Pumpkinseed 101: Care, Diet, Tank Size, Tankmates & More

The Pumpkinseed fish, also known as Lepomis gibbosus, is a freshwater member of the Centrarchidae family, which can be found primarily in North America. 

Other names you might hear used to refer to the Pumpkinseed are sunfish (colloquially reduced to ‘sunny’), pond perch, kivver, and punkie. 

Most Pumpkinseeds are geographically located in the northeastern United States and live in calm areas of freshwater, such as lakes and ponds, creeks, and slow-flowing rivers. 

Pumpkinseeds frequently find themselves face-to-face with humans who fish in the waters where they live, but these fish are also becoming increasingly common as pets. 

Care Guide

Tank Size

We’re assuming you’re not planning on keeping a singular sunfish in an aquarium by itself, simply because the most common arrangement is to keep these fish in pairs. Pumpkinseeds can tolerate being alone, however, so it’s completely up to you if you’d prefer to commit to just one fish.

Based on the assumption that you’ll be keeping a pair of Pumpkinseeds, we recommend a tank no smaller than 75 gallons. According to some experts, you might be able to get away with a 55-gallon tank, but in our opinion, this is a more suitable size for a single Pumpkinseed. 

Naturally, if you plan on keeping more than two Pumpkinseed fish, you should adjust the size of your tank accordingly to avoid overcrowding. 

Tank Mates

We don’t recommend keeping Pumpkinseeds with fish of other species in the same tank. 

The reason for this is that the Pumpkinseed’s territorial nature (see ‘Behavior & Temperament’) makes such an arrangement unsustainable in the long term. 

When Pumpkinseeds are still juvenile, it’s not uncommon for them to form shawls with other species of fish. However, the Pumpkinseed naturally becomes more territorial with age, to the point where pairs of Pumpkinseeds will isolate themselves from other fish. 

Same Species Tanks

Adult Pumpkinseeds prefer to live and travel either in pairs or small shawls. Therefore, it’s perfectly acceptable to keep several members of this species together in the same tank. 

With that being said, it’s important to put some thought into how many fish you’ll keep and which sex(es) you will choose. 

One thing’s for sure: if you don’t want to end up accidentally breeding a whole school of Pumpkinseeds, you’ll need to limit your tank’s inhabitants to a single sex. 

In the majority of cases, we would advise against keeping two males of this species together.

The males are known for being particularly aggressive towards one another once they reach sexual maturity, especially when they are in breeding condition. Therefore, a pair of female Pumpkinseeds will be the safest bet for fish keepers who aren’t interested in breeding. 

Water Parameters

Pumpkinseeds are quite hardy as fish go, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take care of their water parameters. 

The pH of your Pumpkinseed’s tank should always remain between 7 and 7.5. The temperature should fall between 40 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. 

What To Put In Their Tank

In the wild, Pumpkinseeds will seek out bodies of clear water with organic substrate and thick areas of vegetation for them to hide in. This is, therefore, the environment you will need to recreate in your Pumpkinseed’s tank. 

Choose a natural substrate for the bottom of the tank and fill it with water that matches the parameters outlined above (see Water Parameters). Find a way to stand some aquatic plants amongst the substrate so that your Pumpkinseed has somewhere to take shelter that feels natural to them. 

Common Diseases

The Pumpkinseed Sunfish may be prone to a variety of parasitic infections. Myxosporea is a parasite that commonly affects the Pumpkinseed. It is a microscopic parasite, infestation with which can ultimately prove fatal. 

Myxosporea will typically infect the gallbladder, gills, skin, and muscles of infected fish and create spores, which reproduce and ultimately cause damage to the infected fish. 

The most common parasitic infection in Pumpkinseeds, however, is caused by Onchocleidus dispar. This type of parasitic infection is most common in the males of the species, which researchers suspect may be due to different levels of exposure in the wild through behaviors such as nest building. 

Food & Diet 

The Pumpkinseed is a carnivorous fish and most of its diet is made up of worms and insects. Other fish also feature in the Pumpkinseed’s diet, but these must be very small fish, such as minnow fry. 

Pumpkinseeds are known for being quite picky, especially when they are first introduced to a new environment. However, over time, you may be able to diversify your Pumpkinseed’s diet to include frozen bloodworms, fresh shrimp, and fish flakes, amongst other things. They may also come to enjoy snails or mollusks. 

Occasionally, Pumpkinseeds are known to consume small amounts of vegetation, although this should only form a very small part of their diet. 


Generally speaking, Pumpkinseeds can live for up to 8 or 10 years. This is the maximum estimated lifespan, however, so it’s not uncommon for Pumpkinseeds to die before this point, especially in the event of a common parasitic infection or issues in their environment.

The average lifespan of the Pumpkinseed is around 6 to 8 years. 


The body of the Pumpkinseed Sunfish is saucer-shaped. It has a forked tail and a dorsal fin that is spined at the front and rounded at the back. 

One of the features that makes the Pumpkinseed such an appealing aquarium fish is its coloring. On the fish’s body, you’ll notice a combination of orange, yellow, blue, and green.

The belly is typically orange, while the scales behind the ears can range from orange to a brighter red color. You might also be able to observe orange and blue, wavy lines traversing the cheeks.


Most Pumpkinseeds will grow to between 4 and 6 inches in length, although it is not unheard of for a Pumpkinseed Sunfish to grow up to 12 inches long. 

Behavior & Temperament 

Due to its (usually) relatively small size, the Pumpkinseed Sunfish may not appear to be much of a threat. However, this is a naturally territorial species. 

As we mentioned earlier (see ‘Same Species Tanks’), the males of this species are prone to aggression towards each other. This aggression is amplified by breeding season, which is also why females often need to be separated from groups of males at this time because of their aggressive mating behaviors (for more, see ‘Breeding’). 

These little fish are also very physically and mentally active. They are curious and eager to investigate any changes or disturbances in their environment. 


Pumpkinseeds become sexually mature at the age of approximately 2 years old, although this can range from 1 to 3 years. 

Mating behavior between male and female Pumpkinseeds begins with nest building, which is followed by a chase. The male will drive this chase, actively pushing the female towards their nest.

Once the female has been driven into the nest, the male initiates a kind of dance which involves the pair making contact with their abdomens. In this position, the male will then release a fluid known as milt, while the female will release her eggs. Through this process, the eggs become fertilized. 

Pumpkinseed Sunfish will spawn in the warmer months, usually between May and July. The water needs to be at a certain temperature (approximately 68 degrees Fahrenheit) before the mating process can begin. 

A male and female Pumpkinseed will build nests in close proximity to other pairs of Pumpkinseeds, effectively forming a community of fish. Once the nest is built, the female will lay her eggs.

She is capable of laying hundreds of eggs at a time. In some cases, female Pumpkinseeds will spawn in other nests in the colony and nest sharing (as well as simultaneous fertilization) is not uncommon. 

The male’s role is to guard and defend the egg from potential predators (mostly insects) and any debris that could land on the eggs and damage or stifle them. He will protect against the latter by batting the particles away with his tail. 

Even after the Pumpkinseed fry have hatched, the male continues to be responsible for their safety. This usually involves catching fry that try to leave the nest prematurely and physically bringing them back to the nest.

This duty of care continues for about 11 days, after which point, the fry will leave the nest permanently. 

Gender Differences: Male vs. Female 

You might be able to tell a male Pumpkinseed from a female based on its coloring alone. Typically, male Pumpkinseed Sunfish are brighter than the females, featuring more of the vivid colors such as red and orange. Female Pumpkinseeds are usually slightly less vibrant to look at. 

Fun Facts 

  • Pumpkinseeds prefer to eat in the afternoon as opposed to any other time of day. 
  • The world record for the biggest Pumpkinseed Sunfish ever caught was a fish weighing 1 lb and 6 ounces. 
  • Sometimes, Pumpkinseed Sunfish will interbreed with a similar and closely-related fish species: the Bluegill.