish), and L. megalotis (longear). L. humilis differ from all sunfishes in having very elongate sensory pores on margin of the preopercle and in having a pair of large sensory pits on the top of the head; width of each pit approximately equal to distance between pits. L. humilis differs from L. cyanellus in having fewer lateral scales (32-42 versus 41-53) and fewer anal rays (8-10 versus 13-14). L. humilis differs from L. macrochirus in lacking a spot at the base of the soft dorsal fin and from L. megalotis in having long, slender versus short, stubby gill rakers (Ross 2001).


Host Records

Cestoda: Bothriocephalus claviceps, Proteocephalus ambloplitis.

Trematoda: Actinocleidus fergusoni, Actinocleidus maculatus, Bucephalus elegans, Cercaria flexicorpa, Cleidodiscus diversis, Cleidodiscus robustus, Pisciamphistoma stunkardi, Posthodiplostomum minimum, Urocleidus chaenobryttus, Urocleidus cyanellus, Urocleidus dispar, Urocleidus ferox.

Nemata: Camallanus oxycephalus, Camallanus trispinosus, Contracaecum spiculigerum, Spinitectus carolini.

Acanthocephala: Neoechinorhynchus constrictus

(Mayberry et al. 2000).

Gyrodactylus macrochiri host (Harris et al 2004).


Commercial or Environmental Importance

Lepomis humilis reported to feed on mosquito larvae, thus species may be useful in mosquito control (Barney and Anson 1923). This species thrives in soft-bottomed pools and reservoirs and is tolerant of silt and less affected by pollution than other sunfishes, thus accounting for its expanding range and increase in numbers. One of the few species whose circumstance is improved by the same factors that place many other species in jeopardy (Boschung and Mayden 2004). Because of generally small size, L. humilis not important as a sportfish (Ross 2001 ; Boschung and Mayden 2004). Species serves as forage for larger species of Lepomis and for Micropterus salmoides (largemouth bass) in backwater areas (Ross 2001).


[Additional literature noting collection of this species from Texas locations includes, but is not limited to the following: Plum Creek drainage basin (Whiteside and McNatt 1972); Eagle Mountain Lake (Gruninger et al. 1977); Big Sandy Creek (Evans and Noble 1979); Amemiya and Gold (1986); Bosque River (Linam and Kleinsasser 1987); Oyster Creek (Linam and Kleinsasser 1987); Rose and Echelle (1991); Sister Grove Creek (Meador and Matthews 1992; Matthews et al. 1996); Lake Texoma (Texas and Oklahoma; Gido et al. 2002).]



Amemiya, C.T., and J.R. Gold. 1986. Chromomycin A_3 stains nucleolus organizer regions of fish chromosomes. Copeia 1986(1):226-231.

Barney, R.L and B.J. Anson. 1923. Life history and ecology of the orangespotted sunfish, Lepomis humilis. Appendix XV, pp. 1-6 In: 1922 annual report of the U.S. Commission of Fisheries. U.S. Commission of Fisheries, Washington, D.C.

Boschung, H.T., Jr., and Mayden, R.L. 2004. Fishes of Alabama. Smithsonian Books, Washington, D.C. 736 pp.

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.

Burgess, C.C. 2003. Summer fish assemblages in channelized and unchannelized reaches of the South Sulphur River, Texas. M.S. Thesis. Texas A&M University, College Station. 94 pp.

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

Cook, F.A. 1959. Freshwater fishes in Mississippi. Mississippi Game and Fish Commission, Jackson. 239 pp.

Evans, J.W., and R.L. Noble. 1979. The longitudinal distribution of fishes in an east Texas stream. American Midland Naturalist 101(2):333-343.

Girard, C. 1858. Notice upon new genera and new species of marine and freshwater fishes from western North America. Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phil. 9:200-202.

Gelwick, F.P., and M.N. Morgan. 2000. Microhabitat use and community structure of fishes downstream of the proposed George Parkhouse I and Marvin Nichols I reservoir site on the Sulpher River, TX. Report to the Texas Water Development Board. 90 pp.

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

Gido, K.B., C.W. Hargrave, W.J. Matthews, G.D. Schnell, D.W. Pogue, and G.W. Sewell. 2002. Structure of littoral-zone fish communities in relation to habitat, physical, and chemical gradients in a southern reservoir. Environmental Biology of Fishes 63:253-263.

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.

Gruninger, T.L., C.E. Murphy, J.C. Britton. 1977. Macroparasites of fish from Eagle Mountain Lake, Texas. The Southwestern Naturalist 22(4):525-535.

Harris, P.D., A.P. Shinn, J. Cable, 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

Hay, O.P. 1883. On a collection of fishes from lower Mississippi valley. Proc. Bull. U.S. Fish Comm. 2:57-75.

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.

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

Kutkuhn, J.H. 1955. Food and feeding habits of some fishes in a dredged Iowa lake. Proc. Iowa Acad. Sci. 62:576-588.

Lee, D.S. 1980. Lepomis humilis (Girard), Orangespotted sunfish. pp. 596 in D. S. Lee, et al. Atlas of North American Freshwater Fishes. N. C. State Mus. Nat. Hist., Raleigh, i-r+854 pp.

Li, R.Y. 2003. The influence of environmental factors on spatial and temporal variation of fish assemblages in the lower Brazos River, Texas. M.S. Thesis. Texas A&M University, College Station. 80 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 (Revised 1989). Fisheries use attainability study for the Bosque River. River Studies Report No. 4. Resource Protection Division. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Austin. 24 pp.

Linam, G.W., J.C. Henson, and M.A. Webb. 1994. A Fisheries inventory and assessment of Allens Creek and the Brazos River, Austin County, Texas. River Studies Report No. 12. Resource Protection Division. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Austin. 14 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.

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(2):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.

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.

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

Morgan, Michael Neal. 2002. Habitat associations of fish assemblages in the Sulphur River, Texas. Masters Thesis. Texas A&M University, 58 pp.

Osting, T., R. Matthews, and B. Austin. 2003. Analysis of instream flows for the Sulpher River: Hydrology, hydraulics, and fish habitat utilization. Report to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 22 pp.

Pflieger, W.L. 1975. The Fishes of Missouri. The Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City. 343 pp.

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

Rose, D.R., and A.A. Echelle. 1981. Factor analysis of associations of fishes in Little River, Central Texas, with an interdrainage comparison. American Midland Naturalist 106(2):379-391.

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.


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Whiteside, B.G., and R.M. McNatt. 1972. Fish species diversity in relation to stream order and physicochemical conditions in the Plum Creek drainage basin. American Midland Naturalist 88(1):90-101.

Winemiller, K.O., F.P. Gelwick, T. Bonner, S. Zeug, and C. Williams. 2004. Response of oxbow lake biota to hydrologic exchanges with the Brazos River channel. Report to the Texas Water Development Board. 59 pp.