Mystery of the Longear Sunfish’s Occurrence in North Carolina Solved

Longear Sunfish Lepomis megalotis was first reported from North Carolina by Edward Drinker Cope in 1870, but its whereabouts in the state had been a mystery for almost 150 years. Published literature perpetuated the occurrence of Longear Sunfish and eventually in 1986, its extirpation. Vouchered specimens from Cope’s 1869 survey and 1870 publication are not available but specimens collected later (1930s to 1990s) and purported to be Longear Sunfish, are available at various museums. Bryn H. Tracy, Fritz C. Rohde, and Gabriela M. Hogue reidentified all known vouchered specimens of Longear Sunfish from North Carolina as either Redbreast Sunfish L. auritus, Green Sunfish L. cyanellus, Pumpkinseed L. gibbosus, Dollar Sunfish L. marginatus, Lepomis hybrids, or Bluespotted Sunfish Enneacanthus gloriosus. Their findings indicated that there was no supportive evidence that Longear Sunfish, historically or more recently, ever occurred in North Carolina. Their study also underscored the need for vouchered material and globally accessible specimen data. Without these resources, they would have been unable to unravel this basic zoogeographical question about the true distribution and status of Longear Sunfish in North Carolina. The availability of historical data and vouchered specimens also provides a more complete picture of the distribution of species, allowing us to properly allocate funds for their conservation and restoration.

Longear Sunfish photograph by Scott A. Smith.

Tracy, B. H., Rohde, F. C., and G. M. Hogue. 2020. Ghost sightings made by ichthyologist past: Lepomis megalotis, Longear Sunfish, in North Carolina. Southeastern Naturalist. 19:297-307.

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