Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibossus)

A small, pan-shaped fish with a yellow or orange throat and otherwise green.

(c) MN DNR, C. Iverson

Fish of the Mississippi River

Introduction

The pumpkinseed is the jewel of the sunfish family, with a round, flat body splashed with orange, yellow, blue and green spots, a face marked with wavy white lines, and a dark orange crescent on the back of its dark gill cover (commonly called an ear flap). Surprisingly, its name refers not to its color, but to its body shape which resembles the seed of a large squash. It likes weedy ponds and deep wetlands.

A small fish with a small mouth, the pumpkinseed eats small food. It favors insects, insect larvae, crustaceans, and small fish and is usually found under cover, such aquatic vegetation or submerged vegetation. It prefers slightly cooler water than the closely related bluegill, but still is a warmwater fish.

Although a readily caught target of anglers, pumpkinseed populations are most affected by human land use. Nutrients flowing into rivers and lakes from lawn and agricultural fertilizers, leaking septic systems or sewage effluent cause dense growth of aquatic vegetation and large populations of pumpkinseeds. The strong competition for food and habitat stunts the growth of individual fish to just 2 inches. (Adult pumpkinseed average 6 inches in length.) Pumpkinseeds are wide spread and its population is stable.

Fascinating Facts

  • The pumpkinseed has pads of small, blunt teeth on its jaws and specialized molars for feeding on snails.
  • Male pumpkinseeds will even nip at hands or feet that come close to their nests.

Identification

Key ID Features: Pumpkinseed’s dark gill cover (commonly called the ear flap) has a light margin and an orange crescent on its trailing edge. The breast and belly of the pumpkinseed are orange to red-orange, and its back and sides of its disk-shaped body are brown to olive.
Present in Park: Common, especially in some of the floodplain lakes.
Habitat: Warm, weedy shallows
MN Status: Sport fish

For Further Reading

Last updated: April 13, 2018

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