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 Green Sunfish Factoids

Origin

Native to U.S. streams, lakes, ponds

Maximum Size

World record 2.1 pounds. Much smaller in real life.

Temperature

Room temp fine.  No heater needed.

Water

Prefers clean water

Attitude

Very competitive eaters

Suggestion

Prefers company

Security

Likes heavy vegetation

Starter Foods

Minnows, crustaceans, insects, worms

Captive Foods

Will convert to pellets and frozen foods

Threats

Channel catfish at night

Threats

Overpopulation
Other Uses Excellent flathead catfish bait

LA
Perhaps the most common fish in Iowa or at least the most common sunfish.

What's in a Name?  Not really a bluegill, even tho they're often called bluegills, the green sunfish has to be the most populous sunfish in the country.  They often hybridize with other sunfish (usually bluegills), so there's quite a bit of variation in their appearance.  By the way, the cyanellus in their name means blue.  They are often incorrectly called bluegills.  Around here, they're also called "sunnies" -- mostly by anglers using them for bait.

LA
Wittmer Pond where all the mini-green sunfish wre captured on film in about an hour.

LA
Just sitting here on these former ice skating entrance steps.  Good set up for kids to catch fish.

Origin.  You usually find green sunfish in lakes and ponds.  They also can be found in small streams.  They're common throughout the U.S. -- perhaps too common for most people other than kids who love to catch the frisky little guys.  (And maybe some of the larger "kids" who just enjoy relaxing in the shade and drowning worms on a warm summer day.)

LA
Note the size of the nightcrawker the first guy tackled.

Invasive.  Green sunfish are probably the peskiest U.S. fish.  Once they find a new biotope, they quickly colonize and overpopulate the joint.  They are the first sunfish to re-populate temporary streams -- streams that dry up in the summer, then re-fill in the spring.  They out-produce their competition and wind up stunting themselves.  Companies that specialize in stocking ponds recommend poisoning the pond when you start detecting green sunfish.  Different states regulate their use as bait in certain waters, because that's the way they jump from lake to lake -- not as eggs on birds' feet.

LA
Note the large mouth.  Makes them very good eaters.

Reproduction.  Green sunfish males dig small pits in shallow water -- often in close proximity to other males.  You may have seen them if you've ever waded into a pond so you could cast out past the weeds and hopefully hook a bass (also a sunfish).  Male green sunfish flash their best colors in breeding season (no surprise there).  Females develop better colors also but not as bright as the males.  Females also plump up during this period.  The male attracts a plump female to lay eggs in his passion pit.  He protects the eggs and fry.  Once they become free-swimming, the fry take off, and he starts courting new females.  Females crank out 2,000 - 26,000 eggs.  Thus the tendency toward overpopulation and stunting.  During their breeding period, anything you drag thru his pit will be hit hard -- any bait or even a piece of tinfoil.

LA
Females full of roe.  Note the barbless hook.  Speeds up the process.

Excellent Competers.  Bass (the most highly sought after sunfish) reproduce similarly.  However, his pit of eggs and fry will soon be surrounded by dozens of hungry greenies.  Even the toughest bass dad can't stand up to speedy little green invaders coming from every which direction.  The green sunfish have little problem finding food.  This keeps them in breeding condition May thru August depending upon which part of the country they inhabit. 

LA
Almost eating size on these guys -- if you have maybe 20 or 30.

Food Chain.  Larger fish and turtles and other larger green sunfish help hold down the impending overpopulation, but the greenies eventually "win" and runt out the pond.  Large channel catfish probably stand the best chance of controlling them, because they come into the shallows and eat them when the sun goes down.  You can usually catch catfish on those overnight ditty poles.  Green sunfish are also highly regarded as a primo flathead bait.  Flatheads, unlike channel cats, are rarely hooked on a non-living bait.

LA
Females seem to run a little smaller, but plumper.  One on right looks like a bluegill hybrid.

Temperature.  Since green sunfish grow all over the U.S., you know they adapt to all temperatures.  They prefer warm ponds and lakes.  In aquaria they're considered a cold water fish.  They need no heater -- but they do need a stable temperature.  I've never seen ich on a sunfish.  However, temperature variations usually lead to ich in other species.

LA
Lots of variation in their colors.

LA
Good water clarity for Iowa.  You can almost see four sunfish here.

Water.  Ditto their near-nationwide ubiquity.  In aquaria green sunfish need clean water.  pH and DH can vary widely as long as you keep it stable.  Weekly water changes help.

LA
Guy on right has a strong bluegill resemblance.

Security.  Treat your green sunfish as you would a cichlid.  When they first hit your tank, they scurry into a corner and do their best to disappear.  Since they dig pits when they get the urge (just like cichlids), plastic plants will work better than live shredable plants.  Rockwork, caves, and driftwood give them anchors to aid in staking out their territories.  Like most cichlids, they usually do best in groups.  They're more interesting when kept in groups.

LA
More bluegill look-a-likes.

Starter Foods.  New arrivals from the wild prefer what they ate in the wild:  smaller fish (including their own species), crustaceans (small crayfish), snails, and insects (aquatic and terrestrial).  Their instant acceptance of worms presages their flexibility in menu items.  Other sunfish such as crappies and bass are not nearly as flexible.  They pretty much insist on minnows.  Green sunfish will accept worms at first.

LA
Nightcrawlers hit the spot for the larger guys.

LA
Tasty.

LA
More males.

Captive Foods.  Your green sunfish will start accepting new foods after a day or two on slim rations.  The easiest foods to start them on include:  feeder guppies, rosy reds, fish worms, live California blackworms, live tubifex worms, and live brine shrimp.  After a few weeks, try the frozen and freeze-dried variations.  They should take plankton (frozen or freeze-dried) also.  Last stage is giving them cichlid pellets or sticks.  If you put some competitive eaters in with them like convicts or tinfoils, they'll catch on quicker.

LA
He eats better when the other fish try to get his food.

LA
Not exactly trophies but decidedly fun to catch.

AA
In with 3 convicts, 1 firemouth, and 2 jack dempseys.

Good Mixers with Cichlids.  Andrew Adams sent me this pic of his bluegill (which looks much like a green sunfish) mixed with cichlids.  Personally I like to see cichlids and sunfish over natural gravel.  Natural gravel brings out their colors.  I'll get some additiional data from Andrew concerning what his bluegill eats.  This just in from Andrew:  "He eats cichlid crumbles, cichlid crisps, and sun-dried shrimp."

Last Words.  Green sunfish have their bad points and their good points.  They can be a challenge in captivity.  In any event, they are fun to catch.  All us kids agree on that.  Always remember to flatten that barb when fishing for these little guys.  LA

News of the Weird. 

LA
You don't see too many fish with this "affliction."

LA
Same guy without the plastic cup.

LA
Same guy after his bandectomy.  He actually partially digested it.

LA
Back in the water and recuperating just fine.

LA
3.5-inch green sunfish.

LA
6-inch green sunfish from Lake Aquabi.  Probable male.

LA
Couple 5-inchers from Witmer Ponds.  Guy on left may be a different species.

LA
Probable male.

LA
Probable female.

LA
Probable female.

Kassidy Stitz, Ankeny, IA, June 12, 2012
Hello! I would first like to congratulate you for having a wonderful website - it is great to see articles that are written from experience rather than just copy/pasting off of other sites (not to mention the funny comments!). I have been reading your site for a long time and it has been a great resource for me, so thank you.
My favorite fishes are native ones, and I am excited to see that you have included a few on your site. However, there are a few minor errors with some of the names and species that I would like to help you with. On your "Cool Water Tanks" page, you have a picture of a fish and a description that reads "Adult male Lepomis humilis.  Our native red-spotted sunfish makes a great keeper.". While you have the species name correct, the fish's common name should really be listed as Orangespotted Sunfish. It doesn't seem like a big deal at first (and I agree, the spots look more red than orange), but there is actually a seperate species called the Red-spotted Sunfish (Lepomis miniatus) which is not found in Iowa and is a very different fish.
On your "Green Sunfish" page, you have a lot of mix-ups between Bluegill Sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus) and Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus). You mentioned that Greens are common and widespread throughout Iowa - but Bluegills are equally so, and are stocked on purpose rather than sneaking into waterbodies from bait bucket releases. You have a lot of pictures on that page so I won't go through each one, but I can give you the information necessary to sort out the two species. The most reliable way to tell Green Sunfish from Bluegill is by looking at the size of their mouth relative to their body. Does the fish have a big mouth that reaches back to its eye when the mouth is closed? Then it is a Green Sunfish - sometimes jokingly referred to as a "micro-bass" because of this characteristic. Does the fish have a small mouth instead? Then it is a Bluegill Sunfish. An excellent example from your page:
The guy on the left is a mean Green, and on the right you have a Bluegill.
Other characteristics of the two species are listed. (Compare the above fish to the lists below.) 
Green: Metallic blue-green "wormy" markings over the entire cheek and operculum (gill cover), yellow to white pelvic fins that sometimes have a bit of black, a black anal fin with yellow to white edging, a cadual fin with yellow to white edging, when breeding dull metallic green speckles plus dull orange/yellow speckles covering its body, opercular tab edged with a thin margin of white/orange/gold, an 8" one would be considered trophy sized, and finally a more tubular, "bass-like" body.
Bluegill: Orange/bronze/yellow concentrated on the chest, metallic blue lining bottom of operculum, fins with a bit of olive green and black pigment, no margin on opercular tab, flat and tall shaped body, can reach 16" (but really 10" is trophy sized here in Iowa), and "tire track" stress bars.
I know this is a lot of info, but if you get a fish that shows traits from both of these lists, don't be surprised: hybrids can be pretty common. However, NONE of the fish on your "Green Sunfish" page look to be hybrids, so try to see if you can figure out which ones are Bluegills and which are Greens as practice.
If you need any more assistance with native U.S. fishes, I'd be delighted to help (even if it's just the ones that came in with the feeder fishes and ghost shrimp). Au revoir!

A:  Excellent email.  I'm adding it to my green sunfish page.  I always assumed most of them were hybrids.  LA
PS 
I haven't seen a Lepomis humilis for years.

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