The sunfish family includes many of New York's most widely-recognized and popular fishes. Largemouth and smallmouth "black basses", rock bass, and both white and black crappies are members of this family. This family also includes many colorful and attractive fishes, such as the little-known bluespotted sunfish and the almost ubiquitous pumpkinseed.
Members of the sunfish family are generally deep-bodied and compressed laterally, which provides them with a round and thin "pancake-like" appearance. Their fins often have both soft rays and stiff spines that provide protection from predators. For example, the sunfish dorsal fin (located on the "top" or back of a fish) is divided into spiny and soft-rayed sections, and the front section of the anal fin has three or more spines. The caudal fin (e.g. tail) is notched or slightly forked. Paired pectoral and pelvic fins are located towards the front of the fish, and provide members of this family with the ability to make short movements with frequent turns, rather than cruise quickly through the water. Sunfish generally thrive in warmwater, fertile lakes with abundant shoreline aquatic plants or other protective cover within which they can easily maneuver.
All sunfish are nest builders, and their saucer-shaped nests can be frequently observed along the shoreline of ponds, lakes and streams in late spring. These nests usually consist of a circular depression in silt, sand or gravel that is lighter in color than the surrounding substrate because an adult male has consistently scraped silt, algae or other organic material from accumulating within the nest area. An active, nest-guarding male can often be observed swimming within the nest vicinity, guarding both eggs and newly-hatched young. A few days after hatching, the young emerge from the nest, at which time the guarding parent leaves them to care for themselves.
All sunfish are carnivorous. Small species and young individuals of larger species eat small invertebrates (such as insects, crustaceans, and mollusks) and small fish. Larger individuals feed more frequently on fish and crayfish. The maximum size of sunfish varies greatly; the longear sunfish seldom reaches 5 inches or weighs more than a few ounces, whereas the largemouth bass may reach 2 feet and exceed 10 pounds.