Two of the most commonly confused freshwater species are perch and bluegill.
Despite the casual interchangeability of their names by some anglers, these two fish are quite distinct.
In this article, we’ll explore the differences and similarities between the term ‘perch’ and bluegill, and why they’re often mixed up.
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Are Perch And Bluegill The Same?
Perch and bluegill are not the same. The term ‘Perch’ can refer to a number of species, most commonly the yellow perch Perca flavescens, or the white perch Morone americana which actually isn’t a true species of perch…(more on that later).
In some regions and parts of North America, ‘perch’ is used as a generic term to describe any manner of panfish. This could include bluegill, yellow perch, white perch, redear sunfish, and sometimes crappie.
But, that’s not all, there are other species of fish sometimes referred to as perch, such as:
- European Perch (Perca fluviatilis)
- Nile Perch (Lates niloticus)
- Silver Perch (Bairdiella chrysoura)
But, make no mistake about it. Perch and bluegill are not the same. Bluegill is its own distinct species, and perch can refer to a number of perch-related fish.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these distinct species of freshwater panfish.
Yellow perch, is a freshwater fish native to North America. Scientifically known as Perca flavescens, yellow perch belongs to the Percidae family. Here are some of the defining features of Yellow Perch:
- Coloration: As the name suggests, yellow perch typically have a yellow or golden hue, with distinct dark vertical stripes along their bodies.
- Size: They usually range between 4-12 inches, though some can grow larger in optimal conditions.
- Habitat: Preferring cooler waters, perch are commonly found in lakes and slow-moving rivers. They tend to stay near the bottom, especially during daylight hours.
The white perch is a bit of a misnomer, as it’s not a true perch from the Percidae family but rather belongs to the Moronidae family, making it a relative of striped bass and white bass. Here are some of the defining features of White Perch:
- Coloration: White perch are generally silver-gray to pale green on their back, transitioning to a lighter silver on the sides and belly. They might sometimes have faint stripes, but these are not as distinct as those on the yellow perch.
- Size: Typically, they range from 8 to 10 inches in length, though some individuals can grow up to 12 inches or more. In terms of weight, they usually hover around 1 pound, but larger specimens can weigh 2 pounds or more.
- Habitat: Originally from the Atlantic coastal regions, white perch thrive in both freshwater and brackish environments. They can be found in large rivers, estuaries, ponds, and lakes. Over time, they have been introduced to other freshwater habitats outside their native range.
Bluegill, known scientifically as Lepomis macrochirus, belongs to the sunfish family, Centrarchidae. They are one of the most popular, and abundant species of panfish found in North America.
Some would even say that the Bluegill is the quintessential ‘panfish!’. Here are some of their most defining characteristics:
- Coloration: Bluegills have a distinct color palette that ranges from deep green to blue on its upper body, blending into a paler yellow or white underside. They may also have faint vertical stripes, but these are not as pronounced as those on perch.
- Size: Bluegills typically range from 6-10 inches in length.
- Habitat: These fish prefer warm, shallow waters. They often inhabit ponds, lakes, and slow-moving streams, hiding among water plants or near submerged objects.
What Is The Difference Between Perch And Bluegill?
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Distinguishing between perch and bluegill isn’t too challenging once you know what to look for:
- Gill Flaps: The name “bluegill” isn’t random. These fish have a characteristic blue or black “ear” or flap on their gills, which perch do not have.
- Body Shape: Perch have an elongated body compared to bluegills, which have a more rounded or disk-like shape.
- Stripes: The pronounced dark vertical stripes on a perch are a dead giveaway. While bluegills might sometimes have stripes, they’re typically fainter.
- Dorsal Fins: Bluegills have a single dorsal fin that’s almost connected, whereas yellow perch and white perch have two separate dorsal fins.
Why the Confusion?
Well part of the confusion comes from just simple terminology and preference. Non-anglers and even some seasoned fishermen might use “perch” as a colloquial term for any small panfish, including bluegill.
For beginners, or at a quick glance (especially when they are smaller), the fish might seem similar in size and coloration.
And since they share similar habitats, and have an overlapping range throughout North America its no surprise this is a common point of confusion.
While perch and bluegill might appear similar to the untrained eye, a closer inspection reveals distinct differences.
Nicknames, regional customs, and just old-fashioned angler terminology are to blame…some people just grew up calling bluegill and other panfish ‘perch’!
By understanding these differences, not only do you become a more knowledgeable angler, but you also appreciate the diverse world of freshwater fishing even more.
Thanks for reading!
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