Lepomis is a genus of freshwater fish in the sunfish family, Centrarchidae, in the order Perciformes. Perhaps the most recognizable species of this genus is the bluegill.

Temporal range: Middle Miocene to Recent
Redbreast sunfish (L. auritus), the type species of the genus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Perciformes
Family: Centrarchidae
Subfamily: Lepominae
Genus: Lepomis
Rafinesque, 1819
Type species
Lepomis auritus
Linnaeus, 1758

Some Lepomis species can grow to a maximum overall length of 41 cm (16 in), though most average around 10–20 cm (3.9–7.9 in). They are widely distributed throughout the lakes and rivers of the United States and Canada, and several species have been transplanted and flourished around the world, even becoming pests. Trade in some Lepomis species is prohibited in Germany for this reason.[1] Many are sought by anglers as panfish, and large numbers are bred to stock lakes, rivers, and tributaries.

Lepomis species are sometimes referred to as bream, but the term more properly refers to the unrelated European cypriniform fish of genus Abramis.

The generic name Lepomis derives from the Greek λεπίς (scale) and πῶμα (cover, plug, operculum).


Phylogeny of all Lepomis species based on a partitioned mixed-model Bayesian analysis of a seven gene dataset of mitochondrial and nuclear gene DNA sequences by Near et al. (2005),[2] expanded with fossil species. Subgenera in bold follow Bailey (1938):

genus Micropterus
genus Lepomis
clade I**

L. humilis

L. macrochirus

clade Chaenobryttus

L. gulosus

L. kansasensis

L. serratus

clade Apomotis

L. symmetricus

L. cyanellus

clade II**
subgen. Lepomis

L. auritus

clade Icthelis

L. marginatus

L. peltastes*

L. megalotis

subgen. Eupomotis

L. gibbosus

L. microlophus

clade Bryttus

L. punctatus

L. miniatus

L. sp. A ***

*) L. peltastes was not originally included in the analysis by Near et al. (2005) and is included here based on commonly accepted sister relationship to L. megalotis.[3]

**) See section 'Evolutionary History' below for explanation.

***) Phylogenetic position in clade II uncertain. See section 'Fossil record' for clarification.

Evolutionary history

Phylogenetic reconstructions using a combination of nuclear and mitochondrial DNA sequences calibrated with fossils to estimate ages of divergences suggests that the genus Lepomis diverged from the black bass in genus Micropterus, its sister taxon, about 25 million years ago.[4] The deepest split among currently living species of Lepomis is dated to ~15 million years ago and separates genus Lepomis into two clades: clade I that leads to the modern bluegill, orange-spotted, green, and warmouth sunfish, and a clade II that includes the modern long-ear, red-breasted, pumpkinseed, redear, and red-spotted sunfish (see section 'Phylogeny' above). The timing of this speciation event roughly corresponds with the Middle Miocene disruption that resulted in increased aridity on the plains of North America and a transition from savannah to grasslands,[5] although the relevance of these environmental changes to the evolution of Lepomis is unclear.

Fossil record

No fossils unambiguously assigned to genus Lepomis are currently known from the putative stem-lineage that must have existed between 25-15 million years ago, spanning most of the early Miocene.

Currently, four extinct species of Lepomis are known from the fossil record:

There are at least two as yet undescribed fossil species of Lepomis that reach back to the middle Miocene:

  • Lepomis sp. A consists of fragmentary fossils of its lower jaw from Nebraska, dated to 13.5 million years ago, and shows morphological similarities to the modern Lepomis microlophus,[6] although its great age means that this species predates the divergence of any of the living species.
  • Lepomis sp. B was found in deposits in Kansas, dated to 12 million years ago.[7]

Two other more recent fossil species appear to be closely allied to Lepomis gulosus, and indeed their earliest occurrence may be close to the divergence of the lineage leading to the modern warmouth from other species of Lepomis:

  • Lepomis kansasensis lived 6.6 million years ago, and had pterygoid teeth, indicating a close relationship to the warmouth.[8]
  • Lepomis serratus is known from 3.4 to 2.0 million year old deposits in Nebraska, and also appears to be closely related to or ancestral to the warmouth on the basis of its preopercle.[9][10]


There are currently 13 recognized species in this genus:[11]


  1. Przybylski, Mirosław, and Grzegorz Zięba. "Invasive Alien Species Fact Sheet." NOBANIS – Invasive Alien Species Fact Sheet. NOBANIS. NOBANIS, 2011. Web. 5 Jan. 2015. Invasive Alien Species Fact Sheet - Lepomis gibbosus
  2. Near, T. J., D. I. Bolnick, and P. C. Wainwright (2005). "Fossil calibrations and molecular divergence time estimates in centrarchid fishes (Teleostei: Centrarchidae)". Evolution. 59: 1768–1782. doi:10.1111/j.0014-3820.2005.tb01825.x.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. Bailey, R. M., W. C. Latta, and G. R. Smith (2004). "An atlas of Michigan fishes with keys and illustrations for their identification". University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, Miscellaneous Publications. 192.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. S. J. Cooke, D. P. Philipp (2009). Centrarchid fishes: diversity, biology, and conservation. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. pp. 1–38. ISBN 9781405133425.
  5. National Research Council (1995). Effects of Past Global Change on Life. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. pp. 184–208. ISBN 978-0-309-05127-9.
  6. Smith, C.L. (1962). "Some Pliocene fishes from Kansas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska". Copeia. 1962: 505–520. doi:10.2307/1441172.
  7. Wilson, R.L. (1968). "Systematics and faunal analysis of a Lower Pliocene vertebrate assemblage from Trego County, Kansas". Contributions from the Museum of Paleontology University of Michigan. 22: 75–126.
  8. Hibbard, C.W. (1936). "Two new sunfish of the family Centrarchidae from middle Pliocene Kansas". University of Kansas Science Bulletin. 24: 177–185.
  9. M. F. Skinner, and C. W. Hibbard, editors. (1972). Pleistocene Preglacial and Glacial Rocks and Faunas of North Central Nebraska. American Museum of Natural History, New York. pp. 40–54.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  10. Bennett, D.K. (1979). "Three Late Cenozoic fish faunas from Nebraska". Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science. 82: 146–177. doi:10.2307/3627406.
  11. Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2013). Species of Lepomis in FishBase. February 2013 version.
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