Lepomis symmetricus

bantam sunfish



Type Locality

Illinois River at Pekin, Tazewell Coutny, Illinois (Forbes 1882).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Lepomis, Greek, meaning “scaled gill cover”; symmetricus, from symmetrical, in reference to the even contours of the body (Pflieger 1975).



Detailed synonymy provided by Burr (1977).

Lepomis symmetricus Forbes 1882:473 in Jordan and Gilbert 1882; Knapp 1953:115 (key, Texas range).

Apomotis symmetricus Boulenger 1895:21 (rediscription).

Lethogrammus symmetricus Hubbs in Jordan 1929:147 (transfer to new genus erected by C.L. Hubbs).



Maximum size: 75.5 mm SL (Bur 1977).


Life colors: Black spot on dorsal fin with a pale margin (Hubbs et al. 1991). Back is dark green; sides have numerous dark brown spots in irregular rows; faint irregular lateral bands sometimes present; dark crescent-shaped spot near base of soft dorsal fin (indistinct in large fish). Breeding males are very dark overall; iris bright red. Juvenile fish tend to have 7 to 9 vertical bars; distinct spot on soft dorsal fin; reddish orange pigment on soft dorsal and anal fins (Burr 1977; Ross 2001).


Counts: Fewer than 40 lateral line scales; 3 anal spines; 6-13 dorsal fin spines; 6 or 7 branchiostegals (Hubbs et al. 1991); 29-37 lateral line scales, 10-11 (9-12) dorsal rays, 9-10 (9-12) anal rays, and 12-13 pectoral rays (Ross 2001).


Body shape:  Small, thick-bodied sunfish with a symmetrical outline of the body (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: Lateral line incomplete; 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; supramaxilla absent or shorter than breadth of maxilla; maxillary width less than suborbital; scales ctenoid (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Internal morphology: Palantine teeth present (Burr 1977; Goldstein and Simon 1999).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Found primarily in western Mississippi River lowlands from southern Illinois to Texas (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Texas distribution: Limited to coastal drainages from the Red River southward to the Colorado River Basin near the coast (Hubbs et al. 1991). Warren et al. (2000) listed the following drainage units for distribution of Lepomis symmetricus 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. Specimen collected from a canal off the lower Guadalupe River near Tivoli, February 2008 (Brad Littrell, Bio-West, pending verification).


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, NGO)

Populations in the southern United State are currently secure (Warren et al. 2000). Uncommon in Texas (Knapp 1953).


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Found predominately in lowland sloughs, oxbows, lakes, ponds, and swamps. Prime population density 33 fish/m2 (Burr 1977, 1980).


Mesohabitat: Found in areas with heavy vegetation, stumps, and logs; prefers a mud, detritus and/or plant material substrata (Burr 1977). In Lake Conroe, Texas, seining revealed that the Lepomis symmetricus population collapsed following removal of submerged vegetation (Bettoli et al. 1993). Known to enter brackish water (Mosier 1984). In the freshwater channelized zone (slough and irrigation canal) of a Texas Gulf Coastal wetland, this species was found to most likely occur at salinity < 5‰, dissolved oxygen < 5 mg 1ˉ¹, and depth > 1.5 m (Gelwick et al. 2001). Chipman (1959) reported salinity tolerance of 11.8 – 18.7‰.



Spawning season: Mid-April to early June (Burr 1977).


Spawning location: Polyphils - miscellaneous substrate and material nesters that have adhesive eggs either attached or occur in clusters on any available substrate (Simon 1999). In a roadside pool in Arkansas, Robison (1975) observed depressions in a mud and leaf litter substrate which contained numerous eggs. In an aquariaum-held collection, males constructed nests 90-120 mm in diameter over both sand and gravel substrate (Burr 1977).  Nests constructed over dark gravel, but not over sand (M. Stegall, pers. comm. in: Ross 2001). In LaRue Pine Hills, Illinois, males constructed nests near Ceratophyllum demersaum (coon tail) over substrate with fibrous root wads (E.G. Wetzel, unpubl. data, 2004 in: Zeman and Burr 2004).


Reproductive strategy: Guarders; nest spawners (Simon 1999). Male courts female by nudging her with his snout and nipping her caudal fin; males defend nests (Burr 1977). In aquaria, spawning activity occurred at approximately dawn. Male aggressively guards territory until approached by a receptive female. Male swims close to female, then turns sharply, returning to nest and making exaggerated movements of rayed portions of the dorsal and anal fins.  Male may repeat this effort several times in an attempt to lead the female to the nest; however, if the female does not respond, the male will drive the female out of his territory.  When courtship is successful, the female will follow the male to the nest and engage in a circling behavior. Gamete extrusion occurs at this time, lasting approximately 30 minutes, as female rolls and raises her vent against the side of the male, in a quivering motion. Male will alternate challenges with spawning bouts, subsequently driving the female from the nest (E.G. Wetzel, unpubl. data, 2004 in: Zeman and Burr 2004).


Fecundity: Females produce 219-1600 mature ova, which become translucent orange immediately prior to spawning, and range from 0.6-0.9 mm in diameter (Burr 1977).


Age at maturation: Age 1, when males are at least 40 mm SL, and females are 34 mm SL (Burr 1977).




Longevity: Maximum 3 years + several months; no fish reached their 4th year (Burr 1977).


Food habits: Goldstein and Simon (1999) list the first level and second level trophic classifications as invertivore and drift, respectively; trophic mode listed as water column/surface; species primarily consuming small crustaceans, midge larvae, and snails, diet supplemented with surface feeding on hemipterans and terrestrial insects.   Gunning and Lewis (1955) and Burr (1977) reported feeding on snails (gastropods), microcrustaceans (cladocerans, ostracods, amphipods), dragonfly larvae, and small dipteran larvae (chironomids and ceratopogonids); with smaller fish feeding on microcrustaceans and midge larvae, shifting to gastropods and amphipods as they grew larger (Burr 1980). In Mississippi, Hildebrand and Towers (1928) reported prey of dragonfly and midge larvae.


Growth and population structure: In Illinois, individuals reached about 45 mm TL at the end of 1st year of growth and averaged about 55 mm at age 2; 3 year-old specimens generally exceeded 60 mm; sex ratios calculated from 233 specimens in Illinois: 1.4 females to 1 male (Burr 1977). Population sizes seem especially low in ponds with large bass populations (Ross 2001).


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes

Based on morphology (Bailey 1938) and components of acoustico-lateralis system (Branson and Moore 1962) the closest relative of Lepomis symmetricus is L. cyanellus; phylogeny of Wainwright and Lauder (1992) supports this decision.

L. symmetricus is most similar to the redspotted sunfish, L. miniatus, but differs in having a lower lateral scale count (19-37 versus 34-42) and in having the lateral line incomplete and interrupted. L. symmetricus also very similar to small L. macrochirus (bluegill). L. symmetricus differs from L. humilis (orangespotted sunfish) in lacking enlarged sensory pores. The interrupted and incomplete lateral line distinguishes L. symmetricus from all other sunfishes in Texas, except for L. humilis which may have an incomplete lateral line (Ross 2001). L. symmetricus would most likely be confused with younger specimens of L. punctatus (spotted sunfish), L. marginatus (dollar sunfish), and possibly several other species in which juveniles may have a barred color pattern. Fliers (Centrarchus) have a dark spot in the posterior dorsal fin base in juveniles, but have many more anal spines than L. symmetricus (Etnier and Starnes 1993).


Host Records

Species susceptibile to Monogenea: Anchoradiscus triangularis, and Trematoda: Caecincola latostoma (Hoffman 1999). In Wolf Creek, Illinois, 44 of 176 specimens encysted with plerocercoids of the cestode Haplobothrium globuliforme (Burr 1977).


Commercial or Environmental Importance

Populations are vulnerable to decline due to human alteration or elimination of their specialized habitat of heavily vegetated swamps and wetlands; short lifespan of the species; and its somewhat fragmented distribution (Zeman and Burr 2004).


[Additional literature noting collection of this species from Texas locations includes, but is not limited to the following: Hubbs (1957); Winemiller et al. 2004).]



Bailey, R. M. 1938. A systematic revision of the centrarchid fishes, with a discussion of their distribution, variations, and probable interrelationships. Ph.D. diss., Univ. Mich., Ann Arbor. 256 pp.

Bettoli, P.W., M.J. Maceina, R.L. Noble, and R.K. Betsill. 1993. Response of a reservoir fish community to aquatic vegetation removal. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 13:110-124.

Boulenger, G.A. 1895. Catalouge of the Perciform fishes in the British Museum. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. British Museum (Natural History), London. xix + 391 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.

Burr, B. M. 1977. The bantam sunfish, Lepomis symmetricus: systematics and distribution, and life history in Wolf Lake, Illinois. Ill. Nat. Hist. Surv. Bull. 31(10):437-466.

Burr, B.M. 1980. Lepomis symmetricus (Forbes), Bantam sunfish.  pp. 603 in D. S. Lee, et al.  Atlas of North American Freshwater Fishes.  N. C. State Mus. Nat. Hist., Raleigh, i-r+854 pp.

Chipman, R.K. 1959. Studies of tolerance of certain freshwater fishes to brine water from oil wells. Ecology 40(2):299-302.

Etnier, D.A., and W.C. Starnes. 1993. The Fishes of Tennessee. University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville. 681 pp.

Forbes, S.A. 1882. Lepomis symmetricus, p 473. In: Synopsis of the fishes of North American. D. S. Jordan and C. H. Gilbert, ed. Bull. U.S. Nat. Mus. 16:1-1018.

Gelwick, F.P., S. Akin, D.A. Arrington, and K.O. Winemiller. 2001. Fish assemblage structure in relation to environmental variation in a Texas Gulf Coastal wetland . Estuaries 24(2):285-296.

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.

Gunning, G.E., and W.M. Lewis. 1955. The fish population of a spring-fed swamp in the Mississippi bottoms of southern Illinois. Ecology 36(4):552-558.

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. Bulletin of the  Bureau of Fisheries 43(2):105-136.

Hoffman, G.L. 1999. Parasites of North American Freshwater Fishes, 2nd ed. New York. 539 pp.

Hubbs, C. 1957. Distributional patterns of Texas fresh-water fishes. The Southwestern Naturalist 2(2/3):89-104.

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.

Jordan, D.S. 1929. Manual of the vertebrate animals of the northeastern United States inclusive of marine species. 13th ed. World Book Company, Yonkers-on-Hudson, New York. xxxi + 446 pp.

Knapp, F.T. 1953. Fishes Found in the Freshwaters of Texas. Ragland Studio and Litho Printing Co., Brunswick, Georgia. 166 pp.

Mosier, D.T. 1984. Records of Lepomis symmetricus Forbes and Fundulus chrysotus (Gunther) from Aransas County, Texas. The Southwestern Naturalist 29(4):504-505.

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

Robison, H.W. 1975. New distributional records of fishes from the lower Oauchita River system in Arkansas. Arkansas Academy of Science Proceedings 29:54-56.

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. P. (editor). Assessing the sustainability and biological integrity of water resources using fish communities. CRC Press. Boca Raton, Florida. 671 pp.

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


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

Zeman, D.K., and B.M. Burr. 2004. Conservation assessment for bantam sunfish (Lepomis symmetricus). USDA Forest Service, Eastern Region. 24 pp.