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Pumpkinseed

Lepomis gibbosus

The pumpkinseed is a bright, beautiful sunfish with a saucer-shaped body that is mottled orange, blue and green. (cliff1066/Flickr)
The pumpkinseed is a bright, beautiful sunfish with a saucer-shaped body that is mottled orange, blue and green. (cliff1066/Flickr)

The pumpkinseed is a bright, beautiful sunfish with a saucer-shaped body that is mottled orange, blue and green. It lives in freshwater lakes, ponds and streams throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Appearance:

  • Compressed, saucer-shaped body that is mottled blue, orange, yellow and olive green
  • Wavy blue and orange lines on the cheeks
  • Orange belly
  • Black earflaps with a bright red or orange, crescent-shaped border
  • Slightly forked tail fin with rounded lobes
  • Dorsal fin with about 10 spines on the front portion and a rounded back portion
  • Usually grows to 4-6 inches long, but can grow to 12 inches long

Habitat:

  • Lives in shallow, protected freshwater tributaries such as lakes, ponds, reservoirs, streams, creeks and river coves
  • Prefers quiet, slow-moving waters with lots of vegetation and a sandy, muddy or gravel bottom
  • Usually stays close to the shoreline
  • Found in brackish waters as well
  • Schools in deeper river channels in winter

Range:

  • Common in freshwater tributaries throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed

Feeding:

  • Eats a variety of small organisms, including snails, worms, insects, mollusks, small fishes and bits of vegetation

Predators:

  • Larger fish
  • Fish-eating birds such as hawks, herons, cormorants and waterfowl
  • Fish-eating mammals such as raccoons
  • Humans, particularly young anglers

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Spawns from May-July, once water temperatures warm to about 68 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Males build nests in shallow areas by making a round hole in the sand or gravel. Pumpkinseeds will often build nests close to one another, creating colonies.
  • The female lays several hundred eggs into the nest
  • The male fertilizes the eggs, then guards them from other fish and predatory insects. He uses his tail to fan away any particles or detritus that could smother the eggs.
  • Eggs usually hatch in 3-5 days
  • Once hatched, the young fish (called “fry”) swim into the shallows, where they are protected in beds of underwater grasses
  • Matures at 1-3 years old
  • Lives to 6-8 years old in the wild and longer in captivity

Other Facts:

  • Can be confused with the bluegill, another sunfish. Pumpkinseeds can be distinguished by the wavy stripes on their cheeks and the bright red or orange border on their earflaps. However, bluegills and pumpkinseeds often interbreed, resulting in some confusing hybrids.
  • A favorite of young anglers because it is playful and very easy to catch. Pumpkinseeds will eagerly bite onto nearly any small natural or artificial bait.
  • Well-known for being a delicious fish to eat

Sources and Additional Information:




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