Bluegill Vs Sunfish: Freshwater Fish Differences Simplified For Kids! | Kidadl

Bluegill Vs Sunfish: Freshwater Fish Differences Simplified For Kids!

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The sunfish family covers a wide number of species, all which can look quite similar.

Out of these, the bluegill is popular for its great-tasting meat and bright blue stripes. However, are bluegills and sunfish the same?

Struggling to tell the difference between a redbreast, bluegill and pumpkinseed sunfish? We have all the information you need! Simply speaking, the bluegill is a type of sunfish, and there are a number of species in the Lepomis genus, which look similar to it.

To be able to differentiate between these fish, it is important to observe them quite carefully as there are a number of small details which set them apart. The bluegill is the most similar to the green sunfish, and at first glance they can look identical! To know how to tell the bluegill apart, read on! Also discover a variety of other sunfish species, and what makes them special.

If you enjoyed this article, do check out our pages on bluegill facts and boar vs pig.

What are the physical differences between bluegill and sunfish?

The bluegill is a type of sunfish, belonging to the Lepomis genus. There are a number of species of sunfish, all which share similar characteristics.

The bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus) is a freshwater fish normally yellowish-green in color, and is known for the black spots it has on each side of the body, on the lower edge of the gills and dorsal fins. It has a flat, wide body and grow up till 4-16 in (10.2-40.6 cm). When threatened, it will develop 5-9 dark, vertical stripes across its body. The breast and abdomen are usually bright yellow, however those of a breeding male are usually orange. It can have around three anal spines, 10-12 anal fin rays, 6-13 dorsal fin spines, 11-12 dorsal rays, and 12-13 pectoral rays. Its defining characteristics are the side of its head and chin, which are a shade of dark blue, hence the name 'bluegill'.

Another type of sunfish which we can compare it to is the green sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus), which is commonly found in ponds. This fish has a bluish-green coloration on its back and sides, and its scales are tipped with yellow. Similar to the bluegill, they have black spots on each side of their bodies, on the lower edge of the gills and dorsal fins, as well as on the ear plate. They have 13-14 short, rounded pectoral ray fins, a ten spine dorsal ray fin and a symmetrical tail. This fish usually measures around 3-12 in (7.6-30.5 cm) and has a flat body similar to all other Sunfish. It's mouth is quite big and snout extends below the middle of the eye. It has bright blue stripes covering the gills and on the sides of the head, which make it look alarmingly similar to the bluegill at times. Female green sunfish are lighter in color than males.

A way to differentiate between both these species is through their tails. The green sunfish has a more rounded tail, whereas those of bluegills is more pointed. The tail and pectoral fins of the green sunfish are also tipped in yellow, whereas those of the bluegill are not. The bluegill also has a small mouth, whereas that of the green sunfish is quite large.

Sometimes different species of freshwater sunfish may interbreed by mistake, creating hybrids. This is very common with the green sunfish, as its population multiplies quite quickly. Females may lay their eggs close to the territories of other sunfish species, on which males of that species will unknowingly spawn. This will create hybrids that make it difficult to differentiate between the species.

Other members of the sunfish family are the largemouth bass, mud sunfish, smallmouth bass, redbreast sunfish, warmouth, spotted sunfish and pumpkinseed sunfish.

Though the Crappie is a member of the sunfish family as well, it is known to eat smaller bluegill, Shiner and bass individuals. Bluegill are also preyed upon by largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, trout, turtles, Northern pike, yellow perch, herons, otters, kingfishers, catfish, and even larger bluegill! They are also caught by raccoons, who prey on them in shallow freshwater ponds and streams.

How do you identify a bluegill?

Bluegills can be identified from other fish by the distinct dark blue coloration on the sides of their heads and necks, near their gills. Though this helps to identify them from other sunfish, this feature alone may not get you a bluegill, as the Green sunfish possesses similar bright blue stripes on its gill covers and neck. Their body color is also similar, being a dull yellowish green. A way to tell the difference between bluegill and green sunfish is by observing their tail, dorsal fins and mouth. The bluegill has a small mouth, whereas that of the Green sunfish is quite large, extending till the middle of its eye. The tail of the bluegill is also more pointed, the Green Sunfish having a rounded 'heart-shaped' tail. The tail and fins of the green sunfish are tipped in yellow, whereas those of the bluegill are not. Though at first glance these two fish may look very similar, observing them closely will help you to tell the difference between bluegill and all other species of sunfish.

These fish are very popular among fishermen as they have flaky, mild tasting flesh - perfect for being cooked in fishes or fried whole. They can be caught using live bait, it is recommended to use smaller bits of worms and nightcrawlers. Other bait which can attract them consists of mealworms, crickets and grasshoppers. They can be caught during the day, with the best time to catch them being in the morning and evening, when their concentration peaks.

A Bluegill fish shown to the camera.

Are green sunfish bad for ponds?

Though green sunfish are small in size, they are considered to be a nuisance by fishermen and biologists. They tend to procreate very easily, which can lead to overpopulation and competition with other, more desirable species for fishermen such as largemouth bass and bluegills. They are an invasive species, and are also quite aggressive towards other smaller species of fish.

It is also very easy for these fish to hybridize with other species of sunfish (especially those in the same genus Lepomis), which disturbs the purity between species. Green sunfish are often seen as undesirable by fisheries as they are small and an invasive species, and they multiply very quickly. The bluegill is more desirable in this regard as it has firm, flaky meat and a good mild flavor, as well as being big in size. Though the green sunfish does taste quite good, it is quite small in size and not usually the target of anglers and fisheries.

Are there different types of bluegill?

No, though the bluegill is a type of sunfish, all sunfish are not bluegills. There is only a single species of bluegill, the Lepomis macrochirus. The sunfish family Centrarchidae contains 38 species, out of which the genus Lepomis has 13. Both the bluegill and green sunfish are part of the Lepomis genus.

Though sunfish species can look quite similar, there are a number of characteristics by which we can tell them apart. A few other sunfish species are listed below.

Spotted sunfish: these tropical sunfish are olive green or brown in color, and have reddish black spots on the base of each scale. This creates a pattern of rows of dots on its sides.

Orangespotted sunfish: the orangespotted sunfish is quite common in North America. It has a silvery body, with a bright orange abdomen and orange spots on the lower half of its body. Its dorsal, pectoral and tail fins are all light orange in color, mixed with a pale yellow.

Redbreast sunfish: this fish is bluish-green in color with rusty brown spots on their body. They have a red-yellow breast and belly. Breeding redbreast males also have a bright red head.

Warmouth sunfish: this sunfish species has a mottled dark brown body, with its gill flaps being red. The warmouth has reddish-brown stripes near its eyes and down its main body, and its fins are bordered in a pale yellow.

Longear sunfish: these freshwater fish have light-colored sides, a green to rusty brown color on their back, and yellow to bright red-orange bellies. Longear sunfish have bright yellow, blue, orange, and green specks on their back portion as well as sides. They have orange-colored cheeks with wavy blue streaks running close to their mouths and eyes.

Redear sunfish: similar looking to a bluegill, you can identify this sunfish species by the bright red border to its operculum or 'ear'. Its scales are interspersed with a few red orange ones, which stand out against its dark greenish-brown skin. Female redear sunfish tend to have a more orange coloration on the ear.

Pumpkinseed sunfish: these small fish can be yellow, green, orange or blue in color, with a yellow-orange breast and belly. They are covered with speckles on their backs and sides. You can identify them by the orange-red spot on the border of their black gill cover, with the gill flap being black. Pumpkinseed sunfish is quite similar to bluegills, however the stripes on pumpkinseed fish are far duller in color.

Rock bass: though the rock bass looks like a generic sunfish with its dull, olive green body, it has vivid red eyes. It also has six anal fins, by which it can be differentiated from other species.

Though sunfish are often confused with perch, they belong to a completely different family.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for Bluegill Vs sunfish: Freshwater Fish Differences Simplified For Kids! then why not take a look at Are Iguanas Good Pets? Facts To Know Before Being a Pet Iguana Owner, or Are Skinks Poisonous? Fascinating Facts On Blue Tailed Skinks For Kids?

Written By
Tanya Parkhi

Tanya always had a knack for writing which encouraged her to be a part of several editorials and publications across print and digital media. During her school life, she was a prominent member of the editorial team at the school newspaper. While studying economics at Fergusson College, Pune, India, she got more opportunities to learn details of content creation. She wrote various blogs, articles, and essays that garnered appreciation from readers. Continuing her passion for writing, she accepted the role of a content creator, where she wrote articles on an array of topics. Tanya’s write-ups reflect her love for traveling, learning about new cultures, and experiencing local traditions.

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