Bluegill and green sunfish share many similarities. For this reason many people wonder if they’re the same sunfish or about their differences. Therefore, what is the difference between a bluegill and a green sunfish?
Bluegill and green sunfish are different species of fish although they are from the same family. Bluegill is the L. macrochirus species and green sunfish is the L. cyanellus species. Bluegill grow longer and weigh approximately double the pounds than green sunfish. Green sunfish can have a slightly stronger flavor.
This article will compare both sunfish tastes, textures, cooking methods, costs, mercury levels and whether one can substitute for the other in recipes. In addition, I’ll do a side-by-side comparison of the sunfish habitats, size, weight and discuss their nutritional benefits.
Bluegill vs Green Sunfish: Habitats, Size, Weight and Appearance
How can you tell the difference between the two sunfish?
To tell the difference between a bluegill and a green sunfish is to check the size of the mouth, head shape and the color markings on the side of the head. The green sunfish has a larger mouth and a longer snout than the bluegill whose head is more streamlined to the shape of the rounder body. The bluegill has solid blue coloring on the side of the head and gills compared to the broken blueish stripes on a green sunfish.
Bluegill and Green Sunfish Scientific Classifications, Families, Species
Bluegill species are from:
- Family: Centrarchidae
- Genus: Lepomis
- Species: L. macrochirus
- Common nicknames: Bream, brim, sunny, perch.
Green sunfish species are from:
- Family: Centrarchidae
- Genus: Lepomis
- Species: L. cyanellus
- Common nicknames: Branch perch, rock bass, goggle-eye.
Other Sunfish Species: Pumpkinseed sunfish and Orangespotted Sunfish
The pumpkinseed sunfish and orangespotted sunfish are both sunfish but from a different sunfish family. Other sunfish species include crappie, redear, redbreast, smallmouth, largemouth and longer sunfish.
- Native to North America and can be found from Canada to northern Mexico.
- When fishing you can find this species in streams, ponds, lakes and rivers.
- They like to hide under fallen logs, piers or in weeds.
- Native to North America. They can be found from the Hudson Bay in Canada down to northern Mexico.
- When fishing you can find this species in lakes, rivers, streams and ponds.
- They hide around rocks, fallen logs or in plants.
Both sunfish share many of the areas, types of water and both like to hide under cover.
- Bluegills have an olive green upper body and light yellowish to orange belly. The sides of the head and chin are iridescence blue or purple. They have dark vertical bands on its sides. A breeding male will have more orange than yellow on the belly.
- Bluegills have flat bodies and are dark blue with lighter spots.
- Green sunfish have a greenish to blue upper back and dorsal fin. The sides of the head and gill covers (ear flap or opercular flap) have broken blueish stripes. The sides are speckled with lighter green and yellow with dusky, faint vertical bars. The belly is yellowish to white. Since they are particularly bright one might be called a sunfish.
The blue broken lines on the side of the green sunfish’s head and gills and the yellowish belly are what makes some people confuse this sunfish with a bluegill.
Another similar marking both sunfish possess is a dark spot on the ear plate (the rear edge of the gills) and near the back end of the dorsal fin.
- Bluegill has one dorsal fin with 6-13 spines and 11-12 rays.
- Green sunfish has one dorsal fin with about 10 spines and 10 rays.
- The bluegill mouth is small, and the jaw doesn’t extend past the eye line.
- The green sunfish mouth is relatively large with a long snout. The jawline does not extend past the eye line.
- Both sunfish scales are similar size across the body and head.
Size and Weight
- Bluegill average 6-7″ long and weighs less than 2 pounds.
- Green sunfish average 5-6″ long and weighs less than one pound.
Check out all the differences with a crappie species in my article, Crappie – What’s The Difference? Let’s Compare.
Bluegill consume the following:
- Small crustaceans
- Insect larvae
Green sunfish consume the following:
- Insect larvae
- Fish eggs
The diet of both sunfish are very similar.
Fishing for bluegill, longear sunfish and others
When fishing for bluegill sunfish, fishing reports state the best time is during the spring and summer spawn.
Typically, the sunfish will be in two to six feet of water under cover. Bait may include a piece of worm, crickets, grasshoppers and red wrigglers.
Always check your local visitor center, State parks and advisory council for fishing tips, licenses, restrictions and regulations. State parks are a great place to learn about fishing, tips, fish biology, species, panfish and featured content about related topics.
Bluegill and Green Sunfish: Tastes and Textures
One of the most important things people takes into consideration when choosing a fish in a store or fishing is its taste. When comparing the two sunfish, does one sunfish taste like the other?
Green sunfish taste similar to bluegill and has a mild to sweet taste. Some people find the green sunfish flavor to be slightly stronger. Both sunfish have a firm, flakey texture.
Typically, green sunfish are not targeted by anglers because of their small size. Many times they are easy to catch and kept because they taste good or used for bait.
To conduct original research about sunfish taste, I polled many of my clients, readers and members of food groups I belong to. The following are the results of my sunfish poll which consisted of 50 people.
I asked which fish, bluegill vs green sunfish, tasted better?
- 62% preferred the taste of bluegill sunfish.
- 38% preferred the taste of green sunfish.
To conduct more research, I setup a fish home taste test. Both sunfish were cooked and seasoned the same way. The results of my taste test was similar to the poll.
Check out how white crappie species compared to white perch in my article, White Crappie vs White Perch: Are They The Same? We Compare.
Watch the following video which explains how to cook bluegill.
When preparing recipes for dinner it’s not always possible to locate the type of fish in a store or fishing. If you have one sunfish, you may ask, can I substitute one sunfish for the other?
Bluegill and green sunfish can substitute for each other due to their similar tastes and textures. Both sunfish can be used in many of the same recipes and cooking methods. They both can be cooked by baking, broiling, steaming and frying.
- White crappie
- Black crappie
- Lake herring
Green sunfish substitutes:
- White crappie
- Black crappie
- Lake herring
Green Sunfish and Bluegill Sunfish Mercury Levels
The EPA and The Food and Drug Administration have issued warnings and suggestions regarding mercury levels in all fish species and how often they should be consumed 1. This is especially important for pregnant women, developing children and young infants.
They established a list of best fish, good choices and fish to avoid based on their mercury levels. Therefore, does sunfish or bluegill have more mercury?
Bluegill and green sunfish have similar levels of mercury. Both sunfish are listed on the FDA’s best choice of fish regarding mercury levels.
If you’re pregnant, breast feeding or has a young child, Always check with a physician prior to eating new foods or changing your dietary habits.
These mercury warnings can change over time or affect only a particular area or state. Please check with your local EPA and FDA for the current recommendations for each species especially if you are fishing 2.
How Much Green Sunfish and Bluegills Cost
The costs for sunfish will vary depending on how it was caught while fishing and where they’re sold. When purchasing any fish, be sure to check the label. Therefore, which sunfish is more expensive?
Green sunfish and bluegill have a similar price. The average cost for both sunfish fillets are $19.43 per pound.
Green sunfish fillets are extremely difficult to find for sale. Most people get them fishing. Bluegill or some other sunfish are easier to find online.
To conduct original research about prices, I checked various stores for the prices of each species.
First, I checked online at Walleye Direct and found the following prices:
- Wild fillets, bluegills
- $25.36 per pound
- Wild, sunfish fillets (does not specify which kind of sunfish)
- $18.00 per pound
- Fillets, Bluegills
- $14.95 per pound
For stocking fishing ponds, Pond King has the following price per species of fish:
- Hybrid bluegills (green sunfish x bluegill) $0.75 per 3-4″ fish
- Bluegills – $0.75 per 3-4″ fish
Both sunfish are an excellent source of healthy fats, protein, B vitamins and minerals. Both sunfish fish contain the following:
- Omega-3 fatty acids
The nutrients listed above provide many health benefits. The omega-3 fatty acids contained in fresh fish make these types of seafood more beneficial than most other foods, including chicken.
Keep reading below and find out why omega-3 fatty acids are so important for your health.
Since the sunfish are difficult to locate in stores, I’ll consume either fish species available to me for their nutrient content, taste and health benefits.
Bluegill and Green Sunfish Health Benefits
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
The omega-3 fatty acids contained in both sunfish are heart healthy and help keep arteries healthy. The omega-3s may help with the following:
- Keeping good cholesterol high.
- Keeping bad cholesterol low.
- Reducing plaque build-up.
- Reducing inflammation.
- Lowering triglycerides.
- Help keep the heart rhythms more normal.
DHA and EPA, two of the fatty acids, are associated with lowering blood pressure and improving the health of blood vessels 3.
Studies suggest omega-3s can help reduce joint pain and stiffness in people with rheumatoid arthritis. They may also boost the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs.
The B vitamins provided by both sunfish include B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5, B6, B9 (folate) and B12. B vitamins help support the following:
- Red blood cells.
- Energy levels.
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Nerve function.
- Brain function.
Selenium is a nutrient which doesn’t receive much press. I’m unsure why many don’t write about it more because studies 4 show selenium may help to protect the following:
- Cognitive issues
- Heart disease
- The immune system
Many fresh fish fillets provide more potassium per four ounces than a whole banana. Potassium helps the body get rid of excess sodium which helps reduce fluid build-up. These help keep systolic and diastolic blood pressure lower 5.
The more potassium you consume, the more sodium your body will lose. Consuming too much sodium or not enough potassium throws off the delicate balance the kidneys need to remove the excess water 6.
According to Harvard Health, a number of studies have shown a connection between low potassium levels and increased blood pressure 7.
Magnesium helps to calm and relax the whole body including blood vessels. It has been shown to help improve sleep related problems like insomnia 8.
Magnesium helps keep blood pressure levels balanced and stable. A recent study researched 22 studies and concluded magnesium supplementation decreased diastolic and systolic blood pressure 9.
Magnesium provided by sunfish helps control muscle and nerve function, blood sugar and blood pressure.
In the muscles and heart, magnesium competes with calcium to help the muscles relax after contracting. When the body is low in magnesium, calcium can over stimulate the heart muscle’s cells causing a rapid or irregular heartbeat.
The calcium contained in both sunfish is important for blood pressure and the heart. Harvard Health reports calcium helps maintain blood pressure because it helps to control the relaxing and tightening of blood vessels 10.
Calcium also helps the following:
- Improve nerve function.
- Build and maintain strong bones.
- Muscles need calcium to function properly.
Phosphorus has been shown in scientific research to help with the following:
- Promote teeth and bone strength.
- Muscle recovery after exercise.
- Muscle contraction.
- Help the body store and manage energy.
- Help the kidneys remove waste.
- Promote healthy nerve conduction.
As a Certified Health Coach many of my clients ask me about sunfish. In addition to educating my Health Coaching clients about sunfish and bluegill, I have researched, purchased and consumed both fish for 20 years prior to, during and after writing this article.
If you have any questions about this article don’t hesitate to email us. You can find an email on our contact page.
Read Next – More Fish vs Fish Articles!
- FDA: Advice about Eating Fish
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Mercury accumulation in largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) in a Florida lake
- National Center for Biotechnology: Marine Omega-3 Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease
- National Institutes of Health: Selenium
- American Heart Association: How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Effect of the Sodium to Potassium Ratio on Hypertension Prevalence: A Propensity Score Matching Approach
- Harvard Health: Potassium lowers blood pressure
- National Institutes of Health: Magnesium
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis
- Harvard Health: Key minerals to help control blood pressure