Longear sunfish weren’t the first fish I caught, but probably the first fish I caught fly-fishing Ozark creeks. They’re small, aggressive, the males brilliantly colored with orange and cyan. And they’re broadly distributed- native from Pittsburgh to El Paso, from Chicago to New Orleans. Fish from the eastern end of their native range look a little different from those out west. Fish from the north look a little different than those in the south. And in the ancient drainages of the Ozarks and eastern highlands of Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky, fish from one drainage can look a little different from others in nearby drainages.
Some scientists at Yale decided to run the genetics. Where once we thought longears were one or two species, they’ve found six. Their distinct genetic lineages reflect the deep history of central North America- the advance and retreat of glaciers, rise and fall of upland areas, stream capture and isolation.
They’re more than just pretty.