sunfish, common name for members of the family Centrachidae, comprising numerous species of spiny-finned, freshwater fishes with deep, laterally flattened bodies found in temperate North America. All members of the family, which includes the black basses (genus Micropterus ) and the crappies (genus Pomoxis ), prefer fertile lakes with firm bottoms and build nests, which the males guard pugnaciously. The sunfishes, or breams, genus Lepomis, are smaller (1/4 lb/.14 kg average) members indigenous to E North America but successfully introduced in the West. Common eastern varieties are the rock bass, the bluegill and green sunfishes, and the long-eared and common, or pumpkinseed, sunfishes, brilliantly colored with bright orange bellies. The redear and warmouth sunfishes are found in the Mississippi basin; the spotted sunfish, or stumpknocker, is a denizen of the South. The Sacramento perch is the only native western sunfish. The black basses, the most important and valuable of American freshwater game fishes, are longer bodied and larger (averaging 2–3 lb/.9–1.4 kg); they include the largemouth and smallmouth black basses and the spotted bass. The crappies are the largest sunfishes, attaining a length of 1 ft (2.5 cm) and a weight of 2 lb (.9 kg). There are two species, the white crappie ( P. annularis ) and the black crappie or calico bass ( P. nigro-maculatus ). The pigmy sunfishes, rarely over 11/2 in. (3.8 cm) long, bear an uncertain relationship to the family and are classed separately. The totally unrelated ocean sunfish, or headfish, Mola mola, of the family Molidae, is allied to the puffer. Sunfishes are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Osteichthyes, order Perciformes, family Centrachidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.