Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus): The Ultimate Guide


Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus) is a freshwater omnivorous fish native to North America along the Southeast region of the country from Virginia to Florida. It has since been introduced to Europe, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Asia, and South America. The Bluegill is known by many names such as Sunfish, Bream, Brim, and Copper Nose. While the Bluegill is also known as Sunfish, be sure to note Sunfish is the species. This means not all Sunfish are Bluegill. This fish can be found in almost any stream, river, lake, or pond. The Bluegill is one of the most popular sport fish in the U.S. as it is very commonly found. This species of fish also plays a huge role in the food chain as they are the prey to Trout, Herons, Snapping Turtles, and many other species.

The lifespan of the Bluegill species is on average seven or eight years, while the oldest recorded age for this species is ten years! Bluegills on average grow up to 7.5 to 12 inches in length. The largest recorded Bluegill so far was a whopping 16 inches in length. The Bluegill fish is covered in cool and earthy tones. Typically, this species of fish is blue and purple hues over its face with dark olive-colored banding down its sides with a yellowish-orange belly. It also has a black spot resembling an ear on each side near the gill area. The Bluegill is a very peaceful fish with other fish as well as humans. This species is not known to bite humans and may even feel comfortable enough to eat from your hand.

Bluegill Care

The Bluegill species of Sunfish is an extremely hardy fish with a wide range of suitable water parameters making this fish extremely easy to care for. Bluegill can live in water temperatures of 65 degrees Fahrenheit to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This species can even survive in water with a temperature of up to 95 degrees. These fish should be kept in slightly acidic to slightly alkaline waters with a pH level of 6.5 to 8.5. Bluegills are omnivores meaning that they eat both plants and animals. These fish will typically eat anything that will fit in their mouth. When they are young, this species diet consists of water fleas, small insects, and zooplankton. As adults Bluegill’s diet typically consists of insect larvae, insects, zooplankton, shrimp, crayfish, and even aquatic plants as well as algae. These fish will also feed on their own or other species’ eggs when not offered enough food. Of course, most of these diet selections can be provided in captivity, but they can also occasionally be fed commercial fish food.

Bluegill
Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)

Bluegill Tank Setup

Since the Bluegill grows to about 7.5 to 12 inches in length this species requires quite a large tank. The tank size depends on how many fish will be occupying the tank. One gallon should be added for each inch of the fish with a bit of additional room for tank decorations. For example, a single ten-inch Bluegill should be kept in a 15-gallon tank, and for two ten-inch fish, they should be kept in a 25-gallon tank. The Bluegill’s tank should mimic their natural environment as much as possible. As this species of fish is found in freshwater streams in the wild, they are surrounded by rooted and floating aquatic plants, fallen branches, and logs. Sand should be poured over the bottom of the tank and covered by a rocky substrate. Plants that can be rooted into the rocky substrate can be added as well as bushy floating plants to simulate their natural habitat. A large piece of driftwood can also be added to give more depth to the tank. This will also provide your Bluegills with a security blanket if they need a hiding spot. To maintain healthy conditions for your Bluegills a 25 percent water change should be done once a week. A gravel vacuum should also be used to clean the rocky substrate while avoiding the sand. Doing so will ensure no food waste is left behind as well as algae that will diminish the water quality of the tank. Large Crawfish and crawfish can also be added to the tank as they are bottom dwellers and will eat up all the algae. Because Bluegills are a peaceful species of fish, they do not typically have issues with other fish if they are paired with nonaggressive species that will not harm them. Bluegills enjoy being in large groups where they can socialize. Bluegills pair well with Bullheads, Bass, and Catfish. Bluegills can also be paired with Hybrid Bluegill which is a cross between a male Bluegill, Lepomis macrochirus, and a female Sunfish, Lepomis cyanellus.

Bluegills and Bullheads

Bluegills and Bullheads are suitable tank mates as they can live peacefully together and share similar water parameters. Bullheads are also hardy fish that can live comfortably in a wide range of water parameters. Bullheads can thrive in water temperatures of 64 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit with slightly acidic to neutral water with a pH of 6.5 to 7.5. Bullheads are also bottom dwellers while the Bluegill typically occupies the middle to higher levels of the tank. Bullheads will also aid in tank cleaning!

Bluegills and Bass

Bluegills and Bass are suitable tank mates as they can live together happily and share similar water parameters. Bass are extremely hardy fish as well and can survive in an extremely wide variety of water parameters. Bass should be kept in water temperatures of 65 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit with slightly acidic to slightly alkaline waters with a pH level of 5.0 to 9.0. Bass are bottom dwellers, so they will not usually encounter the Bluegill much.

Bluegills and Catfish

Bluegills and Catfish make great tank mates as they are both peaceful species of fish and share similar water parameters. Catfish do not have a wide variety of water parameters. They should be kept in water temperatures of 74 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit with slightly acidic to neutral waters with a pH level of 5.0 to 7.0.

Breeding Bluegill

Breeding Bluegill in captivity is typically very easy compared to breeding other species of fish that take much more planning. This species of fish becomes sexually mature at one year of age. In their natural habitat, Bluegill will create a spawning bed in the mud or pebbles of shallow lakes and streams for the female to lay her eggs. This bed is normally six to twelve inches in diameter. Once spawning has taken place and the eggs have been laid the male will become very protective and chase the female out of the nest. The male will even sometimes stay with the fry once they have hatched to protect them in their early days. Now, breeding this species in captivity is just as easy! A breeding tank should be created for the male and female Bluegill with water temperatures of 64 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The tank should also have a layer of sand overlaid with a rocky substrate for the male to create their nest. The male Bluegill will then move the rocks around with its mouth to create the circular nest. Because the male Bluegill will become protective over the eggs, the female should be removed from the tank to prevent conflict between the two fish. Male Bluegill are known to become stressed in confined spaces, so if the fish is showing any signs of distress, it should be removed from the tank as well to protect the eggs from being eaten.

Bluegill Disease

There are quite a few diseases found in game fish that should be looked out for, especially when obtaining your Bluegill from a body of water. A common disease found in this fish is Tapeworm which is a potentially deadly parasitic disease that can even be transmitted to humans. Another common disease found in the Bluegill species is known as Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia, VHS. This is a deadly virus to fish, so action should be taken at any possible sign. The infected fish should be quarantined as this disease is transferred through their urine and reproductive fluids as well. Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia infected fish may develop the disease when under stress caused by unsuitable water conditions, lack of food, and even spawning hormones. VHS causes hemorrhaging, bulging of the eyes, odd behaviors, and a bloated abdominal region. This disease infects the gill tissue of the fish first and then will move into internal organs quickly. Fish that survive this disease will then be lifelong carriers of the disease and can transmit it to other fish through their urine and reproductive fluids. Thankfully, this disease cannot be transmitted to humans who may eat an infected fish.

Fishing for Bluegill

Fishing for Bluegill can be done in just about any lake, river, or stream around the U.S., especially in the Eastern region. Catching popular game species by adding small pieces of worms, crickets, and mealworms to your hook. While Bluegill are small, they are mighty and will put up a big fight when being reeled in. Once these fish have been caught and inspected for parasitic diseases, they are able to be eaten. They are described to have firm meat that is mildly flavored and can sometimes be a bit bitter. Bluegills are commonly prepared by being fried after they are cleaned, or they can even be cooked whole. Bluegill can also even be eaten raw in sushi if they come from an uncontaminated body of water, though, this technique is not usually recommended as cooking the fish brings out the desired flavor.

The Bluegill species of freshwater Sunfish will make a great addition to a large species fish tank. Not only is this species super easy to care for, but they are also a very peaceful sociable species of fish. Because this hardy omnivorous fish can live in an extremely wide range of water parameters, it is almost impossible to not find them comfortable living conditions. Bluegill and their tank mates should be provided with quite a large tank as the Bluegill itself can grow to about a foot long. This means they will need to be provided with a good amount of swimming room in their tank. These fish can easily be obtained from local lakes or streams but be sure to check your state’s game fish laws on what the limitations are before taking any fish from a body of water.

Bluegill vs Crappie

Bluegill and Crappie fish look very similar to the eye, but they have quite a few differences. Crappie are larger and heavier than Bluegills. Crappie grow to be about 10 to 19 inches in length and can weigh a whopping three pounds. Crappie have much larger mouths than the Bluegill, have a slimmer body while the Bluegill have a bit wider of a body. The Crappie also has a more rounded dorsal fin while the Bluegill has a more pointed dorsal fin.   

Bluegill vs Sunfish

Bluegill and Sunfish can easily be mistaken for each other as they look very similar, and the Bluegill is one of the 34 species of Sunfish. Large and smallmouth Bass are in the Sunfish family, and they are much bigger in size compared to the Bluegill. While smaller species of Sunfish may look very similar to the Bluegill, they do have a few differences. Sunfish tend to have a slimmer body shape and grow a bit longer than the oval-shaped Bluegill. Also, Sunfish do not share the distinguishing black dot on both sides of their body like the Bluegill.

Fish Laboratory

With decades of collective fishkeeping experience, we are happy to share the fish care tips that we've picked up along the way. Our goal at Fish Laboratory is to keep publishing accurate content to help fishkeepers keep their fish and aquarium healthy.

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