Pumpkinseeds are deep-bodied and laterally compressed. They have brassy yellow to olive green sides that are densely covered with spots of bright copper or gold. The opercle flap has a distinctive crimson spot in a half-moon shape on the rear edge in adults. In young pumpkinseeds a pale spot on the opercle flap distinguishes them from other Centrarchidae.
Etnier and Starnes (1993) describe pumpkinseeds as having: lateral line scales 35 to 43, dorsal fin with 10 (10 to 11) soft rays, anal fin soft rays 9 to 10, pectoral fin rays 13 (12 to 14). (Downs, et al., 2002; Etnier and Starnes, 1993; Paulson and Hatch, 2002; Smith, 1979)
Young pumpkinseeds also have vertical chainlike bands down their sides with dark vertical bars between the primary bands. These help to differentiate them from other sunfishes. Lepomis gibbosus are most easily confused with redear sunfish, L. microlophus and bluegills, L. macrochirus. (Smith, 1979)
Pumpkinseeds, Lepomis gibbosus, are found natively in the Atlantic Slope drainages from New Brunswick to the Edisto River in South Carolina and also in the Great Lakes, Hudson Bay, and upper Mississippi basins from Quebec and New York west to southeastern Manitoba and North Dakota, and south to northern Kentucky and Missouri. (Fuller, 2004)
This species has also been widely introduced in Europe, Africa, and South America, as well as other areas of North America. (Froese and Pauly, 2005)
Pumpkinseeds are freshwater fishes, like other members of the sunfish family, Centrarchidae. They prefer cool to moderately warm, clear water that is 1 to 2 m deep in areas with lots of vegetation for cover. The ideal water temperature for pumpkinseeds ranges from 21 to 24 degrees Celsius. (Paulson and Hatch, 2002; Wang, 1996)
At 28 degrees Celsius the eggs of pumpkinseeds hatch in as little as three days. The normal range for eggs to hatch is 3 to 10 days. The newly hatched larvae are tiny and transparent. The eyes do not have any pigment in the first 48 hours after the larvae have hatched. They remain at the bottom of the nest for a short time. Male pumpkinseeds continue to guard larvae against predators for around 11 days when they become free-swimming. When they leave the nest the juvenile fish stay in or near the breeding area and can grow to around 50.8 mm in the first year of life. Pumpkinseeds usually reach sexual maturity at age 2. (Downs, et al., 2002; Wang, 1996)
Male pumpkinseeds will defend their nests agressively against other fish by spreading their opercula, charging, biting, chasing, and on occasion, they will mouth-fight. Females come in from deeper waters and at first appear to be chased away from the nest but, after a considerable amount of chasing, the male attempts to drive her into his nest and the female will approach the nest. (Downs, et al., 2002; Paulson and Hatch, 2002)
When the male pumpkinseed gets the female in his nest they will swim in a circular path above the nest with their bellies touching. The male releases milt and the female releases her eggs at intervals and fertilization occurs. 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. (Downs, et al., 2002; Froese and Pauly, 2005)
Spawning occurs when water is between 13 to 28 degrees Celsius, during late spring to late summer, depending on location. A female between 2 to 5 years of age can produce anywhere from 4000 to 7000 eggs in a single season and a male will breed several times (every 11 days or so) through the season. (Paulson and Hatch, 2002; Wang, 1996)
Male pumpkinseeds build a nest in very shallow weedy bays of lakes or near the shore of runs and pools of streams 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. Average pumpkinseed nests are around 30 cm in diameter and 5 to 7 cm deep. (Downs, et al., 2002; Froese and Pauly, 2005; Paulson and Hatch, 2002; Wheeler, 1975)
Eggs can hatch in 3 days at 28 degrees Celsius. After hatching, the larvae will stay around 5 days in the nest, getting their nutrients from the yolk sac. When the larvae are able to self-feed they have a fully developed mouth and partially developed fins. The pelvic fins are the last to complete development. Pumpkinseeds reach sexual maturity at 2 years of age. (Paulson and Hatch, 2002; Wang, 1996)
Male pumpkinseeds guard and defend the nest until the fry have hatched and dispersed. Sometimes one male will guard two nests by moving back and forth between them. He will fan the nest with his fins to keep it clean and well-oxygenated until the larvae 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. (Downs, et al., 2002; Etnier and Starnes, 1993; Paulson and Hatch, 2002; Wang, 1996)
Male pumpkinseeds change color during breeding season so it would appear that visual cues are important to either other males or females.
Pumpkinseeds consume a diverse diet of small prey including insects, insect larvae, mollusks, snails, crustaceans, leeches, and small fish. They are effective at destroying mosquito larvae and also consume detritus and small amounts of aquatic vegetation.
Pumpkinseeds inhabit dense vegetation to remain hidden from predators. Spines of the dorsal fins and anal fins on pumpkinseeds are spread out when they perceive danger, thus making them harder to swallow.
Known predators of pumpkinseeds include Sander vitreus (walleye), Micropterus salmoides (largemouth bass), Perca flavescens (yellow perch), Esox lucius (northern pike), Esox masquinongy (muskellunge), Amia calva (bowfin), Anguilla rostrata (American eel), other muskies (Esox), other sunfish (Centrarchidae), including other pumpkinseeds, mergansers (Lophodytes and Mergus), cormorants (Phalacrocorax), herons (Ardeidae), and humans (Homo sapiens). (Downs, et al., 2002; Paulson and Hatch, 2002)
Pumpkinseeds are a vital intermediate link in the food chain. They are an important prey species for birds and larger fish predators. They also impact the insect populations through consumption.
Pumpkinseeds are considered a pest in many areas where they have been introduced. Several countries have reported an adverse ecological impact after their introduction. Pumpkinseeds hybridize readily with most other Lepomis, especially with bluegill and green sunfish. The result is hybrids that are fast-growing, sterile males. This causes overcrowding and stunted growth in endemic species. (Fuller, 2004)
Pumpkinseeds cause no known negative economic impact.
Pumpkinseeds have little economic importance. They are aggressive feeders and readily bite at most bait. This, paired with their excellent flavor, causes people to consider them a good 'panfish.' However, experienced anglers often throw them back due to their small size.
Pumpkinseeds are common and abundant in suitable habitat, populations are not considered at risk.
Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Dana Bullock (author), Eastern Kentucky University, Sherry Harrel (editor, instructor), Eastern Kentucky University.
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Etnier, D., W. Starnes. 1993. The Fishes of Tennessee. Knoxville: The University of Tennesse Press.
Fish, P., J. Savitz. 1983. Variations in Home Ranges of Largemouth Bass, Yellow Perch, Bluegills, and Pumpkinseeds in an Illinois Lake. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 112/2a: 147–153. Accessed October 30, 2005 at http://afs.allenpress.com/perlserv/?request=get-abstract&doi=10.1577%2F1548-8659(1983)112%3C147%3AVIHROL%3E2.0.CO%3B2.
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Wang, J. 1996. "Fishes of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Estuary and Adjacent Waters, California: A Guide to the Early Life Histories" (On-line). Berkeley Digital Library Project. Accessed October 30, 2005 at http://elib.cs.berkeley.edu/kopec/tr9/html/sp-pumpkinseed.html.
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