Green Sunfish

Lepomis cyanellus

Last updated: October 5, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Sean McVey/

Juvenile Green Sunfish are less colorful than their parents because they need to blend in with their surroundings to avoid predators.


Green Sunfish Scientific Classification

Scientific Name
Lepomis cyanellus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Green Sunfish Conservation Status

Green Sunfish Locations

Green Sunfish Locations

Green Sunfish Facts

Crayfish, smaller fish, fish eggs, zooplankton, invertebrates, and snails
Group Behavior
  • School
Fun Fact
Juvenile Green Sunfish are less colorful than their parents because they need to blend in with their surroundings to avoid predators.
Average Spawn Size
2,000 to 26,000
Largemouth Bass, Channel catfish, Flathead catfish, and Bullhead catfish
  • Diurnal
Common Name
Green Sunfish

Green Sunfish Physical Characteristics

  • Yellow
  • Blue
  • White
  • Green
Skin Type

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The Green Sunfish is a small freshwater fish that occur throughout the USA and northern Mexico. American Anglers refer to them as panfish because they are small enough to fry whole but not too small to be illegal. They are the most common of all sunfishes and live in various habitats across North America.

While the Green Sunfish is small, they are highly aggressive and predatory in nature. They have stocky bodies and big mouths. Their closest relative is the bass, more so than any other specie of Sunfish.

Anglers love them because of their feisty nature, and they are usually caught alongside other species of panfish like the Redear Sunfish and Bluegill.

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Three Amazing Green Sunfish Facts!

  • Green Sunfish are an invasive species in Florida and New Jersey, so people need a license to own one. Usually, they are killed on sight, especially by an angler.
  • Green Sunfish are biters, so don’t go swimming in areas where their populations are high
  • People do eat Green Sunfish; however, they are not generally recommended for consumption, specifically for children, because they are bony.

Green Sunfish Scientific Name

The Green Sunfish’s scientific name is Lepomis cyanellus, and they are members of the Order Perciformes. This order has over 10,000 species in 1,500 genera and 160 families, making them the most abundant family of vertebrates in the ocean, and in many freshwater habitats, they are the most dominant.

Perciformes include families like:

Green Sunfish belong to the family Centrarchidae, and the 29 species that belong to this family only occur in North America. The majority of Sunfish species build a nest for their eggs, and the males protect the nest. They inhabit large lakes and are apex predators in their habitats. However, they are hunted as sport fish.

Green Sunfish Appearance

The Green Sunfish is a stocky fish with a big mouth and upper jaw protruding to the middle of the eye. Their back and sides are a blueish-green color that fades into a pale white or yellow on the belly. In addition, vertical, black lines are sometimes evident on their sides.

The side of their heads are covered in blue mottlings and streaks, and breeding males’ pelvic fins are pink or white. In addition, their tails, anal fins, and dorsal fins have a white or salmon-pink tip.

Green Sunfish’s backs and dorsal fins have a dark patch, and their pectoral fins are rounded. Lastly, these aggressive predators have a long, dark ear flap.

They are a bit bigger than other Sunfish, can grow up to 12 inches long, and weigh around 2.1 pounds.

Green Sunfish Fish Behavior

Most small fish species live in packs or schools, as does the Green Sunfish. This benefits them because it provides protection from predators and is considered a life-saving mechanism.

Green Sunfish often cross-breed, making it difficult to identify them correctly, and they are often mistaken for their cousins, the bluegill. In addition, they tend to overpopulate, and this stunts their growth. This is because there less space there is in a habitat, the less an animal will grow.

These small fishes are highly aggressive. Once they have established dominance over a particular habitat, they waste no time attacking and intimidating the small fishes that live there and those who swim in the lake.

Generally, Green Sunfish outcompete any native species in areas where they have been introduced. While they swim in schools for safety, they are mainly solitary and don’t communicate with members of the same species. In addition, they are fiercely protective of their nests and will exert physical force if anything comes too close.

Green Sunfish Habitat

The Green Sunfish are native to central North America. They are distributed from the eastern plains of the Rocky Mountains and west of the Appalachian mountains, which include the northeastern regions of Mexico and southeastern lakes in Canada.

However, they were also introduced to most of the USA, except for Florida and several northeastern States. In addition, they were introduced as an exotic species in:

They are very adaptable and can thrive in various aquatic conditions, which is why their numbers increase yearly. Green Sunfish prefer smaller habitats, with weak currents, like streams and ponds. However, they can acclimate to both turbid and clear water and sometimes inhabit weedy lake shorelines and lazy rivers.

Green Sunfish Fish Diet

Green Sunfish have a preference for live food but are omnivores and eat plant matter as well. The best bait to catch them with are:

However, they prey on animals like crayfish, smaller fish, fish eggs, zooplankton, invertebrates, and snails as well.

Green Sunfish Predators and Threats

Juvenile Green Sunfish are less colorful than their parents because they need to blend in with their surroundings to avoid predators. However, sometimes, their camouflage does not work, and they are preyed upon by predators like the:

Green Sunfish do not have any threats, and their population is increasing yearly, so their conservation status is listed as Least Concern on IUCN’s Redlist.

Green Sunfish Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

These feisty fish begin spawning during the warmer months; however, the exact time varies depending on location and water temperature. The males build nests in shallow water, usually near a type of shelter like submerged logs or rocks.

Green Sunfish males will defend the nest from other males by using visual displays and physical force if necessary. They generally court females with grunts that entice them into the nests; however, just building the nest sometimes attracts a female.

But, the courtship does not stop there. The pair will dance, swimming with each other until the female swims up to the nest to deposit her eggs. Females lay between 2,000 to 26,000 eggs and leaves. The males will stay with the eggs until they hatch, which takes around 3 to 5 days. Besides standing guard, the males will fan the eggs with their fins, which keeps them clean and provides them with oxygenated water.

Once the eggs hatch, they fry stay close to the nest for several days but eventually leave for good in search of food. Once the fry has left the nest, males will try to entice another female to lay eggs in his nest.

Green Sunfish generally build nests in areas near members of the same species, as well as other Sunfish. Because the nests are so close together, females can deposit some of their eggs into a different species’ nest, which is considered cross-breeding, and as a result, the next generation will contain hybrids.

These fry grow into juveniles that resemble a combination of both parents, making it almost impossible to distinguish one species from another.


The Green Sunfish’s lifespan in the wild is between 4 to 6 years, and in captivity, they have an average lifespan of 7.5 years.

Green Sunfish Population

There are 13 species of Sunfish in the world, and most of them occur in various areas of North America, so it is impossible to get an accurate reading of their population size. However, their numbers keep increasing each year.

Four Fish Species Similar to the Green Sunfish

There are serval species similar to the Green Sunfish; here are the top four:

Largemouth Bass

These intimidating fish are widely abundant and one of the most distributed freshwater gamefish in the USA. They are broadly distributed over 48 states across North America.

TLargemouth Bass are a popular fish for Anglers because they are so widely distributed and found in various lakes and ponds within short distances from most American homes.

Many die-hard bass anglers are surprised to learn that their priced catch is not really a bass at all but belong of the Sunfish family.

The Florida-strain largemouth bass grows quicker than the northern-strain and generally weighs around 10 pounds when they reach adulthood at the age of eight. However, the northern-stain largemouth weighs about 5 pounds at the same age.

In June of 1932, a largemouth bass was caught in Georgia and broke the world record at a whopping 22 pounds and 4 ounces. This massive specimen was caught on Montfomery Lake by avid fisherman George Perry.

The largemouth bass can reach the ripe old age of 16; however, the Florida strain does not live as long as the Northern strain.

Largemouth bass relies on their hearing when hunting. Small bones in their inner ears help them pick up on very subtle sounds. For example, shrimp or crayfish moving through the grass.

Bluegill Sunfish

Bluegills are freshwater game fish that is abundant throughout central and southern regions of the USA. They are a very popular member of the Sunfish family and have been introduced to several freshwater ponds, rivers, streams, and lakes throughout the western States.

Bluegills typically inhabit shallow water but often venture into deep weed beds, looking for food or for spawning purposes. They swim in intimate groups of 10 to 20 fish, which is a survival mechanism to avoid getting eaten by predators.

Their growth rate depends on the amount and type of food they eat. For example, a healthy Bluegill that consumes nutrient-rich food will grow much quicker than one that eats less food. In addition, they have small mouths that require them to eat microscopic creatures.

Pumpkinseed Sunfish

The pumpkinseed fish is a pond perch or freshwater fish that is often seen in various parts of North America. They inhabit shallow bodies of water like creeks or pools. Pumkinseed fish’s scientific name is Lepomis gibbosus, belonging to the family Centrarchidae.

The pumpkinseed fish is active during the day and rests at night. These stealthy little fish feed on food sources available at all water body levels, where aquatic vegetation keeps them hidden and secure.

They do much of their hunting and feeding during the day, but sometimes they are active in the early evening as well.

In their first year, they typically grow 2 inches, and their lifespan ranges from 6 to 8 years. Male and female pumpkinseed skin differ in texture and color. Males are multi-colored, but primarily bright red and yellow, while females are a dark brownish-red color.

These fish are often mistaken for bluegills, but their dorsal fins are duller. While pumpkinseeds and Bluegills are from the same family, they differ in appearance and are more tolerant of oxygen-scarce water levels than Bluegills.

Red-spotted Sunfish

The Red-spotted or just Spotted Sunfish’s scientific name is Lepomis punctatus, and they are aquatic warm water fish native to North America. They are often found in slow-moving streams, lakes, and ponds but also inhabit swamps, shallow waters, or rivers with gravel substrates and debris.

Their most distinguishing feature is their olive-green to brown coloring with an orange belly and rows of spotes on the base of each scale, hence the name, Red-spotted Sunfish.

These curious fish go by another name, the stumpknocker fish, and they are insectivores that prey on various animals like:

  • Snails
  • Crayfish
  • Insect larvae

In addition, they consume small plants. As their name suggest, these colorful creatures form part of the Sunfish family, which includes members like the:

  • Longear Sunfish
  • Redear Sunfish
  • Green Sunfish
  • Warmouth
  • Red Breast Sunfish

Luckily, Red-spotted Sunfish are not endangered and listed as Least Concern on IUCN’s Redlist, with a stable population. Because they are so sensitive to habitat changes, Red-spotted Sunfish are an excellent indicator species to help observe the effects of pollution in their ecosystem. These beautiful fish reach lengths of 4 to7 inches when fully grown and weigh around 13.2 ounces.

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About the Author

Chanel Coetzee is a writer at A-Z Animals, primarily focusing on big cats, dogs, and travel. Chanel has been writing and researching about animals for over 10 years. She has also worked closely with big cats like lions, cheetahs, leopards, and tigers at a rescue and rehabilitation center in South Africa since 2009. As a resident of Cape Town, South Africa, Chanel enjoys beach walks with her Stafford bull terrier and traveling off the beaten path.

Green Sunfish FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is the difference between a bluegill and a green sunfish?

Green Sunfishes have bigger mouths and longer snouts compared to Bluegills, which have a rounder shape and more streamlined heads.

Where can I find a green sunfish?

The Green Sunfish are native to central North America. They are distributed from the eastern plains of the Rocky Mountains and west of the Appalachian mountains, which include the northeastern regions of Mexico and southeastern lakes in Canada.

What is the lifespan of a green sunfish?

The Green Sunfish’s lifespan in the wild is between 4 to 6 years, and in captivity, they have an average lifespan of 7.5 years.

What is the best bait for green sunfish?

The best bait to catch a Green Sunfish is worms, mealworms, crickets, and pieces of nightcrawler.

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