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Pumpkinseeds are a small- to medium-sized fish. They are one of the most colorful warm water fish, with a bronze to red-orange belly and irregular, wavy, interconnecting blue-green lines over a golden brown to olive background. Although often confused with bluegill, pumpkinseeds are identified by the bright scarlet spot on the rear portion of their gill flaps. They also have wavy emerald or blue streaks on the sides of their head that the bluegill lacks. Pumpkinseeds have long, pointed pectoral fins and no spot on the soft portion of their dorsal fin.
Pumpkinseeds are the most abundant and widespread sunfish species in New York, and are also the most abundant sunfish species in Oneida Lake. They live in a wide range of habitats from small lakes and ponds to shallow, weedy bays of large lakes to quiet pools of slow moving streams. Similar to other true sunfish, pumpkinseeds eat a wide variety of prey, including insects, crustaceans, mollusks, and small fish. Some examples of their Oneida Lake diet include snails, zebra mussels, caddisfly larva, and amphipods.
Pumpkinseed spawning takes place from May to August. Nests are grouped in colonies, and are located in 6-12 inches of water in areas of submerged vegetation. Male pumpkinseeds dig circular nests that are twice as long as they are. To do this, the male uses his tail like a fan and then moves any remaining objects with his mouth. Females carry 1,500-3,000 eggs, and deposit them by swimming in circles inside the nest. More than one female pumpkinseed may spawn in a single male’s nest, and the male vigorously guards the nest until the young hatch and swim away.
Of all the sunfish in New York, the pumpkinseed is a favorite of children. It is one of the most easily caught freshwater species, readily biting small pieces of bait. They are strong fighters and have sweet-tasting fillets. Pumpkinseeds often provide good sport when other fish are not biting.
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