Also known as
common sunfish, kiver, pond perch, pumpkinseed sunfish, punky, sun bass, sunfish, sunny, yellow sunfishBack to Top
What they look like
Lepomis, the generic name, is Greek and means "scaled gill cover". The species epithet gibbosus is also Greek and means "wide margin". Pumpkinseed gets its common name from its body shape, resembling the seed of a pumpkin. They are often called just “sunfish,” although technically-speaking this name can be applied to all members of the Centrarchidae family.
Pumpkinseed has a brown or olive back, brassy yellow to olive green and a yellow or yellow-orange belly. The sides are densely covered with spots of bright copper or gold and 7 to 10 faint green to blue diffused vertical bars that are more prominent in females. Sometimes 3-5 narrow, wavy, emerald or blue lines alternating with orange-brown lines radiate backward from snout and eye. The gill cover has a distinctive orange-red spot in a half-moon shape on the rear edge in adults. Orange spots may cover the dorsal, anal, and caudal (tail) fins. The leading edge of the dorsal spines is black, while the pectoral fins may be amber or clear. The remaining fins are usually gray, though sometimes they may appear yellow. Pumpkinseeds are deep-bodied and laterally compressed. They have a small mouth with pads of small teeth and an upper jaw that stops just under the eye pupil. The tail is slightly forked and rounded. Pumpkinseeds have a front dorsal fin that is spiny and the pectoral fin is long and pointed and can be extended past the eye when bent forward.
Breeding adults are similar to non-breeders, but males are more brilliantly colored than females and females exhibit more prominent dark, vertical bands. Juveniles are similar to adults, but the spots and colors are less intense.
Pumpkinseed can be told apart from bluegill by remembering that the bluegill has a blue-black spot on the margin of the gill cover. On the pumpkinseed, that spot is bright orange-red. The pumpkinseed is usually lighter and more brilliantly hued, with turquoise and orange cheek stripes in larger individuals.Back to Top
Where they live
Pumpkinseed sunfish usually reside in calm lakes, ponds, and pools of creeks and small rivers that have abundant vegetation. They prefer cool to moderately warm, clear water that is 3 to 6 feet deep where they can hide within underwater weed patches, docks, logs, and other cover. The ideal water temperature for pumpkinseeds ranges from 39 to 75 °F. Pumpkinseeds tend to travel in schools and are more likely than other sunfish to be found in moving water. They are active during the day and rest near the bottom at night.Back to Top
What they eat
Pumpkinseeds feed on a variety of small prey including insects, insect larvae, mollusks, snails, crustaceans, leeches, and small fish, including smaller pumpkinseeds. They are effective at destroying mosquito larvae and also consume detritus and small amounts of aquatic vegetation. Also feed at all water levels throughout the day, with their heaviest feeding occurring during the afternoon.Back to Top
Pumpkinseeds typically live 5 to 6, but may live up to 12 years old. In the wild, however, most do not exceed 8 years old. They grow slightly faster in the northern states and Canada than in the southern part of their range, probably because of their preferences for cooler water. Males grow somewhat faster than females. Pumpkinseeds typically grow 5 to 8 inches, but seldom exceed six.Back to Top
Sexual maturity occurs at age two. Pumpkinseeds spawn in later spring or early summer, usually at water temperatures from 66 to 70 °F. The male will continue to spawn every 11 days or so through the breeding season. Male pumpkinseeds build a nest on a sand or fine gravel bottom at depths from 6 to 18 inches, in colonies of 3 to 15 nest sites. Pumpkinseeds maintain larger territories than bluegill but they will sometimes build their nests among bluegill and other sunfish nests and the different species will interbreed. Hybridized pumpkinseed will resemble bluegill in form and coloration. Average pumpkinseed nests are around 12 inches in diameter and 2 to 3 inches deep. Female pumpkinseeds can spawn in more than one nest. Also more than one female can use the same nest. Occasionally two females will spawn with a male at the same time.
A female between 2 to 5 years of age can produce anywhere from 4000 to 7000 eggs in a single season, which hatch in 3 to 10 days, depending upon water temperature. The female departs as soon as the eggs have been deposited. Male pumpkinseeds will defend their nests aggressively against other fish by spreading their gill covers, charging, biting, chasing, and on occasion, they will mouth-fight. Sometimes one male will guard two nests by moving back and forth between them. Male pumpkinseeds continue to guard and fan the nest with his fins to keep it clean and well-oxygenated until the larvae become free-swimming and are able to feed on their own, usually around 10 to 11 days. Male pumpkinseeds will even return the fry to the nest in his mouth if they stray.When they leave the nest, the juvenile fish stay in or near the breeding area and can grow to around 2 inches the first year of life.Back to Top
1 lbs. 1.44 oz. caught in Lake Terrell, Whatcom County by angler Barbie Hathawayn on July 2, 2007