up to 10 inches
Snails, insects, mussels, and clams
Also known as “shellcrackers,” they are in the family Centrarchidae – the sunfish family.
Distinguishing features: A red-orange spot on the rear edge of its black ear flap. This red spot can sometimes be very difficult for the underwater observer to see. If the red spot is not visible, redear sunfish are similar in appearance to other springs-dwelling sunfish like bluegill, redbreast, and spotted. But redears would lack the typical dark spot at the rear dorsal that bluegills have, the long earflap of the redbreast sunfish, or the brilliant blue iridescence under the eye of the spotted sunfish. Redear sunfish can be large, up to two pounds or more.
Range, habitat and behavior: Redear sunfish can be found in the southeastern US from Pennsylvania to Texas and across Florida.
Diet: Snails, insects, mussels and clams.
With a diet consisting mostly of mussels, snails, and other shelled prey, the redear sunfish is also known as a “shellcracker.” They are able to crush the shells of their prey, blowing out the hard shell and consuming the soft flesh.
Redear sunfish are communal spawners; they can sometimes be seen nesting together, with 30 or more nests adjacent to each other in protected coves. Males court females by snapping their jaws together to make a “popping” sound.
Getting to know your sunfish in Florida springs:
While there are other sunfish species that can be found in Florida’s springs, the four that are the most common and the best for a beginning fish-watcher to start with are Bluegill, Spotted Sunfish, Redear Sunfish, and Redbreast Sunfish.
Bluegill: look for that spot at the rear base of the dorsal fin.
Spotted sunfish: look for the iridescent blue under the eyes.
Redbreast sunfish: look for the long ear flap.
Redear sunfish: look for the red spot on the ear. That spot is not always visible so if your sunfish lacks any of the characteristics of the other three species, it might be a redear!