Are Bluegill and Sunfish One in The Same?

It can be tricky to decipher the difference between the two. In this blog we provide you all the details you need to know about bluegill and how they differ from sunfish. Bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus) are the driving force behind most impoundments where present. With high reproductive capabilities and a varied diet, bluegill are the ideal forage species, especially in small lakes and ponds. Bluegill are quick to mature and can reproduce at only 3 inches in length, often within their first year. Spawning occurs as water temperatures approach 65 degrees Fahrenheit and will continue throughout the summer with most individuals spawning multiple times. Nests are constructed in shallow water, 1-5 feet, and are typically clustered together in large groups, lining the pond bottom with small crater-like depressions.

Like bass, bluegill males construct the nests and guard the eggs/fry until they hatch and disperse. Bluegill feed mainly on insects, larvae and other macroinvertebrates but are opportunistic predators that will take smaller fish and unprotected eggs of any species. Bluegill predation of vulnerable largemouth bass eggs is the leading cause of failed nests. In addition to being a forage staple and managing aquatic insects, bluegill are also highly appealing to anglers. Capable of reaching 6-8 inches in only a handful of years, bluegill put up a good fight for their size and make great table fare. They can be identified by the presence of vertical bars on their sides, a single spot on their dorsal fin, a dark opercular flap with no marginal colors and a small mouth relative to their body size. Identifying pure bluegill sunfish can be tricky in systems with multiple species of the same genus, however, as hybridization is common. The most notable hybrid is a cross between bluegill sunfish and green sunfish, resulting in a faster growing, more aggressive fish very similar in appearance to a bluegill. 

A note about the author.

Alec Hillyer is a fishing and outdoor enthusiast! He has extensive knowledge in aquatic biology and earned his Bachelor of Arts in zoo and wildlife biology from Malone University in Canton, Ohio. When not fishing or hunting, he spends his time as a manager at Fender’s Fish Hatchery and is a private lake consultant. He worked for AquaDoc as an Aquatics Biologist and is USDA certified in applying pesticides.

Have specific questions for Alec? E-mail him at or follow him on Instagram at alec_outdoors.

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