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Redear Sunfish (Shellcracker)

REDEAR SUNFISH
copyrighted picture of the redear sunfish from

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Lepomis microlophus

CHARACTERISTICS: Locally known as shellcracker, redear sunfishes are one of Alabama’s least colorful but most sought after sunfishes. The back on this species is light green to brown with scattered darker spots. The light gray to silver sides have 34 to 43 lateral line scales. Lower surfaces of the head and venter are light yellow to white. Sides of the head are mottled with brown to dark orange spots. The dorsal fin is light gray with nine to 11 spines and 10 to 12 rays. The light yellow to white anal fin has three spines and 12 to 14 rays. The pectoral fin has 13 or 14 rays and it is long and pointed, its end reaching past the nostril when bent forward. The common name of this species is derived from the characteristic red or orange spot at the rear of the opercular flap.

ADULT SIZE: 8 to 11 in (203 to 279 mm). The state angling record (4 lb, 4 oz) was caught at Chattahoochee State Park in 1962.

DISTRIBUTION: Redear sunfish occur across all of Alabama, but they are much more abundant in the southern half of the state. They can apparently withstand salinities of up to 15 to 20 parts per thousand, which may account for the fact that they far outnumber bluegills in the lower reaches of the Mobile Delta and at the head of Mobile Bay.

HABITAT AND BIOLOGY: This species occurs in moderate to large streams, rivers, reservoirs, lakes, swamps, and other standing-water habitats. Spawning occurs from late April to early June. Males construct and defend nests during spawning and until the larvae hatch. Gerald (1971) notes that redear sunfish produce grunting noises during courtship. In his study of trophic specialization in sunfishes, Lauder (1983) describes the extensive molar surfaces on the pharyngeal arches of Lepomis microlophus and the associated musculature that enables the fish to crack mollusk shells (hence the local name shellcracker). Redear sunfish are usually stocked in small ponds and lakes with bluegills and largemouth bass. They grow quite well in these environments, and because they feed on mollusks and benthic aquatic insect larvae (Etnier and Starnes, 1993), they do not compete with bluegills. Bedding redear sunfish provide tremendous action on light tackle with live redworms or crickets. Carlander (1977) reports that individuals live for six years.

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION: Günther described the redear sunfish in 1859.

ETYMOLOGY:
Lepomis means scaled operculum.
Microlophus means small nape.

This copyrighted information is from the Fishes of Alabama and the Mobile Basin.

ADDITIONAL COMMON NAMES: In the southeast, anglers also call redear sunfish: shellcracker, chinquapin (chink-a-pin), stumpknocker, yellow bream, U.S. Government improved bream, G.I. bream, strawberry bream, Texas improved bream, and tupelo bream, according to Cloutman and Olmstead in Fisheries (Vol. 8, No. 2).

Note: In Alabama, it is illegal to stock or move any fish, mussel, snail or crayfish to any public water without a permit.

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