Physical characteristics

The perch family is a large one, making generalizations about physical appearance rather difficult. These species do, however, have some unifying traits, such as an elongate body. All percids except the genus Zingel have either two fully separate dorsal fins or two dorsal fins that are only minimally connected. The opercle has one sharp spine. Most fishes in this family, including the North American darters, are on the small side. One exception is the walleye (Stizostedion vitreum), a popular game fish that can grow to 42 in (107 cm).

Sunfishes, many of which are described by the angler simply as "panfish," are typically broad animals with bodies one-third to one-half as tall as they are long. The single dorsal fin usually has 10-12 spines, although the range runs from 5-13. Some, like the longear (Lepomis megalotis) and pumpkinseed sunfishes (L. gibbosus), are colorful in hues of orange, green, and blue, while others are quite drab. Maximum adult sizes range from less than 4 in (10 cm) in two Enneacanthus species, to 39 in (nearly 1 m) in the largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides).

Moronid species all have two dorsal fins, including a spiny front fin and a mostly soft-rayed hind fin. Other distinguishing

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Male Elassoma okefenokee in full breeding color. (Illustration by Michelle Meneghini)

features include a two-spined opercle and a long lateral line with two additional lateral lines on the tail. Maximum adult sizes range from nearly 1.5 ft (46 cm) in the white bass (Morone chrysops), to 6.6 ft (2 m) in the striped sea bass (M. saxatilis).

Members of the pygmy sunfish family have a rounded tail fin and a three- to five-spined dorsal fin with eight to 13 soft rays. They lack a lateral line on the body. Pygmy sunfishes are less broad than the typical centrarchid and considerably smaller. Maximum adult sizes range from 1.3 in (3.3 cm) in the Carolina pygmy sunfish (Elassoma boehlkei), to 1.9 in (4.7 cm) in the banded pygmy sunfish (E. zonatum).

Sunfish nests. (Illustration by Emily Damstra)
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