Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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The Sunfish Family
Nature Bulletin No. 154   may 8, 1948
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
William N. Erickson, President
Roberts Mann, Supt. of Conservation

If a vote were taken among hook-and-line fisherman -- including small boys and grandmothers as well as wealthy sportsmen -- the sunfish and their near relatives, the black bass and the crappies, would be elected the First Family of American waters.

Because of the similarity of their anatomy, these kinds are lumped together by fish scientists and called the Sunfish Family. More members of this family are caught on a hook, each year, in the United States, than all other kinds of fish put together.

Thirteen species are regularly found in Illinois: three kinds of black bass, two kinds of crappies, the rock bass, the warmouth bass, and six of the smaller deep-bodied kinds, of which the bluegill is largest and best known. They range in size from the largemouth black bass -- a 10 lb. 6 oz. prizewinner was caught near Danville, Illinois, a few years ago -- down to the gaudy little orange-spotted sunfish which seldom weighs a half-ounce. All except the three black bass are distinctively and brilliantly marked. Every color of the rainbow, including red, blue, green, pink, orange, yellow, white, russet, silver and copper, may be seen among them. In most kinds the male has brighter colors than the female, particularly during the spawning season, and sometimes a different color pattern.

In the sunfish family the job of raising the young is done by the male. In late spring or early summer he builds a "nest" -- a saucer-like depression hollowed out on the soft mud or sand or gravel bottom, usually in fairly shallow water. Then he brings to it a mature female. She lays her eggs and swims away. Her job is done. The male fertilizes the eggs and stays there to fan fresh water over them and drive away hordes of would-be marauders until the young hatch and are able to take care of themselves .

Some sunfish, notably the bluegill and the pumpkinseed, live largely on plant food but most species are meat-eaters, devouring insects, worms, crayfish and fish smaller than themselves. Of the thousands of young hatched from the eggs laid by each female, very few, if any survive to reach maturity.

For delicate delicious flavor, the bluegill is tops.

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