Bluegill vs Redear Sunfish – What’s the Difference? Panfish

Bluegill and redear sunfish are very similar. For this reason many people wonder if they’re the same or differences. Therefore, let’s answer, is a redear sunfish the same as a bluegill?

Redear sunfish and bluegill are different species of fish although they are from the same family. Redear sunfish is the L. microlophus and bluegill is the L. macrochirus species. The most identifiable difference is the redear’s operculum has a bright red edge compared to the bluegill which is all black. 

This article will compare their 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 their habitats, appearance and compare their nutritional value.

Bluegill vs Redear Sunfish: Habitats, Size, Weight and Appearance

How can you tell the difference?

The best way to tell the difference between a bluegill and a redear sunfish is to check their operculum (gill ears). The bluegill’s operculum is completely black. The redear’s operculum is black with a bright red edge. Bluegill has a black spot on the dorsal fin base which redears doesn’t have.

redear sunfish and bluegill photo comparison
top Bluegill<br>bottom Redear sunfish

Another way to tell the difference is to check inside their throats. Redears have teeth inside their throat. Bluegills don’t have any teeth.

Redears have brown spots speckled on the sides of their body with faint black bars. Bluegill doesn’t have any brown spots and their black bars are darker and more prominent.

Bluegill have bright blue coloring on their cheeks and chin while redears have a golden yellow color with brown spots.

Bluegill and Redear Sunfish Scientific Classifications, Families, Species

Bluegill are from:

  • Family: Centrarchidae
  • Genus: Lepomis
  • Species: L. macrochirus
  • Common nicknames: Bream, brim, sunny, sunnies, perch.

Redear Sunfish are from:

  • Family: Centrarchidae
  • Genus: Lepomis
  • Species: L. microlophus
  • Common nicknames: Shellcracker, cherry gill, Georgia bream, chinquapin.

Redear are nicknamed shellcracker due to its teeth inside the throat area. They use the teeth to crush the shells of mussels and snails.

Other Sunfish Species: Black Bass?

Other sunfish species include black bass (bass Micropterus), largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, crappies, pumpkin fish, bass spotted, Alabama bass. They are not part of the bass species.

Habitats

Bluegill

  • Native to North America and can be found from Canada to northern Mexico.
  • When fishing they can be found in streams, ponds, lakes and rivers.
  • They like to hide under fallen logs, piers or in weeds.

Redear Sunfish

  • Native to the southeast United States from North Carolina down to Florida. Over west to southern Illinois and Missouri, south to Texas. In addition, they have been introduced to many other United States locations.
  • When fishing they can be found in rivers, lakes, ponds, reservoirs and streams.
  • They prefer to stay near logs, rocks and vegetation.
Bluegill in their natural habitat.

Appearance

Colors

  • 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.
  • Redears have an olive color upper body with a gold-green sheen fading to yellow on the lower sides and belly. The side is speckled with brown spots. Redear fish have red marks on the top of their gills. There are faint vertical bars leading down from the dorsal fin.

Both fish are colorful. The vertical bars on the redear are fainter and less obvious than the bluegills.

Dorsal Fins

  • Bluegills have one dorsal fin with 6-13 spines and 11-12 rays.
  • Redear sunfish has one dorsal fin with about 10-11 spines followed by 10-12 rays.

Mouth

  • Both of their mouths are small, and the jaws don’t extend to the eye line.

The redear sunfish has a pointier snout compared to the bluegills which has a more streamlined mouth and head blending into the body. The redear sunfish has teeth in the mouth, and bluegills don’t.

Scales

  • Both of their scales are similar size across the body and head.

Body Shape

  • Bluegills are flat and have a rounder shape. The mouth hardly protrudes and is more streamlined.
  • Redears are flat and not round like bluegill. They are more elongated.

Size and Weight

  • Bluegill average 6-7″ long and weighs less than 2 pounds.
  • Redear average 7-9.5″ long and weighs 1-2 or more pounds.

Lifespan

  • Bluegill average 5-6 years.
  • Redear sunfish lives up to 8 years.

Diet

Bluegill are aggressive feeders willing to strike both live and artificial baits. They consume the following:

  • Worms
  • Small crustaceans
  • Insects
  • Insect larvae

Redear sunfish consume the following:

  • Snails
  • Mussels
  • Ostracods
  • Worms
  • Fish eggs
  • Small crustaceans

Redear sunfish doesn’t compete with bluegill for resources because their primary diet is aquatic invertebrates, including snails.

Redear sunfish in their habitat and hooking them.

Find out how green sunfish compared in my article here.

Sunfish: Tastes and Textures

One of the most important things people takes into consideration when choosing a fish is its taste. When comparing the two fish, bluegill vs redear sunfish, does one taste like the other?

Redear sunfish taste similar to bluegill and has a mild to sweet taste. Both fish have a firm, flakey texture. 

Redear sunfish tastes good and is pleasing to most people having a mild to sweet taste. The white flesh is slightly firm and flakey.

Depending on the time of year or type of water, both of them may taste slight muddy or fishy to some people. The fish can be soaked in milk to help eliminate any unpleasant taste or odor.

To conduct original research, I polled clients, members of food groups and readers. I asked them which fish taste better?

  • 59% said they preferred bluegill.
  • 32% said they preferred redear.
  • 9% said they had no preference.

To conduct more research, I set up a taste test at home. Both fish were cooked and seasoned the exact way. 75% said they preferred the bluegill.

Sunfish Substitutions

When preparing recipes for dinner it’s not always possible to locate the type of fish in a store or while fishing. If you don’t have what you need, you may ask, can I substitute one for the other?

Redear sunfish and bluegill can substitute for each other due to their similar tastes and textures. Both fish can be used in many of the same recipes and cooking methods. They both can be cooked by baking, broiling, steaming, grilling and pan frying.

Bluegill substitutes:

  • White crappie
  • Black crappie
  • Pumpkinseed
  • Redbreast sunfish
  • Redear sunfish
  • Pollock
  • Lake herring

Redear sunfish substitutes:

  • Bluegill
  • White crappie
  • Black crappie
  • Lake herring
  • Tilapia
  • Pollock

Crappie is a little easier to find online than some of the other sunfish. See how crappie compared in my article, Crappie – What’s The Difference? Let’s Compare.

How to prepare and cook bluegills.

How Much Redear Sunfish and Bluegill Costs

The costs for some seafood will vary depending on the type of fishing and where they’re sold. When purchasing any fish, be sure to check the label. Therefore, which fish is more expensive?

Redear sunfish and bluegill have a similar price. The average cost for either fish fillets are $19.43 per pound. 

Redear sunfish fillets are extremely difficult to find for sale. Other sunfish are easier to find online.

To conduct more original research, I checked for prices at the following stores.

At Walleye Direct I found the following prices:

  • Wild, bluegill fillets
    • $25.36 per pound

Seafood Markets:

  • Wild, sunfish fillets (does not specify which kind of sunfish)
    • $18.00 per pound

Dixon Fisheries:

  • Bluegill fillets
    • $14.95 per pound

For stocking ponds, Pond King has the following price per live fish:

  • Hybrid bluegill (green sunfish x bluegill) $0.75 per 3-4″ fish
  • Bluegill – $0.75 per 3-4″ fish
  • Redear sunfish – $0.80 per 3-4″ fish
Kevin Garce checking prices of catfish and seafood in his local supermarket.
Checking prices of catfish bass and seafood in my local market

I recently wrote a comparison article with pumpkinseed. Their differences may interest you. Check out my article here, Pumpkinseed – Are They The Same? Let’s Compare.

Bluegill and Redear Sunfish Mercury Levels

The EPA and The FDA have issued suggestions and warnings about mercury levels in fish and how often they should be consumed 1. This is especially important for young infants, pregnant women and developing children.

They established three lists. Best fish, good choices and ones to avoid based on their mercury levels. Therefore, which one has more mercury?

Redear sunfish and bluegill have similar levels of mercury. Both 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, especially when fishing, for the current recommendations 2.

Nutrition

Both fish are an excellent source of healthy fats, protein, B vitamins and minerals. They contain the following:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Folate
  • Niacin
  • B6
  • B12
  • B5
  • Thiamin
  • Riboflavin
  • Iron
  • Selenium
  • Calcium
  • Zinc

Bluegill provides the following number of nutrients per four raw ounces:

Nutrient Bluegill, raw (4 Ounces)
Calories 129
Fat 0.8 g
Saturated Fat 0.5 g
Cholesterol 97 mg
Protein 22 g
Sodium 82 mg
Omega-3 0.16 g
B-6 0.1 mg
B-12 2.0 mcg
Thiamin 0.10 mg
Riboflavin 0.10 mg
B5 0.7 mg
Iron 1.7 mg
Niacin 1.4 mg
Folate 17.0 mcg
Potassium 395 mg
Magnesium 34 mg
Phosphorus 203 mg
Calcium 90.4 mg
Zinc 1.6 mg
Selenium 14.2 mcg

Nutrient Resources 3 4

Both provide almost an equal number of the same nutrients. Keep reading the next section below to find out how the nutrients benefit health, especially omega-3s.

Since the sunfish are difficult to locate in stores, I’ll consume either fish available to me for their nutrient content, taste and health benefits.

Redbreast sunfish is a different species. Find out how they compared in my article, Redbreast Sunfish – What’s The Difference?

rock bass and bluegill dinner
Bluegill dinner

Redear Sunfish and Bluegills Health Benefits

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

The omega-3 fatty acids are heart healthy and help keep arteries healthy. The omega-3s may help with the following:

  • Reduce inflammation.
  • Reduce plaque buildup.
  • Keeping bad cholesterol low.
  • Keeping good cholesterol high.
  • 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 5.

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.

omega-3 in salmon and fish oil
Sources of Omega 3

Magnesium

Both fish provide about 34 mg of magnesium per four ounces. It calms and relaxes the whole body including blood vessels. Magnesium has been shown to help improve sleep related problems like insomnia 6.

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 7.

The magnesium 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.

B Vitamins

The B vitamins provided include B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B9 (folate) B6, B12 and B5. B vitamins help support the following:

  • Digestion.
  • Brain function.
  • Energy levels.
  • Red blood cells.
  • Cardiovascular disease.
  • Nerve function.

Potassium

Potassium provided is approximately 400 mg. Potassium helps the body get rid of excess sodium which helps reduce fluid build-up. These help keep systolic and diastolic blood pressure lower 8.

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 9.

According to Harvard Health, a number of studies have shown a connection between low potassium levels and increased blood pressure 10.

Phosphorus

Both fish provide approximately 203 mg of phosphorus per four ounces. It has been shown in scientific research to help with the following:

  • Promote healthy nerve conduction.
  • Aides the kidneys in waste removal.
  • Promote teeth and bone strength.
  • Muscle recovery after exercise.
  • Muscle contraction.
  • Help the body store and manage energy.

Selenium

There are 14.2 mcg of selenium per four ounces. I’m unsure why many don’t write about it more because studies 11 show selenium may help to protect the following:

  • The immune system
  • Thyroid
  • Cognitive issues
  • Heart disease

If you have any questions about this article don’t hesitate to email us. You can find an email on our contact page.

As a Certified Health Coach many of my clients ask me about seafood. In addition to educating my Health Coaching clients about redear and bluegill, I have researched, purchased and consumed both fish for 20 years prior to, during and after writing this article.

Read Next – More SunFish vs Fish Articles!

Black Crappie vs White Crappie – What’s The Difference?

Crappie vs Bass – What’s The Difference? Let’s Compare

White Crappie vs White Perch: Are They The Same? We Compare

FAQs

Do redear sunfish eat bluegill?

Adult redear sunfish are slightly larger than adult bluegill, not big enough to eat a bluegill. Redear sunfish’s favorite diet is consuming snails and mussels.

Is a redear a bluegill?

A redear is not a bluegill. They both belong to the same family and genus of sunfish but redear sunfish and bluegill are different species of fish.

Article Resources: Foods For Anti-Aging follows strict guidelines to ensure our content is the highest journalistic standard. It's our mission to provide the reader with accurate, honest and unbiased guidance. Our content relies on medical associations, research institutions, government agencies and study resources. Learn more by reading our editorial policy.
  1. FDA: Advice about Eating Fish[]
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Mercury accumulation in largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) in a Florida lake[]
  3. The Topeka Capital-Journal: Keto, Paleo or Atkins diet? Hunting, fishing can help trim your waistline in 2020[]
  4. Nutritiondata: Fish, sunfish, raw[]
  5. National Center for Biotechnology: Marine Omega-3 Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease[]
  6. National Institutes of Health: Magnesium[]
  7. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis[]
  8. American Heart Association: How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure[]
  9. National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Effect of the Sodium to Potassium Ratio on Hypertension Prevalence: A Propensity Score Matching Approach[]
  10. Harvard Health: Potassium lowers blood pressure[]
  11. National Institutes of Health: Selenium[]

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