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A deep-bodied, slab-sided sunfish with a very small mouth, and the upper jaw does not reach the front margin of the eye when the mouth is closed. The spiny dorsal fin has 10 or 11 spines and is broadly connected to the soft dorsal fin. The pectoral fins are elongated and pointed, reaching entirely across the eye when the fins are bent into a forward position. This fish is pale olive with purplish horizontal bars on the sides. The gill cover is small with a light-colored margin and generally has a bright red semi-circular spot with 6 or more wavy emerald bars interspaced with gold or copper on the cheeks. The Pumpkinseed is one of the most colorful sunfish and often hybridize with Bluegill and Green Sunfish, making specific identification difficult and sometimes inaccurate.
Not abundant anywhere in Iowa; occasionally taken in natural lakes and the Mississippi River. Rarely taken in man-made lakes in northern Iowa and very rarely in the interior rivers of the state.
Pumpkinseed, like all sunfish, eat zooplankton when tiny, but graduates to a diet of aquatic insects, snails, and other small mollusks, along with other small fish as they reach adulthood.
0.96 lbs; 10.25 in. - Lake Petocka, Polk County, June, 5, 2020 - Rick Olson, Indianola, Iowa
Pumpkinseeds often eat snails that they pick off of aquatic vegetation; use a small chunk of worm fished near aquatic plants.
The Pumpkinseed lives in clear, quiet sluggish water with large stands of rooted aquatic plants and bottoms of muck or sand covered with organic debris.
The breeding season of the Pumpkinseed occurs at about the same time as Bluegill in Iowa. Preparation starts in May at water temperatures of 60 to 68 degrees, with peak activity in early June. Spawning usually continues through July.
Several thousand eggs are deposited in each nest by one or more females, after which the male guards the nest until the eggs hatch. Pumpkinseeds usually nest nearer to shore and in shallower water than Bluegills, and if nesting space permits, they are colonial nesters. Shady nesting sites are preferred over thin, silt substrates on sand or fine gravel. Young Pumpkinseeds grow to about 1 1/2-inches long the first year, reaching 4-inches and 5 1/2- inches during the following two years. Adults grow to about 8- to 10-inches.
Recent stream sampling information is available from Iowa DNR's biological monitoring and assessment program.
Harlan, J.R., E.B. Speaker, and J. Mayhew. 1987. Iowa fish and fishing. Iowa Conservation Commission, Des Moines, Iowa. 323pp.
Loan-Wilsey, A. K., C. L. Pierce, K. L. Kane, P. D. Brown and R. L. McNeely. 2005. The Iowa Aquatic Gap Analysis Project Final Report. Iowa Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Iowa State University, Ames.
Image credit: Image courtesy of Maynard Reece, from Iowa Fish and Fishing, copyright Iowa Department of Natural Resources.