MUSCATINE COUNTY, Iowa - State fisheries personnel have found three examples of a longear sunfish, a species last documented in Iowa in 1932 and considered extirpated from the state.
“It’s exciting. It’s a pretty big deal,” said Adam Thiese, the Department of Natural Resources fisheries technician who found the first one earlier this month at the Fairport Fish Hatchery on the Mississippi River near Muscatine.
“For those who work in the fisheries field, both state and nationally, any time an uncommon species can be documented, it’s an exciting discovery,” he said.
Thiese said DNR personnel were not certain that the first fish, believed to be a female, was a longear sunfish, and they are awaiting results of fin clip analysis to be sure.
However, Thiese said biologists are positive that two additional fish collected this week at the hatchery are longear sunfish.
The latter two fish, with more vivid coloring and markings, are believed to be males.
All three fish were found within the hatchery’s rearing ponds, which were inundated this year with Mississippi River floodwaters.
Thiese said a longear sunfish has not been documented in Iowa since 1932.
“How they got here and where they came from remains to be determined,” said Thiese, who speculates they may have been washed into the Mississippi River from tributaries emptying into Pool 16.
“Finding three in a concentrated area in a short time span suggests there may be a remnant population in the area,” he said.
An elongated gill flap, which accounts for their name, is the main characteristic distinguishing the species from other sunfish, Thiese said.
Longears, remaining common in Missouri and several other states, were probably never abundant in Iowa, he said.
Though seldom attaining lengths greater than 6 inches, they are willing biters popular with anglers
The three longears are swimming in an aquarium at the hatchery, at least for the time being.
“They are a neat-looking fish,” Thiese said.
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