Species Profile

Northern Sunfish Great Lakes - Upper St. Lawrence populations

Scientific Name: Lepomis peltastes
Other/Previous Names: Northern Sunfish (Great Lakes - Western St. Lawrence populations)
Taxonomy Group: Fishes
Range: Ontario, Quebec
Last COSEWIC Assessment: April 2016
Last COSEWIC Designation: Special Concern
SARA Status: No schedule, No Status

Individuals of this species may be protected under Schedule 1 under another name; for more information see Schedule 1, the A-Z Species List, or if applicable, the Related Species table below.

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Quick Links: | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Northern Sunfish


Northern Sunfish is a small (length usually less than 13 cm), but otherwise typical, sunfish (Centrarchidae) with a deep, laterally compressed body. It has an upwardly angled opercular flap with a red/orange posterior margin. Breeding males are very colourful, having a reddish breast and bright blue wavy lines radiating posteriorly from the eye and opercle, often into the breast. Adult males retain juvenile characteristics including dark vertical bands and spotting on the dorsal and anal fins. A Northern Sunfish produces grunting sounds when courting. This can be an indicator of habitat quality because of its low tolerance of siltation and turbidity. (Updated 2017/06/01)


Distribution and Population

In Canada, Northern Sunfish range includes northwestern Ontario, south and central Ontario, and southern Québec. In the United States, the Northern Sunfish occurs in Minnesota, eastern Wisconsin, northeastern Illinois, northern Indiana, northern Ohio, northwestern Pennsylvania, northwestern New York, and the lower peninsula of Michigan. Because Northern Sunfish is found in Canada in two National Freshwater Biogeographic Zones it is assessed as two designatable units. (Updated 2017/06/01)



The species prefers shallow, vegetated areas of warm lakes, ponds, and slowly flowing watercourses. Northern Sunfish usually occurs in clear waters and is considered intolerant of siltation. Substrate usually consists of sand and gravel, as in the Thames River. (Updated 2017/06/01)



Northern Sunfish spawns during June and July. Eggs are deposited in a saucer-shaped depression in the substrate excavated by the male. Parental care lasts for a period of approximately 1 week and terminates when fry achieve the free swimming stage. Nesting is often colonial. The species is a generalist feeder, consuming mostly insects taken throughout the water column. It also eats small fishes and fish eggs. Northern Sunfish appears to disperse little and is considered a poor colonizer. (Updated 2017/06/01)



The most important threats, particularly for the Great Lakes – Upper St. Lawrence DU, include siltation and elevated levels of turbidity and contaminants emanating from agricultural and other forms of development. Less important and potential threats include invasive non-native species (particularly Round Goby), collection for the ornamental fish trade, and bycatch in the bait and recreational fisheries. The Saskatchewan-Nelson DU is threatened by invasive largemouth and smallmouth basses and Green Sunfish, whose ranges are expanding in northwestern Ontario. The most important limiting factor is probably the species’ low dispersal capacity, which slows recovery following depopulation and diminishes potential for population rescue. Northern Sunfish is also limited by low tolerance of turbidity. (Updated 2017/06/01)



Federal Protection

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.



PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

4 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Northern Sunfish, Great Lakes - Upper St. Lawrence populations (2017)

    This is a small-bodied member of the sunfish family that inhabits shallow vegetated areas of warm lakes, ponds, and slow-flowing rivers. Its spatial distribution is relatively small and likely patchy. It is suspected that the index of area of occupancy and abundance of the species has declined. Threats are variable across its range with some areas of declining habitat quality and other areas with improving habitat quality. Overall, the threats of siltation, contaminants, and invasive species were assessed as high. The species is likely to become Threatened unless these threats are effectively ameliorated.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2015-2016 (2016)

    Over the past year COSEWIC re-examined the status of 25 wildlife species; of these, the majority (68%) were re-assessed at the same or lower level of risk. Of a total of 45 species assessed, seven were assigned a status of Not at Risk (two re-assessments and five new assessments). To date, and with the submission of this report, COSEWIC’s assessments now include 724 wildlife species in various risk categories, including 320 Endangered, 172 Threatened, 209 Special Concern, and 23 Extirpated (i.e., no longer found in the wild in Canada). In addition, 15 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct, 54 wildlife species have been designated as Data Deficient, and 177 have been assessed and assigned Not at Risk status.

Consultation Documents