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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Bluegill - Lepomis macrochirus

Non-native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: SNA

Agency Status


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General Description
Like all of the sunfish, the bluegill is native to central and eastern North America, not Montana. However, it is now found across most of eastern Montana. Similar to other sunfish species, the bluegill is a shoreline spring spawner. Males begin the nest-building by fanning the bottom with their fins to clear a shallow, bowl-like depression. Spawning is very temperature dependent, but when conditions are favorable a willing female lays her eggs in the nest. The male guards the nest tenaciously until the fry hatch out, and any type of intruder will be viciously attacked during the nesting season. All of the smaller sunfishes have been known to hybridize with other species and bluegills are no exception. Bluegill are the largest of the sunfishes other than bass and thus widely acclaimed as a sport fish in the Midwest. In Montana, they have grown to nearly 3 pounds, but they generally do not attain a size to make them a desirable sport fish. Consequently, fisheries managers who used to routinely stock bluegill in combination with bass, seldom do so in Montana today.

Diagnostic Characteristics
Gill rakers moderately long and slender. Ear flap smaller on females and young males than adult males. Young usually have vertical bars that become faint as adults.

Species Range
Montana Range


Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 304

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Preferred habitat is comparatively warm lakes and ponds with abundant vegetation; also, in the quiet pools of streams.

Food Habits
Avid feeder. Eats mostly aquatic insects and other invertebrates throughout its life. Small amounts of aquatic vegetation and small fish are also taken by adults.

Mostly found with other sunfish species in southeast Montana.

Reproductive Characteristics
Sexually matures mostly in 2 years. Spawns May - July after water temperatures exceed 68 degrees F.

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Citation for data on this website:
Bluegill — Lepomis macrochirus.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from