8 surprising facts about sunfish

“But how can you like sunfish so much?” Ever since I first saw a really big one in Bali, they have entered my top 3 of sea critters and I always try to find them by traveling to destinations where they are common. While there are marine species that draw more or less attention for their power like the white shark, for their elegance like the manta ray or for their color like the nudibranchs, I am fascinated by this not so graceful giant that seems to have the half of his body left.

We are pretty sure that after reading these 8 facts about sunfish they will also begin to be one of your favorite fish.

LAYS UP TO 5,000,000 EGGS AT A TIME

Yes, you read that right. Up to 5 million eggs at a time! The female sunfish holds the record among vertebrates when it comes to creating and laying eggs. A good way to ensure her offspring and incidentally feed the ocean.

MULTIPLIES ITS SIZE 60 MILLION TIMES

Newly hatched sunfish larvae are only 2.5mm long and weigh 500 microns, 0.0005 grams. Upon reaching adulthood, they could grow to more than 60 million times their birth size, weighing up to 2 tons. Something like if you were to reach 200,000,000 kg at the age of 40.

How can you not love this giant?

IT HAS 2 DIFFERENT LARVAE STAGES

The vast majority of fish only have a larval stage… except for the wonderful sunfish. During the first phase they resemble small puffer fish, with round bodies, spines, tails, and well-developed tail fins.

pez luna larva
Could there be a more amazing fish larva? Image of Kerryn Parkinson

During the second larval stage, they lose their spines and reabsorb their tails.

THEY SUBMERGE TO GREAT DEPTHS

One of the favorite foods of the sunfish are the siphonophores, going down to 500 meters to find them. This may be precisely one of the reasons why they can be seen sunbathing lying on the sea surface, to warm up and regulate their body temperature after being in waters with temperatures below 5ºC.

pez luna en la superficie
Sunfish lying in the sun to increase their body temperature

THEY FEED FISH AND BIRDS

This is another reason why it “lies down” on the surface. Hosting up to 40 different species of parasites on their skin, they come close to the surface for deworming by both fish and birds. Gulls are their favorite helpers who, thanks to the length and strength of their beak, can pick off the biggest and most annoying parasites.

THEY ARE VERY MODERN FISH

Despite their weird and prehistoric appearance, mola molas are one of the youngest fish species in the ocean. They belong to the Molidae family, a family of fish born in the Miocene, 500 million years later than most fish species.

THEY HAVE A UNIQUE AND VERY PARTICULAR SKELETON

Esqueleto de pez luna
Sunfish skeleton. Picture by Animalogic

The spinal column of the sunfish contains fewer vertebrae and is shorter relative to its body than that of other fish. It has a reduced skeleton that is mostly cartilaginous. It also lacks ribs.

THEY FEED ON JELLYFISH

Given the proliferation of jellyfish with the warming of the ocean and the few predators they have, just because they feed on them the mola mola should be one of everyone’s favorite fish. Although the sunfish is an opportunistic predator and eats a multitude of different prey (from fish to squid, larvae or crustaceans), it is believed that more than 25% of its diet consists of jellyfish and siphonophores and Portuguese man o’war. That in such a large animal, 25% represents a large number of jellyfish.

In fact, it has a throat similar to another large jellyfish predator, the leatherback sea turtle, which has spines in its throat that help prevent prey from escaping once it has been engulfed.

It will always be one of our favorite fish and we hope that if you did not know it so well we have managed to get it up in your top 10 favorite fish. We did it?

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