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Texas Invasive Species Institute

Texas Invasive Species Institute

Redbreast Sunfish

Lepomis auritus

Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Perciformes
Family: Centrarchidae

Lepomis auritus

Photographer: Mike Cline Source: Bugwood.org Copyright: (CC BY-NC 3.0)


Lepomis auritus acquired the name Redbreast Sunfish due to the orange or rusty color on the abdomen. Females tend to have a more yellow belly area while male bellies are characteristically red. The opercle flap or “ear” is considerably longer that the opercle flap of other sunfishes. The average length of the sunfish is around 11 cm and being a larger sunfish species it can weigh up to 1 pound or more.

Ecological Threat

This sunfish has been recorded in Texas since the 1960s and already has placed several fish on the endangered species list. This sunfish competes with the native longear sunfish directly, causing the balance of the ecosystems to be thrown off. Also, since the redbreast sunfish is so closely related to native Texas species, that it could carry disease and parasites to the native sunfish populations. Already the redbreast sunfish has been found to carry 2 trematodes, 1 nematode, acanthcephala and leech. All of those parasites could carry over to native fish populations and be potentially harmful to the native ecosystem.


Typical for sunfishes, the female redbreast sunfish lays her eggs (approximately 1000) in a substrate depression built by the male. The male guards the eggs and fry.  Lepomis auritus spawns in the spring with an average clutch size around 2000, depending on the age of the female.


Lepomis auritus is native to North America, from Canada to Florida, but has been intentionally introduced in to other states for sport fishing, especially in Texas, Alabama and Louisiana. This species now occurs throughout the eastern and southern parts of Texas as far west as Independence Creek in the Pecos Drainage. However, as the problem with most introductions, this invasive fish is taking over the habitat of native fish species. The presence of the redbreast sunfish in Texas has been recorded since the late 1980’s.

Native Origin

Eastern Canada and Northeastern and Southeastern United States

Current Location

U.S. Habitat: Lepomis auritus is a freshwater fish that can be found in creeks, rivers and streams with a balanced pH and vegetation. Adults feed on terrestrial insects and both immature and adult aquatic insects, particularly larger varieties such as crayfish, mayflies and dragonflies. Juveniles consume benthic organisms such as fly larva.


U.S. Present (Exotic):  AL, AR, KY, LA, and TX

Texas: Eastern and Southern parts of Texas, especially around San Marcos, Texas


Resembles many other Lepomis spp. and is most similar to the longear (Lepomis megalotis) and green (L. cyanellus) sunfishes. It differs from L. cyanellus in having a smaller mouth and short, versus long, gill rakers. It differs from L. megalotis in having a shallower body depth for a given length (although in both species relative body depth increases with increasing fish size), and in having the width of the opercular flap narrower than the eye diameter. Lepomis auritus as sister taxon to a clade which, among other species, includes the following found in Texas: L. microlophus, L. macrochirus, L. marginatus, and L. megalotis.


In Texas, Lepomis auritus is amongst several non-native species which have become established within the range of the Devils River minnow (Dionda diaboli ) and has caused the minnow to be species listed as threatened by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Texas Organization for Endangered Species and the Endangered Species Committee of the American Fisheries Society. It has been recommended since 2001 to no longer introduce Lepomis auritus because of its negative impact on native sunfishes and other fishes.


Bonner, T.H., C. Thomas, C.S. Williams, and J.P. Karges. 2005. Temporal assessment of a West Texas stream fish assemblage. The Southwestern Naturalist 50(1):74-106.

Etnier, D.A. and W.C. Starnes, 1993. The fishes of Tennessee. The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA.

Hoffman, G.L. 1967. Parasites of North American Freshwater Fishes. University of California Press, Berkeley. 486 pp.

Page, L.M. and B.M. Burr, 1991. A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 432 p.

Ross, S.T. 2001. The Inland Fishes of Mississippi. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson. 624 pp.

Hoffman, G.L. 1967. Parasites of North American Freshwater Fishes. University of California Press, Berkeley. 486 pp.

Williams, J.E., J.E. Johnson, D.A. Hendrickson, S. Contreras-Balderas, J.D. Williams, M. Navarro-Mendoza, D.E. McAllister, and J.E. Deacon. 1989. Fishes of North America endangered, threatened, or of special concern: 1989. Fisheries 14(6):2-20

Internet References




http://wikipedia.org (for picture only)

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