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First Record of Acantharchus pomotis (Mud Sunfish) from
Steven J. Rider1,* and Wiley Schell2
Abstract - We report on the first records of Acantharchus pomotis (Mud Sunfish) from Alabama.
Three specimens were collected over a ten-year period from Beaver Dam Creek of the Tombigbee
River drainage in Washington County, near Chatom, AL. These records represent the most western
distribution and the only known population from the Mobile Basin for the Mud Sunfish.
Acantharchus pomotis (Baird) (Mud Sunfish) is a small (less than 218 mm TL) member of the
Centrarchidae family. The Mud Sunfish belongs to a monotypic genus and is one of 32
species of Centrarchidae (Page and Burr 2011). It can be identified from other sunfishes
as usually having 5 or more anal fin spines and less than 15 gill rakers, and being the only
member of Centrarchidae with cycloid scales (Rhode et al. 2009). The body of the Mud
Sunfish is deep and robust with rounded pectoral and caudal fins (Jenkins and Burkhead
1994). A dark spot occurs on the operculum, and body coloration ranges from brown on
the dorsum to yellowish tan on the sides. The young are pale olive in color (Jenkins and
Burkhead 1994). Three to four parallel dark stripes are also present that extend from the
cheek along the length of the body (Rohde et al. 2009).
The Mud Sunfish occurs in swamps and sluggish waters along the Atlantic Coastal
Plain from New Jersey to tributaries of the Gulf Coastal Plain in Georgia and Florida
(Marcy et al. 2005, Rohde et al. 2009). Preferred habitat characteristics are typically
undercut banks and pools with bottom substrates consisting of mud, silt, and detritus associated
with aquatic vegetation (Laerm and Freeman 1986, Marcy et al. 2005). Complex
clinal variation exists from the northern to southern range for the Mud Sunfish, but more
recent meristic and morphometric analyses did not support the existence of any subspecies
(Cashner et al. 1989). Phylogenetic analysis revealed that Acantharchus pomotis is
one of four major centrarchid lineages; however, phylogenetic tree placement was inconsistent
in regards to several genes tested (Near et al. 2004).
The Mud Sunfish is poorly studied due to its nocturnal nature, low natural densities,
and preferred swamp habitat, which is difficult to sample (Mansueti and Elser 1953,
Marcy et al. 2005). The few studies conducted have revealed that spawning varies with
latitude. Gravid females were collected late spring to early summer in Delaware, and
spawning occurred in North Carolina and Georgia from early fall to late winter (Laerm
and Freeman 1986, Marcy et al. 2005, Pardue 1993). Maximum age was estimated at
8 years based on scale examination, and sexual maturity was reached by age 1 in New
York (Mansueti and Elser 1953, Pardue 1993). Mud Sunfish forage mainly on amphipods,
decapods, and coleopterans, though their diets also include fish and odonates
The Mud Sunfish is extirpated in Pennsylvania and possibly New York, and is classifi
ed as vulnerable to imperiled in five (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, and
Florida) of the eight states where it still occurs (NatureServe 2011). Populations in New
Jersey and North Carolina are designated as apparently stable to stable (NatureServe
1Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, Fisheries Section, Aquatic Resources
Program, 64 North Union Street, Suite 551, Montgomery, AL 36104. 2PO Box 1133, Chatom, AL
36518. *Corresponding author - Steve.Rider@dcnr.alabama.gov.
Notes of the Southeastern Nat u ral ist, Issue 11/1, 2012
146 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 11, No. 1
2011). Based on state wildlife action plans (SWAP), it is considered a species of conservation
concern in four states (New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and South Carolina).
The first Mud Sunfish collected from Alabama was caught with hook and line in July
2000 from a swamp area in Beaver Dam Creek (Tombigbee River drainage), Washington
County in southwestern Alabama (Fig. 1). The fish was released due to its small body
size, but the second author noted five anal spines, the stripes along the side of the body,
and that the coloration of the fish was unlike any fish he had previously caught. A second
specimen was caught on 28 August 2009, using hook and line. The fish was maintained in
a home aquarium to verify identification. The Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater
Fisheries was contacted, and the first author confirmed the specimen as a Mud Sunfish.
The specimen, which measured 106 mm total length (TL) and weighed 21.1 g, was fixed
in 10% formalin and preserved in 70% ethanol. The species was verified as a Mud Sunfi
sh by mitochondrial cytochrome-b sequence data (M. Sandel, University of Alabama,
Tuscaloosa, AL, unpubl. data) obtained from a fin clip fixed in ethanol.
Figure 1. Collection
location (*) for Mud
Sunfish in Beaver
Dam Creek, Washington
Figure 2. Photograph of the Mud Sunfish specimen collected 15 April 2010, Beaver Dam Creek,
Washington County, AL.
2012 Southeastern Naturalist Notes 147
Sampling using a backpack electrofisher and dip nets was conducted on 15 April
2010, and a third specimen was collected using a dip net from an undercut bank. It
measured 102 mm TL and weighed 18.7 g (Fig. 2). Other species collected included:
Amia calva L. (Bowfin), Esox americanus Gmelin (Redfin Pickerel), Aphredoderus
sayanus (Gilliams) (Pirate Perch), Fundulus nottii (Agassiz) (Bayou Topminnow),
Gambusia affinis (Baird and Girard) (Western Mosquitofish), Elassoma zonatum
Jordan (Banded Pygmy Sunfish), Lepomis gulosus (Cuvier) (Warmouth), Lepomis
macrochirus Rafinesque (Bluegill), Lepomis miniatus Jordan (Redspotted Sunfish),
and Amphiuma means Garden (Two-Toed Amphiuma).
Beaver Dam Creek is an intermittent stream and tributary to Little Bassetts Creek,
which drains into Bassetts Creek, and then the Tombigbee River. The swamp area begins
downstream of a beaver dam, is approximately 0.35 km in length, and encompasses an
area of 0.9 ha. The creek upstream of the beaver dam and downstream of the swamp
typically runs dry in the summer. However, the swamp is fed by freshwater springs
providing a constant, but minimal water source year round for the swamp area. An abundance
of aquatic vegetation, including Cobomba caroliniana Gray (Fanwort), Vallisneria
americana Michx. (Eel Grass), Potamogeton nodosus Poir. (Long-Leaf Pondweed) and
Nymphaea odorata Ait. (Fragrant Waterlily), is present in the swamp area. The water
is typically stained brown, and the bottom is composed of mud, silt, and detritus. The
canopy consisted of Pinus elliottii Engelm. (Slash Pine) and Nyssa aquatica L. (Water
Tupelo) along with other abundant species, such as Acer rubrum L. (Red Maple) and
Cyrilla racemiflora L. (Swamp Titi).
It is uncertain if this is an introduced or relict population. We hypothesize this may
be an isolated, native population that has been overlooked in past sampling efforts.
This site is inaccessible from public roadways and is surrounded by private lands,
thereby limiting any past sampling efforts. Beaver Dam Creek is shown as an intermittent
stream on maps, and past wadeable fish sampling in Washington County has been
generally limited. Additionally, the species assemblage and habitat characteristics
of this site are similar to other areas where native Mud Sunfish populations occur, and
this area has escaped large-scale modification of drained wetlands with pine monoculture
prevalent in the region. Future sampling trips to collect additional specimens
are necessary to determine the distribution and status of this species in Alabama and
to provide additional tissue samples for further genetic analysis, which could provide
insight into the origin of the Alabama Mud Sunfish population.
Acknowledgments. The authors wish to thank Andrew Henderson, John Raleigh Hubbard,
and Larry Hubbard for sampling assistance. This manuscript was improved by
comments from Carol Johnston and two anonymous reviewers. The two collected specimens
will be deposited in the Auburn University Natural History Museum Fish Collection.
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