Freshwater Fish Identification
Other names: Bream, brim, perch, sunfish, sunperch
Lepomis, the generic name, is Greek and means "scaled gill cover."
The species epithet macrochirus is also Greek and means "large hand"
which may refer to the body shape or its size. Bluegills may be distinguished
from other sunfish by the dark spot at the base of the dorsal fin, vertical bars
on their sides, and a relatively small mouth. The spiny dorsal fin usually has
10 spines (but may have as many as 11 or as few as 9), and is broadly connected
to the soft dorsal. The anal fin has three spines. The back and upper sides are
usually dark olive green blending to lavender, brown, copper, or orange on the
sides, and reddish-orange or yellow on the belly. Colors are more intense in
breeding males, and vertical bars may take on a reddish hue.
Although less than one percent of licensed Texas anglers say they "prefer" to
catch sunfish, bluegill and other sunfish are nevertheless a vital part of many
freshwater fisheries nationwide, including Texas. Many pre-license age anglers
begin their fishing careers by bank fishing for bluegills and other sunfish.
Bluegills provide plenty of fight, pound for pound. In Texas, bluegills
approaching two pounds have been landed in public waters, and fish over three
pounds are known from private tanks. The largest bluegill on record was 4 pounds
12 ounces, landed in 1950 from Ketona Lake in Alabama.
Bluegills begin spawning when water temperatures reach about 70°F. Spawning
may peak in May or June, but continues until water temperatures cool in the
fall. Because of their long spawning season, bluegills have very high
reproductive potential, which often results in overpopulation in the face of low
predation or low fishing pressure. Nests are created in shallow water, one to
two feet in depth. Gravel substrate is preferred. Fifty or more nests may be
crowded into a small area, thus creating a spawning bed. Males guard the nest
until the eggs hatch and fry leave. Young fish feed on plankton, but as they
grow the diet shifts to aquatic insects and their larvae. Up to 50% of their
diet may consist of midge larvae.
Bluegills appear to have been native to the eastern half of the United
States, southeastern Canada and northeastern Mexico, exclusive of the coastal
plain north of Virginia. Today, as a result of countless intentional as well as
no doubt unintentional introductions, bluegill are found throughout the US and
northern Mexico. Bluegills are found throughout Texas. Three subspecies are
present: Lepomis macrochirus macrochirus which is native to the
northeastern half of the state, Lepomis macrochirus speciosus which is
native to the central, southern, and western portions of the state, and
Lepomis macrochirus purpurescens, a native of Atlantic coast states
which has been introduced widely as a sport and forage fish.
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