Lepomis gibbosus (Linnaeus, 1758): pumpkinseed

Biological Description

Body very deep and much compressed laterally; back humped more than in other sunfishes; scales large (35-40 in lateral line) and strongly ctenoid. Head small 10 moderate, angle steep with slightly snubbed snout; mouth small to medium in size; teeth on jaws and vomer; pharyngeal teeth bluntly rounded and pavement-like; opercular flap flexible only at tip. Dorsal fin usually with 10 spines and anal fin with 3 spines; caudal fin slightly forked; pectoral fins are long and pointed. Color of head, back, and upper sides greenish-olive to golden brown; lower sides golden; head and sides with irregular blotches of orange, yellow, blue and green; sides with 7 to 10 indistinct vertical bars; belly light yellow to orange; a red spot on the fleshy margin of opercle.

Life History

Sexual maturity is reached in 2 to 3 years. Like other sunfishes, the male builds a nest, which is a shallow depression ranging in size from 6 to 15 inches in diameter, in shallow water between patches of vegetation where the bottom is of fine sand or gravel. Nest building begins in spring when water temperature reaches approximately 65° F, however, nesting may continue into August. Nests are often grouped. Several females may spawn with a single male. Egg production depends on the size of the female: 2-year-old females with an average length of 2.86 inches produce an average of 1.034 eggs (range, 600-1634), and a 5-year-old fish with an average length of 3.69 inches produce an average of 2,436 eggs (range, 1,950-2,923). Eggs are deposited in the depressions and the nests are vigorously guarded by the male until the young hatch and leave the nest. The incubation period depends on water temperature; at 82° F the eggs hatch in about 3 days. Females leave the nest after spawning, but may move to other sites and deposit eggs.

Under good conditions pumpkinseed may reach 8-9 inches and a weight of 11 or 12 ounces. In Idaho they seldom exceed 5 inches and 4-5 ounces. Although pumpkinseed have lived to 12 years in captivity, fish from most populations usually do not live beyond 6 years.

Geographic Distribution

The native distribution of the pumpkinseed extends from southern Canada and North Dakota east to the Atlantic coast and south to Georgia. It has been widely distributed throughout the United States and some foreign countries.

Habits and Habitats

 Pumpkinseed appear to prefer clear, quiet water with dense aquatic vegetation and are found in weedy ponds, lakes, and slow-moving rivers. It does not grow well in waters where summer temperatures do not reach at least 70° F. Pumpkinseed tend to occupy a home range.


The food of this fish consists mainly of snails and aquatic insects. Small fish and larval forms of frogs and salamanders may also be eaten by larger fish. Small pumpkinseed often fall prey to other species of fish when present in the same area of a lake.

Idaho Conservation Status

Idaho Native or Import

Introduced. In Idaho it is a prominent species in many of the lowland lakes and farm ponds of the panhandle. In 1943 and 1945 it was transferred to southwestern Idaho when large numbers of bass were trapped from Pend Oreille Lake for transplanting. Chances are most of the pumpkinseed from the transplants perished because they were planted in streams that did not contain suitable habitat.


The introduction of pumpkinseed into Idaho was indeed a mistake, since fishing for pumpkinseed is limited to small children and fish caught are seldom eaten due to their small size. The fish do not serve as a forage fish to any extent for other more desirable species of fish.


Simpson and Wallace 1982.Wydoski and Whitney 1979. Image Copyright Joseph Tomelleri. Used by permission.