Like many of the sunfish family, Longears are deep bodied fish with small mouths. Their name comes from the long ear flap. Longears are native to eastern North America stretching from the Great Lakes to northeastern Mexico. These beautiful sunfishes have a dorsal fin with 10 to 12 rays and the anal fin has three spines and nine or ten rays. Back and sides are typically olive to brown, turning yellowish orange on underside. Breeding males are brilliantly colored with the red and blue coloration. Females are less intensely colored and a shorter ear flap. A smallish fish, they seldom get much over 7 inches.
Densely vegetated, shallow waters in lakes, ponds, and sluggish streams are their preferred habitat. Its diet can include insects, aquatic invertebrates, and small fish. Like bluegill, Longears for spawning colonies, just not as large. Spawning sites are typically shallow and on a gravel substrate near cover. They may spawn multiple times throughout the summer when temperatures over seventy. Nests may contain over 20,000 eggs and are zealously guarded by the males.
Newly hatched fry feed on plankton and microscopic animals. As they grow and approach adulthood, larger insects, crustaceans, and even small fish become part of their diet.
While not monsters of the fishing world, on ultra-light tackle, with small baits they offer fast paced action and fun for young and old alike.
Longear Sunfish in Texas
Lepomis, the generic name, is Greek and means "scaled gill cover." The species epithet megalotis is Greek and means "great ear." The name is derived from the fact that longear sunfish have an elongated opercle flap. This flap, always trimmed in white in adults, is unique and makes field identification relatively easy if hybridization has not occurred. Longear sunfish are quite colorful. Males are often bright orange or scarlet, and the head and fins usually have turquoise markings. Dorsal and anal fins, and their associated spines, are similar to those of redear sunfish.
Longear sunfish are primarily found in small streams and creeks. Like other sunfish they are often associated with vegetation, avoiding strong currents by inhabiting pools, inlets, and waters off the main stream channel. Spawning occurs throughout late spring and early summer. Males scoop nests out of gravel bars. Females are enticed to lay their eggs on a particular nest by a male who swims out to meet her, swimming around her rapidly and displaying his brilliant spawning colors. After the eggs have been laid, males chase the females away and guard the nest vigorously despite their small size, chasing away all intruders. Males may continue to guard the nest for a week or more after hatching, until larvae have dispersed. Insects and even small fish become part of the diet as fish approach adulthood. Longear sunfish rarely exceed six inches in length.
The species is found throughout Texas except for the headwaters of the Canadian and Brazos rivers.
Because of its small size, the species' importance to anglers derives in three ways. Since they are relatively easy to capture with simple, natural baits such as earthworms, longears are an important species for young anglers with little experience. Like most sunfish, they provide more than enough fight for their small size. Longears may feed on the surface, providing the fly fishermen with a challenge, and finally, they are often a prized bait fish for trotliners.