Female longear sunfish prefer male longears with longer opercular flaps. When a breeding female enters a nesting colony, a male longear sunfish will attempt to lead her to its nest. Leading involves behavior where the male spreads its fins, swims directly toward the female and then returns directly to his nest. If a female follows the male to his nest, they begin a circular spiral of the nest with the female always toward the center. Several spawning events will occur and then the female is chased from the nest. In one study, the total number of eggs laid in a nest varied from about 137 to 2,836 eggs.
Immediately after the female leaves, the male begins to fan the nest with his fins. He then swims vertically over the nest and fans with his tail. The fanning is strong enough to move small pebbles. He will fan the nest up to an hour after the spawning event. This behavior may help mix the eggs and sperm and help drive the eggs deep into the gravel. The female, after being chased from the nest, will enter the nests of other males for additional spawning events.
Mating System: polyandrous
Longear sunfish nest in colonies, although in some populations individuals will build solitary nests. Colony size and the distance between the nests vary. In crowded conditions the colonies can be quite large with the nests so close together their rims almost touch. In dense conditions the male fish only defends the nest itself. In less dense conditions, the nests are further apart and the male will guard a territory slightly larger than the nest.
Male longear sunfish build the nest without aid from the female. In late spring or early summer, males move into relatively shallow water (20 to 60 cm deep) and establish territories in which they build nests. They prefer to nest in gravel if available; otherwise, they will build in sand or hard mud. The nest is created by the powerful sweeping of the male’s tail (called tail-wags) across the bottom while the fish swims at a 45° angle to the gravel. This action results in a circular depression that is about 35 to 45 cm in diameter, 3 to 7 cm deep, with rims 7 to 9 cm wide. Water temperatures in the nest area are relatively warm and vary from approximately from 23° to 31° C. They will reoccupy nests abandoned by other sunfish.
Male longear sunfish also have an interesting alternative reproductive strategy to nest building. Some males are sneakers. The sneaker male is generally younger and less colorful than a nest building (dominant) male. The sneaker male mimics the appearance of a female longear sunfish. The sneaker will hide near an active nest and dash into the nest and release sperm while the dominant male is spawning with a female. The satellite male is similar in age and appearance to the sneaker male, but instead of dashing into the nest, he will hover over a nest, acting like a non-threatening female, and slowly swim down into the nest containing a breeding pair of sunfish and, like the sneaker, release sperm during the spawning event. Male longear sunfish that build solitary nests have better success defending their nests from sneaker and satellite males than males with nests in colonies.
Breeding season: Late May to late August
Range number of offspring: 137 to 2800.
Range time to hatching: 2 to 7 days.
Average time to hatching: 5 days.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (External ); oviparous
Male longear sunfish guard their nest territories during all phases of reproduction. They will continuously chase both their own and other species out of their nesting territories. Males will continue to guard their nests even after all the young have left.
Parental Investment: pre-fertilization (Protecting: Male, Female); pre-hatching/birth (Protecting: Male)
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