Bluegills and Pumpkinseeds share many similarities, including their distribution range–which means you’ll likely run into both while fishing. In this post, we explore what makes these fish special and how to easily tell them apart.
Are Pumpkinseed and Bluegill the Same?
No, Pumpkinseeds (Lepomis gibbosus) and Bluegills (Lepomis macrochirus) are not the same fish. These are two distinct species of fish that belong under the same family: Sunfish (Centrarchidae). They are both freshwater fish found in North America.
Despite being distinct species, Bluegills and Pumpkinseeds share many of the same traits, including physical characteristics. It’s not uncommon for even established fishermen to have a hard time telling the two apart.
What’s the Difference Between a Bluegill vs Pumpkinseed?
One of the first big differences between the species is their distribution range. Technically, Bluegills have a wider distribution throughout North America. They’re found along the east coast reaching south to Florida, west to Texas, into northern parts of Mexico, northwest into Minnesota, and back east to New York.
The Pumpkinseed, on the other hand, occurs natively from New Brunswick down to South Carolina, only reaching as far west as Iowa. However, Pumpkinseeds have also been introduced throughout much of the western part of North America, so it’s not uncommon to find both species sharing water sources.
Aside from distribution, these fish have many different physical features that will help you tell them apart. We’ll dig further into this topic later on.
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What is a Bluegill?
The Bluegill is a carnivorous freshwater species known to be a panfish as well, meaning they can be easily fried in a pan. Due to their small size, some fishermen will even use Bluegills for bait when going after larger carnivorous fish. Bluegills love shallow water in the 60-80 F range and avoid direct sunlight. They have a varied diet and enjoy insect larvae, water fleas, mayflies, dragonflies, crayfish, worms, snails and much more. Bluegills have small mouths.
What is a Pumpkinseed?
Pumpkinseeds are a much-loved species for young or beginner fishermen. They’re colorful and put up a fun little fight on the end of the line. Like the Bluegill, Pumpkinseeds are carnivorous and also considered panfish. Pumpkinseeds will hang out in warm calm water, but aren’t picky about whether it’s clear or heavily vegetated. These fish have very small mouths and prey on insects, worms, tadpoles, small frogs, minnow fry and more. Unlike many species of fish, Pumpkinseeds hang out at all levels of the water column.
How Can You Tell a Bluegill from a Pumpkinseed?
Because they have so much in common, telling these species apart means you’ll be relying heavily on physical characteristics. Knowing about each species in the following areas will help you identify what you have on your hook:
- Ear flaps
- Dorsal Fins
Bluegill vs Pumpkinseed Size Differences
As a rule, Pumpkinseeds are smaller than Bluegills. Pumpkinseeds reach 4 inches on average and weigh under 1 lb. Bluegills average anywhere from 4-12 inches depending on their environment and weigh in at roughly 2 lbs. They have a bit more meat on their bones.
Bluegill vs Pumpkinseed Ear Flap
The “ear flap” on a fish sits just where you’d expect an ear to be: behind the eye. On most fish this area isn’t too noticeable, but on some, it stands out.
This is the case with the Pumpkinseed. Pumpkinseeds have bright orange ear flaps, part of their colorful display, whereas the Bluegill has a darker and less obvious ear flap.
Bluegill vs Pumpkinseed Dorsal Fins
As Sunfish, both species have rayed fins. Their dorsal fins, the fins along the top of their bodies, differ in how many spines they have on each.
- Bluegill: 6-13 dorsal spines
- Pumpkinseed: 10-11 dorsal spines
These spines can be surprisingly dangerous as they’re needle-like in shape and can easily pierce skin. Make sure you’re handling both species carefully when fishing.
Bluegill vs Pumpkinseed Coloration Differences
Perhaps the most obvious difference between the Pumpkinseed and Bluegill is their coloration. Both fish are considered colorful compared to other species, however the Pumpkinseed blows competition out of the water-they’re essentially peacocks.
Pumpkinseeds have startlingly colorful bodies including orange, green or yellow scales with speckling along their sides. Their bellies are yellow-orange and the ear flap sticks out. Pumpkinseeds also have blue or green vertical bars running down their bodies and orange spots along the dorsal, anal and caudal fins. Their cheeks are covered in blue lines.
The Bluegill, on the other hand, is aptly named but much less colorful. Bluegills have black ear flaps as well as a dark spot at the base of their dorsal fin. The head is usually a shade of blue and the body can be blue or purple-blue. Vertical bars of color along the body are dark. The Bluegill’s belly is yellow, but breeding males have bright orange breasts.
Where Can You Find Pumpkinseeds?
Pumpkinseeds aren’t picky when it comes to habitat and they’ll hang out in ponds, lakes, creeks and rivers. They like to check out vegetation, but are also comfortable in clear water. Pumpkinseeds prefer warmer temperatures of 60-80 F and won’t be anywhere near fast-moving water. When startled, they’ll hide in vegetation.
Pumpkinseed Fishing Tips
The best tip for catching Pumpkinseeds is to bring enough bait. These fish are voracious, and if you’re using live or natural bait, they’ll swarm your hook quickly. Don’t be surprised if you feel a nibble and your bait disappears completely. Pumpkinseeds are considered easy to catch and while you don’t need artificial rigs and lures, if you prefer them, they’ll do as well as a worm.
Keep in mind that lures used for Pumpkinseeds need to be on the smaller size due to their tiny mouths and should also simulate regular prey for this species.
Where Can You Find Bluegill?
Unlike the Pumpkinseed, Bluegills like to hide out in vegetation or around structures in the water (like logs and rock shelves). These fish prefer warm water in the 60-80 F temperature range and will stay out of direct sunlight. They congregate in shallower water in lakes and ponds, but it isn’t uncommon to find them in streams and river sources as well.
Bluegill Fishing Tips
Bluegills may be harder to catch as they’ll dodge for cover as soon as they’re startled. That means you’ll want to check out rigs that won’t get caught up in vegetation. Bluegills will happily go after live bait, but lures work with them as well; some of the best Bluegill lures simulate live prey. Keep in mind that hooks should be on the smaller size, as Bluegills have small mouths.
If you find yourself on the bank of a calm, warm pond in North America, hopefully this post has prepared you to be able to tell the difference between the possible species on the end of your line. Both the Bluegill and Pumpkinseed are fun and easy fish to catch; the tough part is telling them apart! Happy fishing!
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