Lepomis macrochirus

Key Distinguishing Markings:

  • Bluegills have small mouths and an oval shaped body deep and highly compressed.
  • The fish is olive green on the upper body and light yellow on its belly.
  • Blue and purple iridescence on cheek.
  • Dark bands run up and down from the back fading into the belly.
  • A dark blue or black "ear" on an extension of the gill cover.
  • A prominent dark blotch at the base of the dorsal fin, close to the tail
  • Breeding males may have more blue and orange coloration on their flanks


  • Typically about 6 inches, but can reach 12 inches.


  • Inshore from the Great Lakes to Florida.
  • In all tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay with salinity less than 18 ppt.
  • Many times these fish will be stocked along with largemouth bass in many Maryland ponds and lakes.


  • Bluegills are a freshwater fish, although they will venture into slightly salty water.
  • They like quiet waters such as lakes, ponds and slow flowing rivers and streams.

Food Preference:

  • Spiders, insects, crayfish, fish eggs, and other small fish are their favorite foods.
  • Young bluegill often become food for larger fish, birds and water snakes.


  • Spawning takes place from April to September in fresh water.
  • The male picks a good spot and makes a nest.
  • After the female lays her eggs, the male guards the eggs and newly hatched young.
  • Bluegills like to build their nests around other bluegill nests. Sometimes there are so many nests that the nest beds touch and look like honeycombs.

Fishing Tips:

  • Earthworms or even corn kernels make good bait.
  • Easy to catch, bluegills make a good pan fish.
  • They are often the first fish that a young fisherman catches.

Fun Fact:

  • Bluegills are a member of the sunfish family.
  • Many people call bluegills "sunnies".

Family: Centrarchidae (Sunfishes)

Order: Perciformes (perch-likes)

Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes)

For more information on bluegill and their management, please contact Brett Coakley.

Illustration: Courtesy of Duane Raver/USFWS

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