Redear Sunfish

Lepomis microlophus


Image of a redear sunfish
Joseph R. Tomelleri. Used with permission.

Centrarchidae (sunfishes) in the order Perciformes (perch-like fishes)


Deep and slab-sided sunfish with a small-sized mouth, the upper jaw not reaching past the front of the eye. Back and sides are golden or light olive-green. Belly is yellow or orange-yellow. Sides often have dark, vertical bars. Ear flap is black with a whitish border and a prominent orange or red spot. Most closely related to bluegill, green and other sunfishes.


Total length: 8 to 10 1/2 inches; weight: 6 1/2 to 12 ounces; can be more than 12 inches and more than 4 pounds.

Habitat and conservation

Does best in warm, clear waters with no noticeable current and an abundance of aquatic plants. In streams, it prefers protected bays and overflow pools and avoids the main channel. Most active in daylight.


Carnivorous, feeding primarily on snails and other mollusks. This diet is what inspired the alternate common name "shellcracker." The throat teeth of this fish have broad, flattened surfaces, which are well suited for crushing mollusk shells.

image of Redear Sunfish distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

In natural waters, is confined to southern half of Missouri, but it has been widely stocked in small reservoirs and ponds.

Life cycle

Individuals can live for 6 years. In our state, nesting is in May or June, and sometimes again in August. Nests are saucer-shaped depressions that are fanned out in silt if no gravel is present. This species nests in colonies, with the rims of the nests often almost touching.

Human connections

An excellent panfish and contributes significantly to the creel in impounded waters where it has been introduced. Most are caught from spawning "beds" in early summer. Can be taken on artificial lures, but natural baits, such as earthworms and grubs, are most effective.

Ecosystem connections

Stocked in many small ponds and fish hatcheries to control the spread of certain aquatic parasites. Redear prey upon aquatic snails, which are an important link in the lifecycles of certain aquatic parasites.