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Orangespotted sunfish

Orangespotted sunfish


large mouth that extends to front of eye when closed; spiny dorsal fin with 10 spines, directly connected to soft part of fin; long gill flap with vivid orange spots on the side; medium gill raker length; sides olive colored with fine golden or emerald dots


Orangespotted sunfish Distribution



aquatic insects, crustaceans, and occasionally other small fish

State Record


Expert Tip


This colorful, small sunfish is widely distributed throughout Iowa. It is most commonly found in the man-made lakes, natural lakes and interior streams. It is occasionally observed in the Mississippi and rare in the Missouri River.

The orangespot is a moderately deep-bodied, slab-sided sunfish with a large mouth that extends to the front of the eye when the mouth is closed. The spiny dorsal fin has 10 spines and is directly connected to the soft part of the fin. Pectoral fins are short and rounded, usually not reaching past the eye when extended in a forward position. The opercular flap is long and black with a whitish margin. The most striking features of the orangespotted sunfish are the vivid red or orange spots on the sides of males and the more subdued brownish-orange spots on females. The sides are olive colored with profuse sprinkling of fine golden and emerald dots. Pelvic and anal fins are fringed in black.

Like most sunfish family members, the orangespot is an omnivorous feeder, taking a wide variety of crustaceans and aquatic insects, both adult and larval forms, and on occasion foraging on small fish.

The orangespotted sunfish spawns by nesting in colonies with the male fish constructing a nest by excavating a small depression in the sand or gravel in typical sunfish fashion. Since this is the smallest sunfish member, it also builds the smallest nests. Spawning lasts from May through August at which time the males are so brightly colored they appear to be painted artificials. The male stays with the nest for about 5 days or until the eggs hatch.

Orangespots reach about an inch in length by the end of their first year of life and grow to about 2 inches in the second year. Growth continues at about one inch each year for the first 4 years. Adults mature at about 2 inches in length and fish longer than 4 inches are very rare in Iowa.


Present in these Iowa water bodies:

Lake/Stream County Location Acres/Length
Coralville Reservoir Johnson 4 miles north of Iowa City 5280.00
Trumbull Lake Clay 4 miles west, 5 miles north of Ruthven 1183.00
Lost Island Lake Palo Alto 3 miles north of Ruthven 1162.00
Silver Lake (Dickinson) Dickinson west edge of Lake Park 1041.00
Five Island Lake Palo Alto north edge of Emmetsburg 973.00
Lake Macbride Johnson 4 miles West of Solon 889.00
High Lake Emmet 6 miles east of Wallingford 467.00
West Swan Lake S.W.M.A. Emmet 3m SE Gruver 379.00
Swan Lake Dickinson 2m N Superior 371.00
Bartlett Lake Fremont ½ mile west of Bartlett 22.00
Scharnberg Pond Clay 3m E Everly 10.00
Wapsi River Trout Section Mitchell Located 0.5 mile west of McIntire. 2.50