|Florida Fish: Panfish- Crappie, Bluegill & Sunfish|
Crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus) The black crappie is
a silvery-green to yellowish fish with large dorsal and anal fins of
almost identical shape and size. The sides are marked with black
blotches which become more intense towards the back. The dorsal, anal,
and caudal fins also are marked with rows of dark spots. Crappies have
compressed bodies, small heads and arched backs. It has a large mouth
with an upper jaw extending under the eye. Found statewide except in the
Florida Keys, black crappies thrive in clear, natural lakes and
reservoirs with moderate vegetation. They are also found in large
slow-moving less turbid rivers, provided the water is not too murky.
Crappies prefer water from 70 to 75 degrees but will tolerate water over
80 degrees. It is gregarious and often travels in schools. Adults mainly
eat small fish, particularly open-water forage fish, like threadfin
shad. The oldest crappie aged in Florida, to date, has been 11 years
Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus) Bluegills have small mouths and oval-shaped, almost rounded, bodies. Body coloration is highly variable with size, sex, spawning, water color, bottom type, and amount of cover. In general, bluegill are somewhat lavender and bronze with about six dark bars on their sides. Males tend to have a copper-colored bar over the top of the head behind the eyes. The breast is silver to slightly blue most of the year, with some yellow or orange during spawning season. Females are generally lighter colored than males. Two distinctive characteristics of the bluegill are the prominent black spot on the rear edge of the gill-cover and a black spot at the base of the posterior portion of the dorsal fin. Found naturally throughout Florida, bluegills prefer the quiet, weedy waters where they can hide and feed. They inhabit lakes and ponds, slow-flowing rivers and streams with sand, mud, or gravel bottoms, near aquatic vegetation. Insects, insect larvae and crustaceans are the dominant foods of bluegills, with vegetation, fish eggs, small fish, mollusks, and snails being of secondary importance, although they may dominate their diet during certain times of the year. A six-inch bluegill in Florida is typically two to four years old.
Flier Sunfish (Centrarchus macropterus) The flier is a small sunfish that has a strongly compressed, deep, round body and small mouth. The coloration is greenish or silver green to brown on back and sides with a cream or yellowish belly with a brown dot on each scale giving the appearance of numerous rows of dots. Young fish have a large black spot surrounded by bright orange in the soft rays of the dorsal fin. A dark vertical streak is present below the eye and extends to the lower edge of the operculum. The dorsal and anal fins are nearly symmetrical. Fliers range from the northern part of the state southward to central Florida. They inhabit dark, acidic waters of coastal swamps, creeks, ponds, and canals. They prefer heavily vegetated water and are often found under mats of floating vegetation. Fliers can tolerate waters too acidic for other sunfish. They prefer water temperatures from 75 to 85 degrees. Fliers are carnivorous in their feeding habits. They prefer insects, crustaceans, mollusks, worms, leeches, and small fish are supplemented with small quantities of phytoplankton.
Redbreast Sunfish(Lepomis auritus) The redbreast is one of the brightest colored sunfishes. Males have yellow, orange or red breast, olive upper sides, blending into blue-tinged bronze on the lower sides and blue streaks on the cheek. Females are less colorful; their breasts are yellowish or pale red. The most distinguishing characteristic of the redbreast is a long, narrow (no wider than the eye) extension of the gill cover. These flaps, which may reach a length of one inch or more, are entirely black. The redbreast is found throughout central and northern Florida. It is the most dominant sunfish in such streams as the Oklawaha, Ochlockonee, Suwannee, and Santa Fe rivers. They frequently concentrate around boulders, limestone outcroppings, logs, aquatic vegetation, or in undercut tree roots. The redbreast's diet is probably the most varied of any of the sunfishes. Principal food organisms are bottom-dwelling insect larvae, snails, clams, shrimp, crayfish, and small fish.
Redear Sunfish (Lepomis microlophus) The redear is similar in shape to the bluegill, but lacks the dark spot at the base of the posterior portion of the dorsal fin and has a red or orange border around the "ear" flap. The body coloration is light olive-green to gold, with red or orange flecks on the breast. The breast of a mature redear is typically a rather bright yellow. The body is heavily spotted and they have long, pointed pectoral fins. Five to 10 vertical bars are more or less evident on the sides, depending on the size of the fish. Males and females are similar in appearance, although the male is generally more colorful. Found throughout Florida and the southeastern United States, redear sunfish are also one of the dominant sport fish in the vast Everglades marshes. Redear are found in almost every freshwater aquatic system in Florida. They are typically found on sandy or shell-covered areas of ponds and lakes, and are often located near grasses. They tolerate brackish water better than other sunfish. Like black bass and spotted sunfish, they may be abundant in tidal areas near the mouths of rivers. Redears are opportunistic bottom feeders, foraging mainly during daylight hours on a variety of invertebrates. Important food items include snails and clams which are crushed by grinding teeth in the throat; larval insects, fish eggs, small fish, and crustaceans.
Spotted Sunfish (Lepomis punctatus) Spotted sunfish, also called stumpknockers, tend to be olive-green to brown in color, with black or reddish spots on the base of each scale to form rows of dots on its sides. On some fish there is a red bar in front of many of the black spots, particularly below the lateral line. These bars give the fish a reddish hue. Body shape is thick and ovate, with the length about twice the depth. Some fish have blue on the lower portion of the eye. Spotted sunfish are found throughout the Florida peninsula and west to the Perdido River. The preferred habitat of the spotted sunfish is slow-moving, heavily vegetated streams and rivers with limestone, sand, or gravel substrates. They are virtually ubiquitous inhabiting large rivers to very small creeks. Spotted sunfish are very aggressive and will take almost anything they can attack and catch. They generally feed on the bottom, but sometimes it will rise to the surface to take food. Spotted sunfish will feed on invertebrates, insects and small fishes when they are easy to catch.
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