Green sunfish
Lepomis cyanellus Rafinesque, 1819

member of the Sunfish Family (Centrarchidae)

Valley Creek, Dakota County, Minnesota 20 August 1983













What's In a Name?
Green sunfish: named for the greenish-blue coloring on the head, sides, and back

Lepomis (Leh-poe´-miss ) means "scaled gill cover" in Greek
cyanellus (sigh-an-ell´-us) means "blue" in Greek


    Where Do They Live?
Green sunfish occur in all major drainages of Minnesota. They inhabit lakes and streams of all sizes, but prefer the quiet water of shallow, weedy lakes and small streams. They can be extremely abundant in one lake and totally absent from another nearby. Green sunfish are known to gather around or in piles of brush in the water and in thick entanglements of floating vegetation. They are collected commonly with common carp, orangespotted sunfish, black crappies, spotfin shiners, and black bullheads.


How Big Do They Get?
How Long Do They Live?
Green sunfish do not grow very large in Minnesota. Rarely does one exceed 130 mm (about 5 in). In southern states they commonly reach 200 mm (about 8 in) and weigh 0.2-0.3 kg (0.5-0.75 lbs). The Minnesota state record for this fish is 0.54 kg (1 lb 3 oz). This lunker was caught from Scheuble Lake in Carver County. Green sunfish may live as long as 10 years, but 7 years is more typical.

    What Do They Eat?
As do all sunfish larvae, larval greens consume copepods and waterfleas (zooplankton). Later in the year they begin to include aquatic (water) insect larvae and small snails. Larger juvenile and adult greens add small crayfish, plant material, and small fish (including their own larvae) to their diet.

What Eats Them?
Green sunfish undoubtedly are eaten by a variety of piscivorous (fish-eating) species that live in the same habitat as they do. Largemouth bass, channel catfish, and bullheads are known examples. Humans harvest few green sunfish in Minnesota. Even though they bite on many angler's hooks, green sunfish are normally too small to be kept and are considered an annoyance by most anglers.


How Do They Reproduce?
Green sunfish spawn in the late spring and summer in Minnesota (late May to early August). The male builds a nest by clearing a depression in the lake or stream bottom to expose gravel. The nest usually is situated near the shelter of rocks, logs, or clumps of grass. Once the nest is complete, the male defends it using a variety of displays and actual attacks when necessary. Sometimes the mere sight of a male balancing himself over a nest is enough to make a female enter to spawn. At other times, the male courts the female by producing a series of grunts as he leads her to the nest. Once in the nest the two fish circle above it for a short period before the female descends to spawn. Several females are likely to spawn in a male's nest. We don't have measurements of the number of eggs produced by a female, but egg production possibly is similar to that of bluegill. The male guards the nest, fanning it with his fins to keep it clean and well oxygenated. Depending on the water temperature, the embryos hatch in 2-4 days. The free-embryos stay in the nest and continue developing for another 5 days before they swim up and begin feeding. Green sunfish typically bring off multiple broods each season, spawning every 8-10 days.


Conservation and Management
Because of its small size in Minnesota, the green sunfish is not a popular panfish. However, it does bite on a variety of small baits and is a very good fighter for its size.




Permission is granted for the non-commercial educational or scientific use of the text and images on this Web document. Please credit the author or authors listed below.

Photographs by Konrad P. Schmidt
Text by Nicole Paulson & Jay T. Hatch in cooperation with
the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' MinnAqua Aquatic Program

This page developed with funds from the
MinnAqua Program (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Division of Fisheries)
and the
Sport Fish Restoration Program (Fish and Wildlife Service, US Department of the Interior)

Maintained by Jay T. Hatch
General College and James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis/St. Paul

Last updated 25 August 2004