Pomoxis nigromaculatusCalico bass(Also: Crappie; Grass bass; Marigane noire; Moonfish)

Geographic Range

The black crappie, Pomoxis nigromaculatus, is found in freshwater streams and rivers as well as lakes and has a native range that encompasses the majority of the eastern United States. The black crappie can be found as far west as the Mississippi River, north to the border between the United States and Canada, and south to the Gulf Coast. The eastern boundary reaches from Virginia southward through Florida. Due to the demand from sport fishing, the geographical range of the black crappie has been greatly expanded. Stocking of lakes has increased the black crappies range to include all of the continental United States. (NatureServe, 2013; Rohde, et al., 1994)


The black crappie is found in freshwater lakes, streams, and ponds as well as reservoirs. Characteristics of habitats most commonly inhabited by the black crappie include; cool, deep, and clearer bodies of water with little to no current, substrate composed mainly of sand or mud, and ample cover for protection. The water depth black crappie are found in varies due to environmental factors, reproductive behavior, and feeding behavior. Black crappie are found in shallow waters during the winter months or when they are feeding or spawning. (Phelps, et al., 2009; Ross, 2001; Trautman, 1981)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams

Physical Description

The black crappie is part of the family Centrarchidae (sunfish family) which are distinguished by ray-fins. The black crappie’s dorsal fin contains 7-8 spines, which distinguishes it from the Pomoxis annularis (white crappie) which only has 5-6 spines. The black crappie is a laterally compressed, round-bodied fish with symmetrical dorsal and anal fins. Its large mouth is upturned with the lower jaw protruding out. The coloration of the black crappie is typically a dark olive-green to black on top and a lighter silvery coloration below the lateral line. The black crappie has black mottling on much of the body and lighter colored, spotted fins. Black crappie display sexual dimorphism (males larger) and dichromatism (male is darker). Age and habitat also have an impact on the coloration of the black crappie. Black crappies with less coloration tend to be juveniles or live in habitats with turbid waters. Habitats that are clear with ample vegetation are correlated with crappies that have darker coloration and mottling. The typical adult black crappie is 13.0cm-30.5cm in length and weighs 28.0g-800.0g. (Rohde, et al., 1994; Ross, 2001; Trautman, 1981)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • Range mass
    28.0 to 800.0 g
    0.99 to 28.19 oz
  • Range length
    13.0 to 30.5 cm
    5.12 to 12.01 in


The black crappie starts as a fertilized egg that takes approximately 2-3 days to hatch. The eggs of the black crappie are spherical typically measuring 0.93 mm and contain one oil globule. A newly-hatched larval black crappie is typically around 2.3 mm in length and is transparent. As development continues, the black crappie darkens and develops the classic coloration throughout the first year of life and grow 50.8-76.2 mm. The black crappie displays indeterminate growth. However, there are growth-limiting factors which include: population density, habitat, and availability of resources. (Dockendorf and Allen, 2005; Pope and Willis, 1998)


Male black crappies build loosely-defined nests for reproduction. These nest sites are typically constructed on firm substrates such as clay and sand. The nests tend to be in slow-moving, shallow waters protected by dense vegetation. Froese and Pauly (2015) found that the black crappie nesting sites are colonial with each individual male nest averaging less than 60 cm from the next male's nest. These nest sites attract the female black crappie to spawn. The black crappie is thought to be polyandrous with one female black crappie laying eggs in multiple male nests which are then fertilized by the male crappie that built the nest. (Dockendorf and Allen, 2005; Froese and Pauly, 2015; Phelps, et al., 2009)

The reproduction season for the black crappie ranges from spring to summer, typically from the months of March to July. Reporoductively mature female black crappies begin spawning once when the water temperature reaches 14 degrees Celsius and stop once the water temperature drops below 14 degrees Celsius again. While both sexes reach the age of maturity at approximately 2-4 years, cooler water temperatures may slow sexual development.

During the spawning season, the female black crappie may lay up to 188,000 eggs, but average 40,000 eggs. The female black crappie is able to reproduce multiple times during the one spawning season in the year. The male black crappie cares for the eggs and stays with the larval hatchlings until they are able to leave the nest, approximately 2-4 days after hatching. (Bone and Marshall, 1982; Bunnell and Marschall, 2003; Huntingford and Torricelli, 1993)

  • Breeding interval
    The black crappie may breed multiple times during one breeding season which typically lasts a few months and is controlled by the water temperature each year.
  • Breeding season
    The black crappie breeds from the months of March to July.
  • Range number of offspring
    188,000 eggs (high)
  • Average number of offspring
    40,000 eggs
  • Average time to hatching
    2-3 days
  • Average time to independence
    2-4 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2-4 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2-4 years

After the black crappie eggs have been fertilized, it typically takes 2-3 days for the larval black crappies to hatch. The larval black crappies then remain in the nest for several more days until they are able to swim and hunt well. During this 6-7 day developmental period, the male black crappie guards the nest until all of the larval black crappies leave. (Froese and Pauly, 2015; Phelps, et al., 2009; Rohde, et al., 1994)

  • Parental Investment
  • male parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • male
  • pre-independence
    • protecting
      • male


The lifespan of the black crappie is approximately 7 years. The longest living black crappie on record was 15 years old. Due to the popularity of the black crappie as a sporting fish, fishing typically limits the lifespan of the black crappie. (Dockendorf and Allen, 2005; Froese and Pauly, 2015)


The black crappie is a motile schooling fish. The black crappie moves inland in order to feed and reproduce. It is mostly nocturnal, typically feeding from the hours of midnight to 0200 hours. (Bone and Moore, 2008; Froese and Pauly, 2015; Huntingford and Torricelli, 1993)

Home Range

There is not a lot of information on the home range of the black crappie. However, the male crappie does build a small nest in shallow waters and defends the area until the larval black crappie depart. (Froese and Pauly, 2015)

Communication and Perception

The black crappie has multiple means of perceiving its environment. The crappie's lateral line detects vibrations in the surrounding waters. The black crappie also possesses scotopic vision, allowing it to hunt in low-light conditions when the black crappie most commonly feeds. This ability is due to the black crappies' high concentration of red-sensitive retinene2 pigment and an additional lens, called the tapetum lucidum, in their eyeball that increases photosensitivity. (CIBA Foundation Symposium, 2009; Helfman and Collette, 2011)

Food Habits

The black crappie may feed during the day; however it is most commonly nocturnal, active in the evening to early in the morning. An average adult black crappie tends to subsist on a diet of small fish, crustaceans, and insect larvae while the average juvenile subsists mainly on zooplankton and microcrustaceans. While the black crappie typically inhabits deeper waters, it will move inland to more shallow waters in order to feed. (Allen, et al., 1998; Rohde, et al., 1994; Ross, 2001)

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • insects
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • zooplankton


The black crappie is vulnerable to larger piscivorous fish such as the largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) and channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus). Black crappie eggs are susceptible to predation by redear sunfish (Lepomis microlophus) and bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus). In order to combat these threats, nests are protected from predation by the male black crappie. Black crappies have also adapted to predators by schooling. (Bone and Moore, 2008; Dockendorf and Allen, 2005; Phelps, et al., 2009)

Ecosystem Roles

The black crappie plays a role in the food web of its ecosystem. Larger piscivorous fish depend on the black crappie as a source of nutrients. Other large fish and some birds feed on the eggs and/or juvenile black crappie as well. The black crappie in turn helps control the insect and small fish population by feeding on those organisms. The black crappie has been reported to be parasitized by a trematode Haplocleidus dispar and a monogenean Cleidodiscus vancleavei. (Bone and Moore, 2008; Dockendorf and Allen, 2005; Froese and Pauly, 2015; Phelps, et al., 2009)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The black crappie is a hardy fish that is commonly fished for sport. In multiple studies, the black crappie maintained stable populations and showed no signs of over-fishing in commercial fisheries. Due to this, the black crappie provides an economic benefit to humans through the use of this species as a sport-fish. Commercial fisheries have posted revenues starting at $27 million dollars annually. The black crappie is referenced as a "pan fish" and caught for individual consumption. Its meat is light and flaky and lacks a strong "fishy" taste and is therefore a widely preferred fish to eat. (Schramm Jr., et al., 1985)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Pomoxis nigromaculatus on humans.

Conservation Status

According to the IUCN Red List, the black crappie is a classified as "least concern," indicating that it is widespread and abundant. The black crappie lacks any major threats that would cause a severe decline in populations and the population is considered stable. There are no current national suggestions for conservation actions such as protection or management for the black crappie. Environmental factors such as water temperature, length of the spawning season, and available resources have an impact on the ability to sustain a stable crappie population. In order to maintain crappie populations in specific areas, catch and length limits may be implemented; however, this is not typically necessary. (NatureServe, 2013)


Mary Currier (author), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, April Tingle (editor), Radford University, Emily Clark (editor), Radford University, Cari Mcgregor (editor), Radford University, Jacob Vaught (editor), Radford University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

external fertilization

fertilization takes place outside the female's body


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


mainly lives in water that is not salty.

indeterminate growth

Animals with indeterminate growth continue to grow throughout their lives.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


an animal that mainly eats fish


an animal that mainly eats plankton


Referring to a mating system in which a female mates with several males during one breeding season (compare polygynous).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others


uses sight to communicate


animal constituent of plankton; mainly small crustaceans and fish larvae. (Compare to phytoplankton.)


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