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First Record of Acantharchus pomotis (Mud Sunfish) from Alabama
Steven J. Rider and Wiley Schell

Southeastern Naturalist, Volume 11, Issue 1 (2012): 145–148

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First Record of Acantharchus pomotis (Mud Sunfish) from Alabama 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 (Pardue 1993). 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 - Notes of the Southeastern Nat u ral ist, Issue 11/1, 2012 145 146 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 County, AL. 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. Literature Cited Cashner, R.C., B.M. Burr, and J.S. Rogers. 1989. Geographic variation of the Mud Sunfish Acantharchus pomotis (Family Centrarchidae). Copeia 1:129–141. Jenkins, R.E., and N.M. Burkhead. 1994. Freshwater Fishes of Virginia. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, MD. 479 pp. Laerm, J., and B.J. Freeman. 1986. Fishes of the Okefenokee Swamp. University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA. 118 pp. Mansueti, R., and H.J. Elser. 1953. Ecology, age, and growth of the Mud Sunfish, Acantharchus pomotis, in Maryland. Copeia 2:117–119. Marcy, B.C., Jr., D.E. Fletcher, F.D. Martin, M.H. paller, and M.J.M. Reichert. 2005. Fishes of the Middle Savannah River Basin. University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA. 462 pp. 148 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 11, No. 1 NatureServe. 2011. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life. NatureServe, Arlington, VA. Available online at Accessed 28 April 2011. Near, T.J., D.I. Bolnick, and P.C. Wainwright. 2004. Investigating phylogenetic relationships of sunfishes and black basses (Actinopterygii: Centrarchidae) using DNA sequences from mitochondrial and nuclear genes. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 32:344–357. Page, L.M., and B.M. Burr. 2011. Peterson Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes of North America North of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, New York, NY. 663 pp. Pardue, G.B. 1993. Life history and ecology of the Mud Sunfish (Acantharchus pomotis). Copeia 2:533–540. Rohde, F.C., R.G. Arndt, J.W. Foltz, and J.M. Quattro. 2009. Freshwater Fishes of South Carolina. The University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, SC. 430 pp.