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Bluegill vs Sunfish; Is There Any Difference?

Bluegills are a type of sunfish but not all sunfish are bluegills. Take, for example, the family of Pinnipeds. This family of aquatic fin-footed mammals is made up of 33 different species such as true seals, walrus, and sea lions. All these seals are Pinnipeds, but each has its individual size, color, and character. A walrus is not just a sea lion.

Sunfish is from the family of freshwater fishes (Centrarchidae), they are native to North America. This family of fish consists of 34 different species that live today. One of the most prominent and common types is bluegill. Therefore, the bluegill is a member of the sunfish family, but a sunfish is not specifically bluegill. Fishermen have oftentimes exchanged these terms, however, they are very different.

1. Look

Bluegills are easily identified by seeing a black dot on the back of the upper dorsal fin. This characteristic alone distinguishes them from other species of Sunfish, which do not have this coloration on their dorsal fin.

Bluegill vs Sunfish; Is There Any Difference

They possess a black earflap (operculum), their cheeks and gills are colored blue. The color of the belly varies from white to bright yellow. The bluegill possesses an oval body, a small mouth, and small teeth.

The pumpkinseed breed of Sunfish has a long, pointed pectoral fin and a tiny, bluegill-like mouth. Pumpkin Seeds possess molars called pharyngeal teeth, which are located in the throat.

There is a light red or orange stripe on the edge of the short, black ear flap. The redbreast Sunfish possess a compacted body and are more stretched out than other species of Sunfish.

The teeth are located on the roof of the mouth. Blue lines can be seen on the face or on the cheeks. The ear flap (operculum) or gill flap has a long, narrow black lobe. The male grownups usually have a more elongated and thinner earflap compared to the long-eared Sunfish.

They have short, rounded pectoral fins, and their opaque flaps tend to be softer and more flexible than the stiff flaps of a pumpkinseed sunfish.

2. Size and Weight

Bluegills average 5-10 inches in length, whereas Sunfish average 4-6 inches in length, while the redbreast breed averages 2-9 inches in length.

Size and Weight

According to the South Carolina state record, Bluegills possess a weight of around 3-4 pounds each, while the pumpkinseed and redbreast breeds weigh roughly 2 pounds each.

3. Special Qualities

Young Bluegills or the non-reproducing breeds are light gray or olive, they have multiple dark spots on their body. The male reproducing bluegills are generally darker, with a dark blue-purple tinge on the upper body, they have light red or orange belly markings.

The female bluegills tend to possess duller colors than the males and are often referred to as yellow breasts. The pumpkin seed breed is popular as one of the most colorful fish among species of sunfish.

Adult Sunfish is dappled in olive green, with blue and orange streaks and gold markings on the underside. The young and females have dark, chain-like bar markings on the sides of their bodies.

The back, tail, and anal fins possess lots of orange spots or dark brown wavy lines as the case may be. Their cheeks also have wavy blue line-markings. The torso of the Sunfish is olive in color and fades to a blue-green color at the bottom.

At the reproduction season, the males exhibit a deep and shiny orange-red belly, with the females having an orange-yellow belly. The males and females have vertical rows or reddish-brown markings with orange spots on the sides of the body and can sometimes be tapering towards the edge of the tail or caudal fin. The caudal fin is usually orange-red in color.

4. Accommodation / Living

Bluegills and redbreast breeds of Sunfish typically abhor slugging or streams of slow currents and rivers, including lakes, swamps, ponds, and reservoirs. They prefer calm, extremely shallow water bodies in environments of lakes and ponds, particularly during reproduction season.

Accommodation / Living

Pumpkin Seeds breeds of Sunfish and the bluegills tend to interfere with heavily overgrown habitats as well, including lakes, streams, ponds, rivers, or brooks and reservoirs. Pumpkin Seeds breeds prefer to live in harbors, areas laden with weeds, water logs, and other materials near the beach.

Redbreast breeds can be found in areas with rocky peaks, wood rubbles, undercut banks, tree stumps, and river banks, although they have a preference for sandy soils. Unlike blue gels and pumpkinseed breeds, redbreasts avoid heavily overgrown areas that stagnate.

What Causes the Confusion?

There’s been an age-long debate between bluegill and Sunfish. Many people tend to assume Sunfish and bluegills are the same. Most species of sunfish are similar in appearance to bluegills. A common cause of confusion is that the two types of fish almost look the same. In other words, it is not quite easy to differentiate both species of fish by mere appearance. Since all freshwater species with similar properties belong to the Sunfish family, it is easier to assign a common name to all Sunfish species, whether they are bluegill, bream, or sunfish.

What Causes the Confusion

In addition to the species looking almost identical, these fish come from the same family. No doubt, the bluegill is classified in the sunfish family. They also possess very identical features.

However, it is worthy of note that, although all Bluegills belong to the Sunfish family, the reverse is not the case. Not all Sunfish are considered Bluegill.

How Do You Identify Bluegill and Sunfish?

It is important to note that bluegill is a species of fish that lives in freshwater, the sunfish is one of the species of fish that lives under seawater. The bluegill can be found in ponds, streams, as well as lakes, while the Sunfish can be found in the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic.

How Do You Identify Bluegill and Sunfish

The adult bluegill weighs up to 1.2 kg while the Sunfish weighs from 247 to 1000 kg. Whereas bluegill is a member of the Sunfish subfamily, the Sunfish belongs to the Centrarchidae family. Bluegills are found in countries of North America while the Sunfishes can be found in tropical and mild regions.

Note also that there are over 33 different species of Sunfish. They include:

  • Flier
  • Bluegill
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Mud sunfish
  • Redear
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Spotted Bass
  • Warmouth
  • Pumpkinseed
  • Bluespotted Sunfish
  • Black Crappie
  • White Crappie

As noted earlier, the Bluegill is only one among the species in the Sunfish family.

Final Verdict

The bluegill is a species of fish that lives under freshwater. The bluegill is more dominant in countries of North America. These fish are a character in the Sunfish family, the Centrarchidae, where they can be found in lakes, ponds, and streams as well as freshwater. The sunfish is one of the species of fish living underwater. Sunfishes have their natural habitat in pleasurable, tropical areas around the world. The sunfish belongs to the Centrarchidae family and is the subfamily of freshwater fish. These fish are made up of the heaviest bone weights in the world.

No doubt, the ability to identify different species of fish is a very important skill an angler must possess. With this article, you can be able to tell the difference between a bluegill and a random Sunfish.