- Class: Actinopterygii
- Order: Perciformes
- Family: Centrarchidae
- Genus: Lepomis
- Species: gibbosus
A fish by any other name… Also known as pond perch, sun perch, punkys, and pumpkinseed sunfish, this colorful little freshwater fish is found in numerous North American lakes, ponds, and rivers. It is their body shape, resembling the seed of a pumpkin, that inspired their name. The tail fin is notched or slightly forked.
True colors. Colorful and deep-boded, the pumpkinseed is dark, olive-green on its back, with mottled sides. It has a crimson spot in the shape of a half-moon on the back portion of its ear flap. Base colors of its sides are yellowish and spotted with orange, red, and blue. Its belly is yellow to bright orange.
Cheeks and gill covers are marked with alternate worm-shaped bands of blue-green and yellow. Pumpkinseeds have seven or eight vertical, irregular bands on their sides that are duller in color compared to the bluegill.
HABITAT AND DIET
Some like it warm. Pumpkinseeds typically live in warm, calm lakes, ponds, and pools of creeks and small rivers with plenty of vegetation for hiding. They tend to stay near the shore and can be found in numbers within shallow and protected areas.
They will feed at all water levels from the surface to the bottom in the daylight, and their heaviest feeding will be in the afternoon. Pumpkinseed sunfish usually travel together in schools that can also include bluegills and other sunfish.
They are active during the day and rest near the bottom of the water or in protected areas in rocks or near submerged logs at night.
In the shallows. Pumpkinseeds prefer clear, non-flowing water and substrates of organic debris and dense submerged aquatic vegetation, where they try to avoid dangers such as largemouth bass and pike perch; birds including cormorants and herons; and fishing enthusiasts, because they are sought after as a popular panfish.
You are what you eat. The pumpkinseed’s diet includes insects, mosquito larvae, small mollusks, snails, other crustaceans, smaller pumpkinseeds, minnow fry, and worms.
More the merrier? In late spring or early summer, the male pumpkinseeds will begin to build nests, usually in shallow water on sand or gravel lake bottoms. They sweep out shallow, oval-shaped nesting holes. Nests are arranged in colonies of approximately 3 to 15 nests.
Females arrive after the nests are “built.” The male releases milt and the female releases eggs.
Family reunions could get complicated—females might spawn in more than one nest, and more than one female may use the same nest. Once released, the eggs stick to the sand, and they hatch in as few as three days.
Females leave the nest immediately after spawning, but males remain and guard their offspring. The male guards them for about the first 11 days, returning them to the nest in his mouth if they stray from the nesting site. The youngsters (hatchlings, or fry) grow to about two inches in length in their first year.
AT THE ZOO
Home school. A school of pumpkinseed fish may join the residents of the San Diego Zoo’s Sanford Children’s Zoo, which is expected to open in 2021.
Sunny outlook. Pumpkinseed sunfish live in North America, from New Brunswick south to Georgia and westward to the upper Mississippi basin. They also have been introduced as a game fish throughout North America and many parts of Europe. They are classified as a "lower risk" species.