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Redear Sunfish

Fact File

Scientific Name: Lepomis microlophus

Classification: Fish, Order Perciformes, Family Centrarchidae

Size: Redear Sunfish grow faster than most sunfish species, and regularly grow beyond 10 inches in length and 2 pounds in weight

Life Span: Redear Sunfish can live for 6 years in Virginia

Identifying Characteristics

  • Body is rounded, with the head being more pointed than other sunfish species
  • Pectoral fins are long and pointed
  • Gill cover flaps have a crescent-shaped red border; larger in size than that of Pumpkinseed
  • Lower gill plate often possesses a round speckling that may extend onto the body
  • Most often olive on top, with greenish-yellow sides, transitioning to yellow on the breast
  • Mouth slightly orients downward


Redear Sunfish often seek out quieter waters with an abundance of hard structure. They gravitate to stumps, logs, submerged brush and rootwads.


Redear Sunfish primarily feed by scavenging the substrate for prey, aided by a slightly downturned mouth. They possess specialized teeth in their throat that enable them to crush the shells of little snails and small mussels. Because of this feeding strategy, Redear Sunfish are colloquially referred to as Shellcrackers in much of Virginia. They will opportunistically feed on other prey items such as macroinvertebrates.


Redear Sunfish can be found throughout most of Virginia, but are only native to the upper Tennessee River basin in southwest Virginia.


Redear Sunfish spawn in the spring when water temperatures reach about 70°F.  Males construct saucer-shaped nests in mud or sand. Male Redear Sunfish will defend the nesting site and guard newly hatched young until they disperse.

A redear sunfish on a measuring board

A Redear Sunfish collected during a fish community survey. ©Photo by Scott Herrmann

Last updated: April 10, 2024

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources Species Profile Database serves as a repository of information for Virginia’s fish and wildlife species. The database is managed and curated by the Wildlife Information and Environmental Services (WIES) program. Species profile data, distribution information, and photography is generated by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, State and Federal agencies, Collection Permittees, and other trusted partners. This product is not suitable for legal, engineering, or surveying use. The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources does not accept responsibility for any missing data, inaccuracies, or other errors which may exist. In accordance with the terms of service for this product, you agree to this disclaimer.