• Family: Centrachidae (Sunfishes)
• Other Names: Sunfish, central longear, northern longear
• Ohio Status: Sport fish
• Adult Size: Central longear typically 4-7 inches, can reach 9 inches. Northern longear typically 2.5-4.5 inches, can reach 5.5 inches.
• Typical Foods: Terrestrial and aquatic insects, crustaceans, and other small invertebrates.
Longear sunfish are deep, slab-sided fish with a small mouth. They get their name from their long ear flap, or opercle. There are two subspecies found in Ohio, the northern longear sunfish (Lepomis megalotis peltastes) and the central longear sunfish (Lepomis megalotis megalotis). The opercle is nearly all black with a white margin. The opercle of the central longear usually runs parallel to the fishes' body and may have several small red spots in the white margin. The opercle of the northern longear is smaller and often points backward at an upward angle rather than being parallel. Northern longears also have a large red spot at the back edge of the opercle. Longear sunfish have emerald blue wavy lines running from the mouth to the rear edge of the gill cover. The back is olive-green with blue-green specks on the side, and the belly is orange, red or yellow. Breeding males are brilliantly colored with the red and blue coloration on their face and body becoming more intense during this period. Females are less intensely colored and do not have as long of an opercle as males. The pumpkinseed sunfish has a similar body shape and coloration but never has a long opercle flap and are typically found in lakes rather than streams like the longear sunfish.
Habitat and Habits
They favor slow to moderate flow in clear streams of moderate size with clean gravel substrate. They spend most of their time in pools near beds of aquatic vegetation, or other forms of cover such as roots, brush piles, and undercut banks. Central longear are found primarily in the South West portion of the state and are common in the Scioto, Little Miami, and Great Miami River systems. Northern longear sunfish are only found in the Lake Erie drainage and are found in parts of the Maumee, Sandusky, and Grand River systems.
Reproduction and Care of the Young
Longear sunfish spawn in groups but do not form large colonies like bluegill. Males select a spawning site in shallow water and build a nest on gravel substrate usually near cover. Longear sunfish spawn multiple times once the water temperature reaches the low 70's between mid-May and mid-August. A single large female can lay over 22,000 eggs. Males aggressively guard the nest and eggs until shortly after hatching. Longear sunfish take 2-3 years to mature.