Lepomis cyanellus
Lepomis cyanellus
(Green Sunfish)
Native Transplant
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Lepomis cyanellus Rafinesque, 1819

Common name: Green Sunfish

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: Becker (1983); Page and Burr (1991); Sublette et al. (1990); Etnier and Starnes (1993); Jenkins and Burkhead (1994).

Size: 31 cm.

Native Range: Great Lakes, Hudson Bay, and Mississippi River basins from New York and Ontario west to Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wyoming, and south to the Gulf; Gulf Slope drainages from Mobile Bay, Georgia and Alabama, to the Rio Grande, Texas. Also northern Mexico (Page and Burr 1991).

US auto-generated map Legend USGS Logo
Alaska auto-generated map
Hawaii auto-generated map
Caribbean auto-generated map
Puerto Rico &
Virgin Islands
Guam auto-generated map
Guam Saipan
Native range data for this species provided in part by NatureServe NS logo
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences: This sunfish has expanded both its eastward and westward range greatly, mainly as a result of accidental stocking. Green Sunfish have been introduced to eastern coastal drainages in Alabama (Lee et al. 1980 et seq.; Swift et al. 1986; Boschung 1992); the Colorado River, Lake Havasu, Lake Mead, Gila, Bill Williams, Little Colorado, Rillito, Salt, Verde, San Carlos, Yaqui, and Santa Cruz drainages in Arizona (Miller and Lowe 1967; Minckley 1973; Hendrickson et al. 1980; Tyus et al. 1982; O'Connell 1998; Tilmant 1999) as well as  Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge (USFWS 2005); all drainages in California (Smith 1896; Shebley 1917; Lampman 1946; Moyle and Nichols 1973; Moyle 1976a; Smith 1982; Taylor et al. 1982; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1993e; Dill and Cordone 1997; Moyle and Randall 1999; Tilmant 1999; Sommer et al. 2001; Matern et al. 2002); the Republican drainage and the Green, Gunnison, White, Yampa, and San Juan drainages, and the Colorado River in Colorado (Vanicek et al. 1970; Holden and Stalnaker 1975; Lee et al. 1980 et seq.; Tyus et al. 1982); all drainages in Connecticut (Behnke and Wetzel 1960; Whitworth et al. 1968; Schmidt 1986; Whitworth 1996); the Brandywine-Christina drainage in northern Delaware (Raasch and Altemus 1991; Rohde et al. 1994); Rock Creek Park in the District of Columbia (Tilmant 1999); the Apalachicola and other panhandle drainages in Florida (Kilby et al. 1959; Yerger 1977; Lee et al. 1980 et seq.; Swift et al. 1986; UF museum specimens); Savannah, Altamaha (Oconee), Locust, and Chattahoochee drainages in Georgia (Dahlberg and Scott 1971a, 1971b; Yerger 1977; Swift et al. 1986); the island of Kauai, Hawaii (Devick 1991a); southeastern Idaho (Linder 1963; Simpson and Wallace 1978; Idaho Fish and Game 1990); a pond in the town of Argyle (lower Penobscot drainage) and a private trout pond and Tucker Stream in Harmony, in Maine (Halliwell 2003; F. W. Kircheis, personal communication); all areas of Maryland except the extreme western portion where it is native (Lee et al. 1976, 1980 et seq.; Rohde et al. 1994; Starnes et al. 2011); the Merrimack (Assibet) drainage, Buzzards Bay drainage, Bristol County, and possibly in the Taunton, Blackstone, and Quinebaug river drainages, Massachusetts (Hartel 1992; Cardoza et al. 1993; Hartel et al. 1996; Tilmant 1999); Houghton County in the upper peninsula (Lake Superior drainage) of Michigan (Becker 1983); extreme northeastern Minnesota (Lee et al. 1980 et seq.); the Yellowstone, Powder, Little Missouri, Tongue, Musselshell, Redwater, and Belle Fourche drainage, in southeastern Montana (Brown 1971; Cross et al. 1986; Holton 1990); Lake Mead Lake Mohave, the Virgin and Moapa, Truckee and Carson drainages, Colorado River, and Meadow Valley Wash in Nevada (Miller and Alcorn 1946; La Rivers 1962; Bradley and Deacon 1967; Deacon and Williams 1984; Tilmant 1999; Vinyard 2001); northern New Jersey (Lee et al. 1980 et seq.); San Juan, Zuni, Gila, San Francisco, Tularosa, Mimbres, Rio Chama, and Rio Grande drainages in New Mexico (Tyus et al. 1982; Sublette et al. 1990; Platania 1991); the upper Susquehanna, Webatuck River in the Housatonic drainage, Chemung drainage, Tioga drainage, and New Croton Reservoir, Iron Mine Pond and the Wallkill River in the lower Hudson drainage in New York (Smith 1985; Schmidt 1986); the upper Catawba, Lumber, Waccamaw, Yadkin, French Broad-Holston, Dan, Cape Fear, Neuse, Tar, Albemarle, Chowan, Roanoke, and perhaps the Tennessee drainages in North Carolina (Hocutt et al. 1986; Menhinick 1991); southern North Dakota (Lee et al. 1980 et seq.); several sites in Oregon including Blue Lake near Portland (lower Willamette drainage), St. Louis ponds, Marion County, and Klamath, Lost, Rogue, and Umpqua rivers (Wydoski and Whitney 1979; Bond 1994; Anonymous 2001); eastern Pennsylvania in the Delaware, Monocacy, Raystown, Chemung, Susquehanna, and Potomac drainages and Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Pike County (Lee et al. 1980 et seq.; Cooper 1983; Hocutt et al. 1986; Schmidt 1986; Raasch and Altemus 1991; Tilmant 1999); the Santee-Cooper, Savannah, Saluda, Broad, Edisto, Wateree, Catawba, Congaree, Lynches, Pee Dee, and Waccamaw drainages, and Thompson Creek, Ashley Creek, and Rantowles Creek in South Carolina (Loyacano 1975; Lee et al. 1980 et seq.; Hocutt et al. 1986; Rohde et al. 1994; Rohde et al. 2009); northwestern South Dakota in the Grand Moreau and Belle Fourche drainages (Bailey and Allum 1962; Lee et al. 1980 et seq.); the upper Colorado basin including the Green, White, Dirty Devil, Dolores, Duchesne, and San Juan drainages, the Colorado River itself, Lake Powell, the Weber River, Utah Lake in the Great Basin and Dinosaur National Monument in Utah (Sigler and Miller 1963; Vanicek et al. 1970; Tyus et al. 1982; Sigler and Sigler 1987, 1996; Tilmant 1999); the Potomac, Rappahannock, York, James, Dan, Appomattox, Shenandoah, Pee Dee, Rivanna, Chowan, and Roanoke drainages, and perhaps the Holston, Clinch-Powell, and Big Sandy drainages in Virginia (Hocutt et al. 1986; Jenkins and Burkhead 1994; Starnes et al. 2011); Deer, Colville, and Loon lakes in the Colville drainage, Sacheen and Diamond lakes in the Little Spokane drainage, Washington (Smith 1896; Lampman 1946; Wydoski and Whitney 1979; Fletcher, personal communication); the Potomac, James and probably the New drainages in West Virginia (Stauffer et al. 1995; Starnes et al. 2011; however, Jenkins and Burkhead [1994] believe it is native to the New); and the Big Horn, Niobrara, and North Platte drainages in Wyoming (Simon 1946; Baxter and Simon 1970; Hubert 1994; Stone 1995; Tilmant 1999).

Means of Introduction: Accidentally stocked as bluegill L. macrochirus or with other intended species (i.e., stock contaminant). In Hawaii, first discovered in the Western Kauai Lagoons. That site had been previously stocked with "bluegill" from various plantation reservoirs on Kauai; therefore, it is likely that L. cyanellus was present in Hawaii some time prior to its collection (Devick 1991a). It has been suggested that Green Sunfish were planted inadvertently in Lake Mead in 1937 (Holden and Stalnaker 1975). It may have reached the upper part of the Colorado River either by moving upstream from Lake Mead or by being introduced separately in that region (Holden and Stalnaker 1975).

Status: Established in most locations where it has been introduced.

Impact of Introduction: Green Sunfish appear to be at least partially responsible for local extinctions of California roach Hesperoleucus symmetricus in California (Moyle and Nichols 1974; Moyle 1976a, 1976b; Smith 1982). In California, aggressive Green Sunfish outcompete native Sacramento perch Archoplites interruptus (Moyle 1976a). They may chase Sacramento perch away from spawning areas and out of favored places, such as shallow weedy areas, and into open water (Moyle 1976a). Once in open water, the perch are more vulnerable to predation and have less available food. Introduced Green Sunfish also compete with and prey on other native fishes (Moyle 1976a; Lemly 1985). Lemly (1985) found that Green Sunfish reduced populations of native species, and altered population structure, relative dominance, and distribution patterns in North Carolina Piedmont streams. In that study, he found that Green Sunfish preyed heavily on minnows, and in fact, may have been responsible for the elimination of two cyprinid species in the study area. Introduced Green Sunfish prey heavily on the native Gila chub Gila intermedia in Sabino Creek, AZ (Dudley and Matter 2000). Green Sunfish may compete with and adversely affect young Colorado pikeminnow Ptychocheilus lucius, an endangered species (Karp and Tyus 1990). Green Sunfish readily hybridize with other Lepomis species (Moyle 1976a; Sigler and Sigler 1987). In cold lakes the often overpopulate and reduce trout populations (McKechnie and Tharratt 1966). Their large mouth allows them to compete with larger fish for prey items, and to prey on eggs and young of other fishes (McKechnie and Tharratt 1966). Green Sunfish and other introduced predatory centrarchids are likely responsible for the decline of native ranid frogs in California, California tiger salamander Ambystoma californiense populations (Hayes and Jennings 1986; Dill and Cordone 1997), and the Chiricahua leopard frog Rana chiricahuensis in southeastern Arizona (Rosen et al. 1995).

Remarks: Tyus et al. (1982) gave a distribution map of this species in the upper Colorado basin. The Green Sunfish has been widely stocked in Ohio (Trautman 1981). But stockings appear to have taken place within its native range.

References: (click for full references)

Anonymous 2001. Oregon's Warm Water Fishing with Public Access. [online]. URL at http://www.dfw.state.or.us/warm_water_fishing/index.asp

Bradley, W. G. and J. E. Deacon. 1967. The biotic communities of southern Nevada. Nevada State Museum Anthropological Papers No. 13, Part 4. 201-273.

Dill, W.A., and A.J. Cordone. 1997. History and status of introduced fishes in California, 1871-1996. California Department of Fish and Game Fish Bulletin, volume 178.

Dudley, R.K. and W.J. Matter. 2000. Effects of small green sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus) on recruitment of Gila chub (Gila intermedia) in Sabino Creek, Arizona. The Southwestern Naturalist 45(1): 24-29.

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

Halliwell, D.B. 2003. Introduced Fish in Maine. MABP series: Focus on Freshwater Biodiversity.

Hayes, M.P., and M.R. Jennings. 1986. Decline of ranid frog species in western North America: are bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) responsible? Journal of Herpetology 20(4):490-509.

Hocutt, C.H., R.E. Jenkins, and J.R. Stauffer, Jr. 1986. Zoogeography of the fishes of the central Appalachians and central Atlantic Coastal Plain. 161-212 in C.H. Hocutt and E.O. Wiley, eds. The zoogeography of North American freshwater fishes. John Wiley and Sons, New York, NY.

Jenkins, R.E., and N.M. Burkhead. 1994. Freshwater Fishes of Virginia. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, MD.

Karp, C.A. and H.M. Tyus. 1990. Behavioral interactions between young Colorado squawfish and six fish species. Copeia 1990(1):25-34.

Lee, D.S., C.R. Gilbert, C.H. Hocutt, R.E. Jenkins, D.E. McAllister, and J.R. Stauffer, Jr. 1980. Atlas of North American freshwater fishes. North Carolina State Museum of Natural History, Raleigh, NC.

Lemly, A.D. 1985. Suppression of native fish populations by green sunfish in first-order streams of Piedmont North Carolina. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 114:705-712.

Loyacano, H.A. 1975. A list of freshwater fishes of South Carolina. Bulletin of the South Carolina Experimental Station 580:1-8.

Matern, S.A., P.B. Moyle, and L.C. Pierce. 2002. Native and alien fishes in a California estuarine marsh: twenty-one years of changing assemblages. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society. 131: 797-816.

McKechnie, R.J., and R.C. Tharratt. 1966. Green sunfish. Pages 399-401 in A. Calhoun (ed). Inland fisheries management. California department of Fish and Game, Sacramento, CA.

Moyle, P.B. 1976a. Inland fishes of California. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Moyle, P.B. 1976b. Fish introductions in California: History and impact on native fishes. Biological Conservation 9:101-118.

Moyle, P.B. and R.D. Nichols. 1974. Decline of the native fish fauna of the Sierra Nevada foothills, central California. The American Midland Naturalist 92(1):72-83.

Moyle, P.B. and J. Randall. 1999. Distribution maps of fishes in California. [on-line] Available URL at http://ice.ucdavis.edu/aquadiv/fishcovs/fishmaps.html.

Rohde, F. C, R. G. Arndt, J. W. Foltz, and J. M. Quattro. 2009. Freshwater Fishes of South Carolina. University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, SC. 430 pp.

Rosen, P.C., C.R. Schwalbe, D.A. Parizek, Jr., P.A. Holm, and C.H. Lowe. 1995. Introduced aquatic vertebrates in the Chiricahua region: effects on declining native ranid frogs. Pages 251-261 in DeBano, L.H., P.H. Folliott, A. Ortega-Rubio, G.J. Gottfried, R.H. Hamre, and C.B. Edminster, eds. Biodiversity and management of the Madrean Archipelago: the sky islands of southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. US Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. Fort Collins, CO.

Sigler, W.F., and J.W. Sigler. 1987. Fishes of the Great Basin: a natural history. University of Nevada Press, Reno, NV.

Smith, J.J. 1982. Fishes of the Pajaro River system. Pages 83-170 in Moyle, P.B., J.J. Smith, R.A. Daniels, T.L. Price, and D.M. Baltz, eds. Distribution and ecology of stream fishes of the Sacramento-San Joaquin drainage system, California. University of California Press. Berkeley, CA.

Sommer, T, B. Harrell, M. Nobriga, R. Brown, P. Moyle, W. Kimmerer, and L. Schemel. 2001. California's Yolo Bypass: Evidence that flood control can be compatible with fisheries, wetlands, wildlife, and agriculture. Fisheries. American Fisheries Society. 26 (8): 6-16.

Starnes, W.C., J. Odenkirk, and M.J. Ashton. 2011. Update and analysis of fish occurrences in the lower Potomac River drainage in the vicinity of Plummers Island, Maryland—Contribution XXXI to the natural history of Plummers Island, Maryland. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 124(4):280-309.

Tilmant, J.T. 1999. Management of nonindigenous aquatic fish in the U.S. National Park System. National Park Service. 50 pp.

Trautman, M.B. 1981. The fishes of Ohio. Ohio State University Press, Columbus, OH.

Tyus, H. M., B. D. Burdick, R. A. Valdez, C. M. Haynes, T. A. Lytle, and C. R. Berry. 1982. Fishes of the upper Colorado River basin: distribution, abundance, and status. Pages 12--70 in W. H. Miller, H. M. Tyus, and C. A. Carlson, editors. Fishes of the upper Colorado River system: present and future, Western Division, American Fisheries Society.

Other Resources:
FishBase Summary

Author: Pam Fuller, Matt Cannister, and Matt Neilson

Revision Date: 1/20/2012

Peer Review Date: 4/1/2016

Citation Information:
Pam Fuller, Matt Cannister, and Matt Neilson, 2018, Lepomis cyanellus Rafinesque, 1819: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?speciesID=380, Revision Date: 1/20/2012, Peer Review Date: 4/1/2016, Access Date: 3/22/2018

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Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2018]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [3/22/2018].

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