Max length 16” but more commonly 4”-12”
Also known as bream. Bluegill are part of the Centrarchidae family – the sunfish.
Distinguishing features: They can reach up to 16” in length but are more commonly observed between 4”-12”. In Florida, the appearance of bluegills can vary widely, but generally they are silvery with vertical bars on their sides and a spot or dark smudge on the rear of the dorsal fin (the fin that runs along the fish’s back) where it meets the fish’s body. The silvery-blue coloration around the gill cover and head that gives this fish its name can be subtle, and very difficult to see underwater. Breeding males may have red coloration on fins or breast.
Range, habitat and behavior: The bluegill is native in freshwater habitats all over the eastern US. Because of their popularity as food fish they have been introduced into other environments and can now be found in every US state except Alaska.
Diet: Bluegills are omnivores and will eat insect larvae, crustaceans, small fish and even algae, getting close to their food and using a suction technique to capture the prey.
Bluegills have some sneaky breeding strategies. Traditionally a male will mature around age 7 at which point they will build nests of sand and gravel, which they guard vigorously. Females will lay eggs in the nest and the male will fertilize the eggs and remain at the nest to care for them.
Smaller and younger males, dubbed “sneakers,” have been documented sneaking in just as a female is laying eggs in another male’s nest. This sneaker will attempt to fertilize the eggs, allowing the other male to care for the nest. Some of these sneakers go one step further and develop to look like females so that they can sneak in to the nest site without being recognized as a rival male.
Getting to know your sunfish in Florida springs:
While there are other sunfish species that can be found in Florida’s springs, the four that are the most common and the best for a beginning fish-watcher to start with are Bluegill, Spotted Sunfish, Redear Sunfish, and Redbreast Sunfish.
Bluegill: look for that spot at the rear base of the dorsal fin.
Spotted sunfish: look for the iridescent blue under the eyes.
Redbreast sunfish: look for the long ear flap.
Redear sunfish: look for the red spot on the ear. That spot is not always visible so if your sunfish lacks any of the characteristics of the other three species, it might be a redear!