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Bluegill vs. Sunfish

bluegill fish
By Scott Harden - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76318632

In this post we’re going to compare two freshwater fish cousins, namely the Bluegill vs. Sunfish.

If you are interested in freshwater fish, you likely have heard of bluegills and sunfishes. Both are extremely popular species in many lakes around the United States and beyond. While they can look similar at first glance, there are some big differences between these fish regarding their size, availability, breeding habits, diet preferences, habitat requirements, and more. 

bluegill fish vs. sunfish

Personally, I used to not see the appeal of fishing at all until I was eventually dragged along on a fish trip. The wait and the cold turns out to be worth it when you finally feel a tug at your rod! Another reason why I’d advocate for fishing is because of the aspect of sustainability. Overfishing is a huge problem and the fishing industry has a huge environmental impact on our planet – sourcing your own food is not only a cute bonding activity with your friends, you’re also doing our planet a favour (and I promise you that it tastes better.)

We will break down all aspects of bluegills and sunfishes so that after reading this informative piece, you will understand exactly; why these two fascinating creatures are such beloved specimens! 

Because they’re so closely related there’s typically also lots of confusion about whether they’re the same fish – keep reading to tease this out as well.

Jump ahead to any section of your liking below!

Comparison Table

bluegill fish vs. sunfish
CategoryBluegillSunfish
AppearanceOlive-green or bronze-brown bodies with dark spots near the dorsal fin; long, oval-shaped bodies; 4 to 8 inches long when fully grown.Deep-bodied with large mouths; 4 to 12 inches long when fully grown; various colors, including blue, green, red, and yellow. Some species have distinctive stripes running down their bodies.
AvailabilityMost prevalent in North America but also other parts of the world.Found in North America, but many species can be found worldwide.
Breeding habitsPrefer shallow waters with lots of cover hiding from predators where they spawn yearly; weave eggs amongst vegetation or debris.Prefer deeper water temperatures for spawning; lay eggs on aquatic vegetation or hard surfaces.
Diet preferencesFeed off insect larvae and small crustaceans; occasional plant matter.Feed off insect larvae, small crustaceans, plant material; occasional small fish; scavengers. They eat more plant matter than the Bluegill.
Habitat requirementsCan be found in many types of water, including lakes, rivers, and ponds.Prefer shallow water habitats with plenty of vegetation and cover for hiding places and food sources, found mostly in the southeastern part of the United States.
Maximum sizeUsually only reaches 8 inches at most.Can reach up to 12 inches long.
Social behaviorTypically solitary species.More social and form large breeding colonies during spawning season.
Nesting behaviorCreate nests in shallow areas of lakes and ponds by fanning out with their tails to remove debris and sediment; males guard nests until attracting females to lay eggs.Create nests much like bluegills do but usually at a much larger scale, often over ten square feet in size, attract nearby females to lay eggs until thousands have accumulated in one nest before mating occurs elsewhere.

Are They the Same Type of Fish?

bluegill fish vs. sunfish

There’s not really an easy and short answer to this question, and it can be a little bit difficult to wrap your head around this – but we’ve tried to simplify it for you.

Bluegill fish and sunfish are not the same thing, but they are related. In fact, bluegill fish are a species of sunfish, belonging to the genus Lepomis. The term “sunfish” is a broad term that refers to a group of freshwater fish that belong to the family Centrarchidae. This family includes several different species, including the bluegill, pumpkinseed, redear sunfish, and others.

So in conclusion – bluegill are a type of sunfish. So all bluegill fish are sun fish, but not all sunfish are bluegill fish.

An Introduction

bluegill fish vs. sunfish

Bluegills are a type of freshwater fish mainly found in North America. They typically have olive-green or bronze-brown bodies with dark spots near their dorsal fin. Bluegills have long, oval-shaped bodies and are around four to eight inches long when fully grown.

On the other hand, Sunfish is an umbrella term for many different species of fish – also mostly found in North America. These fish can range from 4 to 12 inches long and come in various colors, including blue, green, red, and yellow. They generally have very deep bodies with large mouths. Some species of Sunfish even have distinctive stripes running down the length of their bodies.

An Overview of the Differences Between Bluegills and Sunfish

One main difference between bluegills and Sunfish is their availability worldwide – bluegills are mainly found in North America. In contrast, many sunfish species can be found worldwide. Additionally, Sunfish tend to be larger than bluegills when fully grown. Bluegills usually only reach 8 inches at most, while some sunfish can reach up to 12 inches long.

Regarding breeding habits, bluegills prefer shallow waters with lots of cover, such as weeds or rocks, where they can hide from predators. This is also where they will spawn each year once conditions become favorable for mating. 

On the other hand, Sunfish prefer deeper water and lower temperatures for spawning. They will lay eggs on aquatic vegetation or hard surfaces instead of weaving them amongst vegetation or debris like bluegills.

In terms of diet preferences, both types of fish feed off insect larvae as well as small crustaceans such as Mysis shrimp. However, while both fish may eat plant matter on occasion, this tends to make up a much larger portion of the diet for Sunfish than it does for bluegill. This is so because of their wider mouths which allow them to feed more effectively on larger pieces of food such as insects or worms. 

Lastly, due to their size differences and habitat requirements, these two types of fish should not typically be kept together in an aquarium unless given plenty of space between them so they don’t compete for food resources or get into territorial disputes. 

Availability

bluegill fish
By Scott Harden – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76318632

Bluegills are most prevalent throughout North America, although they are also found in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. They can be found in many types of water, including lakes, rivers, and ponds.

While Sunfish are widespread throughout North America, they are more likely to be found in the southeastern part of the United States, where temperatures are generally warmer year-round. They prefer shallow water habitats such as wetlands or low-moving rivers with plenty of vegetation and cover for hiding places and food sources.

Bluegill Vs. Sunfish: Breeding Habits

sunfish
By Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE – Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus), CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40757625

Bluegills

Bluegills are typically solitary species that only interact during the spawning season, which can vary depending on where they live. Once the water temperature reaches around 68-74°F, the males will create nests in shallow areas of lakes and ponds by fanning out with their tails to remove debris and sediment. The males then guard the nests until they attract females to lay eggs. 

After hatching, many juvenile bluegills will stay in the nest for up to two weeks before swimming away with their father. Bluegills may spawn several times during the spawning season as they mature over a few years.

Sunfish

Sunfish are more social and form large breeding colonies when the spawning season arrives. They prefer shallow waters and often find sandy or muddy bottoms for optimal egg-laying conditions. The males will create nests much like bluegills do but usually at a much larger scale, often over ten square feet in size. 

They then attract nearby females to lay eggs until thousands have accumulated in one nest before mating occurs elsewhere. After hatching, juvenile Sunfish remain together in schools as they transition from larvae to fries (juvenile fish) within several weeks. 

Staying in large schools of fish helps them stay safe from predators early on as they mature throughout their first year of life before dispersing into smaller groups or alone again afterward.

Bluegill Vs. Sunfish: Dietary Needs

bluegill fish
By Pacific Southwest Region USFWS from Sacramento, US – Bluegill, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=68987054

Bluegill

Bluegills are omnivorous, meaning they feed on various plants and animals for sustenance. They primarily consume small aquatic insects such as midge larvae, dragonfly larvae, daphnia, mayfly larvae, and crustaceans like crayfish. 

They also occasionally eat small fish and frogs. If kept as pets, Bluegills should be fed several times daily to stay healthy. They need a balanced diet of high-quality foods like freeze-dried bloodworms, tubifex worms, brine shrimp, and other appropriate live or frozen prey items.

Sunfish

Sunfish have an omnivorous diet like bluegills, but the species feed more heavily on plant material than its cousin. They occasionally eat aquatic invertebrates like insect larvae, crustaceans, and small fish. 

Sunfish are scavengers, so they will also take advantage of any food sources that might be available in their environments, such as organic detritus or dead organisms like insects or fish eggs. If you keep one as a pet it’s best to offer them a variety of foods, including occasional feedings of live or frozen prey items like daphnia or brine shrimp.

Bluegill Vs. Sunfish: Preferred Habitat

YouTube video

Bluegill

Bluegills are schooling fish that prefer shallow, warm, and murky waters. They are typically found in slow-moving streams, ponds, and lakes with plenty of aquatic vegetation, such as lily pads and weeds. They enjoy areas with thick covers, such as logs, rocks, and other debris, to shelter them from predators. Bluegills also prefer waters with high oxygen levels and moderate water temperatures between 68-72° F.

Sunfish

Sunfish prefer shallow waters with plenty of aquatic vegetation they can hide in. They are incredibly adaptable to habitats including rivers, marshes, swamps, ponds, and lakes. Sunfish like the same water temperature range as bluegills but can withstand a wider range of 47 to 83° F. They also prefer a more acidic pH than bluegills, usually 6 to 8pH.

Key Points

Bluegills are a type of freshwater fish mainly found in North America but also in other parts of the world. They typically have olive-green or bronze-brown bodies with dark spots near their dorsal fin.
Sunfish is an umbrella term for many different species mostly found in North America. These fish can range from 4 to 12 inches long and come in various colors, including blue, green, red, and yellow.
Bluegills are omnivorous, meaning they feed on various plants and animals for sustenance.
Sunfish are scavengers, so they will also take advantage of any food sources that might be available in their environments, such as organic detritus or dead organisms like insects or fish eggs.
Bluegills and Sunfish are popular and attractive worldwide in many lakes. While they look similar, some important differences exist, including size, availability, breeding habits, diet preferences, and habitat requirements.

Conclusion 

Bluegills and Sunfish are popular and attractive worldwide in many lakes. While they look similar, some important differences exist, including size, availability, breeding habits, diet preferences, and habitat requirements. Knowing these differences is critical for anyone who wants to keep bluegill and Sunfish in their aquarium or pond. 

Likewise, if you are looking to catch one of these on your next fishing trip you’re much more likely to be successful if you have a good understanding of their preferred habitats and behaviors.

And, to recap – all bluegills are sunfish, as the latter is an umbrella term for many species of fish. Resultantly, sunfish can be bluegills, but not necessarily.

So for your next weekend getaway I suggest you go for a fishing trip! In my opinion, there’s nothing better than getting out in nature with your friends (while also being kind to mother nature!)

Thank you for reading this article on the Bluegill Vs. Sunfish! If you are keen for more fishy things, read our post on the Drum Fish or the Top 10 Ugly Fish in the World. If you’d like to get an overview of all of our fish content head to our fish page.

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