Freshwater Fish - Species

Redear Sunfish - Click to enlarge photo

Species Specific Regulations

Redear sunfish

Freshwater Fishing License required.

Complete fishing regulations

Guide to Freshwater Fishes

Guide to Freshwater Fishes
(Adobe PDF - 3MB)

Redear sunfish (Lepomis microlophus) - Native

Description: (Anatomy of a Fish)
Like other sunfishes, the redear has a laterally compressed or flattened body that is olive in color with an iridescent gold-green sheen that fades from the top side of the fish to yellow. The redear's side is speckled with brown spots. The operculum or gill flap cover is short, black and distinguishably tipped with red or orange along the edge. The redear's operculum edge is flexible. The fins are clear but the pectoral fin is long and pointed. The mouth is small with no teeth on the tongue. The nose of the fish is pointed.

Range: Statewide

Average Length: 6-10 inches

Average Size: 4-8 ounces

South Carolina State Record: Unknown

Life Expectancy: Approximately 8 years

Preferred Habitat

Redear can be found in a variety of habitat types including ponds, lakes, reservoirs, swamps, streams and small rivers. They prefer slow moving, sluggish or non-flowing waters and are often found in or near areas of vegetation and over a mud or sand bottom.

Food Habits

  • Redear sunfish feed on the bottom and therefore eat aquatic organisms that live on the bottom such as mussels, snails and insect larvae.


  • Redear sunfish can begin spawning at age one, but most don't until age two at temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit usually in late spring to early summer.
  • They create shallow nests in water 6 inches to several feet deep on sand, gravel or mud.
  • The nests may be solitary or in groups of several dozen and up to one hundred.
  • The female will lay up to 45,000 eggs which the male guards and aerates during incubation.


Anglers nicknamed the redear sunfish "shellcracker" because they have teeth (called pharyngeal teeth) located in the throat area of the fish that are used to crush the shells of some of the redear’s favorite prey items—mussels and snails. Redear are often stocked in small farm ponds in combination with bluegill and largemouth bass.

Commonly Mistaken Species

One species of fish that is commonly mistaken for this species:

Literature Cited

Rohde, Fred C, Arndt, Rudolf G., Foltz, Jeffery W., Quattro, Joseph M. 2009. Freshwater Fishes of South Carolina. University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, South Carolina.

Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. 2009. South Carolina Guide to Freshwater Fishes.

Fish Illustration by Duane Raver.