Lepomis auritus (Linnaeus, 1758)

Common Name: Redbreast Sunfish

Synonyms and Other Names:

Labrus auritus, Lepomis aurita

Noel M. Burkhead - U.S. Geological SurveyCopyright Info

Identification: Lepomis auritus is a sunfish with a deep body that is moderately compressed. This species has 42-51 lateral-line scales and the dorsal fin has 10-11 spines and 10-12 rays. Redbreast Sunfish has 9-10 anal fin rays, 13-15 pectoral fin rays, and 9-12 gill rakers. Coloration can be described as a blue-green shading on its dorsal areas that grades into a yellowish color on its breast, belly and lower head (bright red in breeding males). The soft dorsal fin and the upper lobe of the caudal fin have yellow margins that become bright orange to scarlet on nuptial males. Bright blue vermiculations usually are apparent on the cheek and preorbital areas. Young-of-the-year up to 25 mm may have about 12 vertical dark bars on sides, but these bars are faint or absent in larger specimens (Etnier & Starnes 1993). Lepomis auritus can be distinguished from most other sunfish species by its long opercular lobe (Gautreau & Curry 2012). However, Longear Sunfish L. megalotis and Northern Sunfish L. peltastes also have long opercular lobes.

Redbreast Sunfish larvae can be distinguished from other Lepomis spp. larvae by their relatively large hatching size and large coiled gut, which becomes more apparent when fish reach 7.9 mm in total length.

Note: For more detailed information regarding larval fish identification see Buynak & Mohr (1978).

Size: 24 cm

Native Range: Atlantic and Gulf Slope drainages, from New Brunswick to central Florida, and west to the Apalachicola and Choctawhatchee drainages, Georgia and Florida (Page and Burr 2011)

This species is not currently in the Great Lakes region but may be elsewhere in the US. See the point map for details.

Table 1. States/provinces with nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state/province, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Lepomis auritus are found here.

State/ProvinceFirst ObservedLast ObservedTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
AL1955202025Black Warrior-Tombigbee; Cahaba; Choctawhatchee; Coosa-Tallapoosa; Guntersville Lake; Locust; Lower Black Warrior; Lower Choctawhatchee; Lower Conecuh; Lower Coosa; Lower Tallapoosa; Middle Alabama; Middle Coosa; Middle Tallapoosa; Middle Tennessee-Chickamauga; Middle Tombigbee-Lubbub; Pea; Perdido; Pickwick Lake; Sipsey Fork; Upper Black Warrior; Upper Choctawhatchee; Upper Coosa; Upper Tallapoosa; Wheeler Lake
AR1962200210Buffalo; Lake Conway-Point Remove; Little Red; Lower Arkansas-Fourche La Fave; Lower White; Middle White; Petit Jean; Spring; Upper Ouachita; Upper White
FL196220207Blackwater; Florida Southeast Coast; Lower Choctawhatchee; Pensacola Bay; Perdido; St. Andrew-St. Joseph Bays; Yellow
GA1955202010Conasauga; Coosawattee; Etowah; Hiwassee; Middle Tennessee-Chickamauga; Ocoee; Oostanaula; Upper Chattahoochee; Upper Coosa; Upper Tallapoosa
KY1978201014Kentucky; Licking; Licking; Lower Cumberland; Lower Kentucky; Lower Levisa; Lower Tennessee; Middle Green; Pond; Rough; Tradewater; Upper Cumberland; Upper Cumberland-Lake Cumberland; Upper Levisa
LA196420004Lower Calcasieu; Sabine; Sabine Lake; Toledo Bend Reservoir
NY197820102Raquette; St. Regis
NC1949202114Coastal Carolina; French Broad-Holston; Hiwassee; Lower Little Tennessee; New River; Nolichucky; Pigeon; Tuckasegee; Upper French Broad; Upper Little Tennessee; Upper New; Upper Tennessee; Watauga, North Carolina, Tennessee; White Oak River
OK196120006Arkansas-White-Red Region; Bois D'arc-Island; Groesbeck-Sandy; Red-Lake Texoma; Red-Little; Robert S. Kerr Reservoir
PR195820095Cibuco-Guajataca; Culebrinas-Guanajibo; Eastern Puerto Rico; Puerto Rico; Southern Puerto Rico
SC198419992Calibogue Sound-Wright River; Enoree
SD200320032Grand; Lower Moreau
TN1956201228Caney; Conasauga; Emory; Hiwassee; Holston; Kentucky Lake; Lower Clinch; Lower Elk; Lower French Broad; Lower Hatchie; Lower Little Tennessee; Middle Tennessee-Chickamauga; Nolichucky; North Fork Forked Deer; North Fork Holston; Ocoee; Pigeon; Powell; Sequatchie; South Fork Holston; South Fork Obion; Tuckasegee; Upper Clinch, Tennessee, Virginia; Upper French Broad; Upper Tennessee; Watauga, North Carolina, Tennessee; Watts Bar Lake; Wheeler Lake
TX1925202163Amistad Reservoir; Aransas Bay; Austin-Travis Lakes; Buchanan-Lyndon B. Johnson Lakes; Cedar; Concho; Elm Fork Red; Elm-Sycamore; Hondo; Hubbard; Independence; International Falcon Reservoir; Lake O'the Pines; Lake Texoma; Llano; Los Olmos; Lower Angelina; Lower Brazos-Little Brazos; Lower Colorado-Cummins; Lower Devils; Lower Guadalupe; Lower Neches; Lower Pecos; Lower Sabine; Lower Sulpher; Lower Trinity-Kickapoo; Lower West Fork Trinity; Medina; Middle Brazos-Lake Whitney; Middle Brazos-Palo Pinto; Middle Colorado-Elm; Middle Concho; Middle Guadalupe; Middle Sabine; Navasota; Navidad; North Concho; North Llano; Nueces Headwaters; Pedernales; Red-Washita; Sabine; Sabine Lake; San Ambrosia-Santa Isabel; San Gabriel; San Marcos; San Saba; South Concho; South Llano; Toledo Bend Reservoir; Toyah; Upper Angelina; Upper Colorado; Upper Frio; Upper Guadalupe; Upper Neches; Upper Nueces; Upper San Antonio; West Fork San Jacinto; West Galveston Bay; West Nueces; West San Antonio Bay; Wichita
VT201120111Winooski River
VA197120086Kanawha; Middle New; North Fork Holston; Powell; Upper Levisa; Upper New
WV199320028Coal; Greenbrier; Kanawha; Lower Guyandotte; Lower New; Middle New; Tygart Valley; Upper Monongahela

Table last updated 5/21/2022

† Populations may not be currently present.

Ecology: Lepomis auritus is a warmwater species typical of temperate systems where water temperatures range 4-22°C, but is reported to prefer temperatures of 27-29°C (Froese & Casal 2017; Beauchene et al. 2014; Aho & Terrell 1986). This species has been observed in thermally impacted reservoirs where temperatures were as high as 33-35°C (Siler 1975). The mean preferred temperature and optimal growth temperature for L. auritus are closely correlated; therefore, temperatures of 25-30°C should result in maximum growth, survival, and reproduction (Aho & Terrell 1986; Beitinger & Fitzpatrick 1979). Growth and survival are expected to be reduced at temperatures less than 15°C and greater than 33°C (Aho & Terrell 1986).  

Lepomis auritus can be found in rocky and sandy pools of creeks, small- to medium-sized rivers, and rocky and vegetated lake margins (Page and Burr 2011). Redbreast Sunfish in Yoho Lake, New Brunswick often were captured in areas of dense, submergent vegetation or near large woody debris with substrates of silt/detritus and sand (Gautreau & Curry 2012).

Lepomis auritus is a visual predator that feeds opportunistically on juvenile fishes and aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates from the benthos and water surface (Gautreau and Curry 2012; Thorp et al. 1989; Sandlow et al. 1975). Gautreau and Curry (2012) reported that the stomach contents of L. auritus consisted of 50% amphipods, 20% Trichoptera, 11% nematodes, 9% chironomids, and 10% were juvenile Lepomis, ants, and beetles. Redbreast Sunfish in Calder Lake, NY were found to feed in higher proportions on benthic prey at dawn in comparison to their diet at dusk (Thorp et al. 1989).

Spawning occurs in spring, April – October when water temperatures are 16.8°C – 25.6°C, and tends to peak in late spring and summer (Davis 1972; Bass and Hitt 1975). However, climatic differences at different latitudes may affect the time of the spawning season’s onset and duration. In Yoho Lake New Brunswick, males move into littoral zones to build nests in late June-early July—when nearshore water temperatures approach 20°C. On average, nests in Yoho Lake were about 52 cm in diameter, 35-49 cm deep, and typically within one meter from a physical structure in the water column. Males will guard their nest once a female deposits her eggs into it (Gautreau and Curry 2012).

The two major reproductive strategies utilized by Lepomis auritus are nest-building or cuckoldry (non-nesting) (Thorp et al. 1989). Reproductive strategies can be characterized by their trade-offs. Males who devote more time and energy to nest-building and defense may enhance their access to females, however, less time and energy is devoted to foraging. Cuckoldry, a behavior that is common in male sunfishes, is when a non-nesting male intrudes a conspecific spawning between a nest-building male and a female and fertilizes the eggs. This behavior deceives the nesting male into unknowingly providing care for the brood that is not genetically his own (Gross 1979). Thorp et al. (1989) discovered that non-nesting males had fuller stomachs and consumed a greater diversity of prey items than nesting sunfish. While nesting confers a higher probability of successful mating, it is also energetically costly. Cuckoldry requires less energetic investment and improves the likeliness of food acquisition, but may limit reproductive success. Genetic analysis of these two strategies found that the nest-building male sired 90% of the progeny from 25 nests. However, 40% of the nests showed evidence of a cuckoldry, although cuckolders only accounted for <10% of the overall progeny (DeWoody et al. 1998).

Females produce an average of 3302 eggs, with a range of 322-9206 depending on their body size (Sandow et al. 1975). Lepomis auritus eggs from the Susquehanna River were on average 2.1 mm in diameter, yellow in color, and adhesive (Buynak & Mohr 1978).

When they hatch, larvae are 4.6 to 5.0 mm long, have incomplete mouths, large ovoid yolk sacs, pectoral fin buds and straight urostyles. Caudal, dorsal, anal, and pectoral fin rays develop when larvae are 7.8-8.1 mm and pelvic fin ray development begins by the time the fish is 15 mm in total length. Lepomis auritus develops darker pigmentation as it reaches its juvenile phase by 19.0 mm (Buynak & Mohr 1978). Redbreast Sunfish grow to about 60 mm within their first year and grow an additional 30 mm or so per year until age 6 (Etnier & Starnes 1993).

Lepomis auritus has a longevity of 7 years and maturity typically occurs by age 2, corresponding to 90-120 mm total length (Sammons and MacEina 2009; Etnier and Starnes 1993).

Growth of L. auritus is largely tied to environmental factors. In riverine environments, growth rates are significantly higher than in impounded environments. However, other variables such as geography, climate, and hydrology can also explain variation in growth rates (Rypel 2011; Sammons and MacEina 2009). Sammons and MacEina (2009) found that L. auritus growth was positively related to river flows with fish growth increments being significantly larger in wet years compared to dry years for fishes age 1-3 years. Flows had the greatest effect on growth in rivers that had large floodplains that were only connected to the main river channel during high flow events. High river flows likely promote increased growth rates by creating a shallow floodplain that offers more habitat with refuge from flows and greater terrestrial invertebrate food resources (Schlosser 1998).

Means of Introduction:  

Lepomis auritus has a high probability of introduction to the Great Lakes (Confidence level: Moderate).

Potential pathway(s) of introduction: Dispersal, Unauthorized Intentional Release, Stocking/Escape from Recreational Culture


Lepomis auritus has a moderate probability of establishment if introduced to the Great Lakes (Confidence level: High).

Redbreast Sunfish are known to exist at latitudes similar to the Great Lakes and its broad temperature range suggests that overwintering will not hinder this species establishment. The presence of native Lepomis spp. with similar life history traits in the Great Lakes suggest that L. auritus will likely be able to establish in the Great Lakes.

Great Lakes Impacts: Lepomis auritus has the potential for moderate environmental impact if introduced to the Great Lakes.


Circumstantial evidence indicates that Redbreast Sunfish are displacing native Longear Sunfish in eastern Tennessee (Etnier & Starnes 1993). Lepomis auritus is also known to hybridize with other Lepomis spp. (Schwartz 1981; Etnier & Starnes 1993).

Lepomis auritus has the potential for low socio-economic impact if introduced to the Great Lakes.


Lepomis auritus may compete with native panfishes, which are popular recreational sportfishes, but no significant economic damage to recreational fishing has been reported.

Lepomis auritus has the potential for moderate positive effect if introduced to the Great Lakes.


Sunfishes (Lepomis spp.) are popular as food fish, research specimens, recreational sport fish, and forage fish for other popular sportfish such as Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides). In Illinois, a substantial portion of the sportfish harvest consists Lepomis or Pomoxis genera (Morris & Mischke 2003). Lepomis auritus would likely contribute to the popular panfish fishery in the Great Lakes region.

Hybrid sunfish are popular aquaculture specimens because of their broad appeal to different markets, vigor (higher growth rates), higher acceptance of artificial feeds, reduced reproductive capacity, greater tolerance to cooler water and poor environmental conditions, and high vulnerability to angling (Morris et al. 2002). However, native Lepomis spp. are abundant and hybridization between Bluegill and Green Sunfish, and Bluegill and Redear Sunfish are the most common crosses (Morris et al. 2002).

Redbreast Sunfish and other Lepomis spp. are valuable specimens in ecotoxicology research (Theodorakis et al. 2006; Morris et al. 2002).



In Michigan it is unlawful to import, plant or transplant live game fish including viable eggs of any game fish without permit (Michigan Fishing Guide 2017). There are no known regulations for this species.

Note: Check federal, state/province, and local regulations for the most up-to-date information.




The stocking of predatory fish in the Great Lakes may affect L. auritus populations if it became established. However, the effectiveness of stocking piscivorous fish to control invasive species has been highly variable and is not as successful as chemical and physical control methods (Meronek et al. 1996).


Various types of physical controls that have been used to control other non-indigenous fish might also be effective in managing L. auritus. Patrick et al. (1985) observed that air bubble curtains have been successful in deterring the movement of Rainbow Smelt Osmerus mordax, Alewife Alosa pseudoharengus, and Gizzard Shad Dorosoma cepedianum—especially when used in conjunction with strobe lights. Other types of physical treatments have been employed in fish control include reservoir drawdowns, traps, nets, electrofishing, and combinations of these treatments. Through their review of fish control methods, Meronek et al. (1996) observed that projects that utilized nets were the most successful of the previously listed physical treatments. Physical removal by electrofishing was effective in reducing L. auritus populations in reaches of Richland Creek (Aiken unpubl.). However, this management method likely requires intensive and repeated removals in order to control or eradicate L. auritus populations. Furthermore, the effectiveness of this technique will vary based on the environment.


Of the four chemical piscicides registered for use in the United States, rotenone and antimycin have been used in the majority of chemical control projects and have had varied success rates for different species and different bodies of water (Boogaard et al. 1996; GLMRIS 2012; Meronek et al. 1996; Marking et al. 1983).

Increasing CO2 concentrations, either by bubbling pressurized gas directly into water or by the addition of sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) has been used to sedate fish with minimal residual toxicity, and is a potential method of harvesting fish for removal, though maintaining adequate CO2 concentrations may be difficult in large/natural water bodies. CO2 is not approved for use as euthanasia but it can be used as an anesthetic for cold, cool, and warm water fishes in the US. Exposure to NaHCO3 concentration of 142-642 mg/L for 5 minutes is sufficient to anaesthetize most fish (Clearwater et al. 2008).

It should be noted that chemical treatment will often lead to non-target kills, and so all options for management of a species should be adequately studied before a decision is made to use piscicides or other chemicals. Potential effects on non-target plants and organisms, including macroinvertebrates and other fishes, should always be deliberately evaluated and analyzed. The effects of combinations of management chemicals and other toxicants, whether intentional or unintentional, should be understood prior to chemical treatment.  Other non-selective alterations of water quality, such as reducing dissolved oxygen levels or altering pH, could also have a deleterious impact on native fish, invertebrates, and other fauna or flora, and their potential harmful effects should therefore be evaluated thoroughly.


Note: Check state and local regulations for the most up-to-date information regarding permits for pesticide/herbicide/piscicide/insecticide use.

Remarks: In northern latitudes, Lepomis auritus tend to be smaller due in part to shorter growing seasons, making them more vulnerable to predation (Gautreau & Curry 2012).


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Aiken, M.A. 2014. The efficacy of small-scale removal of an invasive species (Redbreast Sunfish, Lepomis auritus) by electrofishing. Unpublished M.S. thesis. Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, North Carolina.

Bass, D.G., and V.G. Hitt. 1975. Ecological aspects of the Redbreast Sunfish, Lepomis auritus, in Florida. Pages 269-307 in Proc. S.E. Assoc. Game Fish. Comm.

Beauchene, M., M. Becker, C.J. Bellucci, N. Hagstrom, and Y. Kanno. 2014. Summer Thermal Thresholds of Fish Community Transitions in Connecticut Streams. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 34(1):119-131. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02755947.2013.855280.

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Thorp, J.H., L.D. Goldsmith, J.A. Polgreen, and L.M. Mayer. 1989. Foraging patterns of nesting and nonnesting sunfish (Centrarchidae: Lepomis auritus and L. gibbosus). Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 46:1342-1346.

Author: Alsip, P.

Contributing Agencies:

Revision Date: 8/10/2017

Citation for this information:
Alsip, P., 2022, Lepomis auritus (Linnaeus, 1758): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, and NOAA Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System, Ann Arbor, MI, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/greatlakes/FactSheet.aspx?Species_ID=379&Potential=Y&Type=2, Revision Date: 8/10/2017, Access Date: 5/21/2022

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.