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Hybrids, More Sunfish

A few weeks ago I blogged about hybrid fish, Hybrids.  Fish identification can be a challenge and hybridization makes it even more difficult.  In that blog post I noted that if you can handle and look at the parent species and hybrids together, identification becomes easier.  Unfortunately, seldom do we catch those different species and hybrids at the same time.  So, I tried my best to show some photos comparing the parent species and their hybrid.

At the time, I mentioned there were a number of hybrid fish in Nebraska that anglers might catch.  I did not want to include all of them in one colossal blog post.  So, I promised to return to the subject and post more later.  Now it is “later”.

I highlighted bluegill, redear sunfish and their hybrid in the first post.  Am going to return to Lepomid sunfish species and highlight a couple more here.

Green Sunfish

Green sunfish are found everywhere.  They are one of the most widely distributed native species in Nebraska.

They often hybridize with bluegills.


Have to admit that this one was harder to illustrate than the redear X bluegill hybrid.  First of all, I did not have photos of all of the fish taken in the same place at or near the same time.  Secondly, it is harder to illustrate because of the variability in bluegill coloration due to gender, sexual strategy and maturity.  I tried to choose photos with similar backgrounds and make the best of it.

Again notice that hybrids have a blend or combination of characteristics of the parent species.  One big tip-off with green sunfish is their mouths are larger, compared to body size, than bluegills.  That also is true for the green sunfish X bluegill hybrids.

Also have to admit that there can be some variability in the green sunfish X bluegill hybrids based upon the sex of the parent species.  Back-crossing of the hybrids with the parent species is also possible, and that also results in a lot more variability.

So, just know that I am giving one visual example, but believe it should give you the idea.

A few more comments about green sunfish. . . . As I said they are widely distributed in Nebraska and frequently occur in the same waters as bluegills.  Green sunfish and bluegills are related closely enough that hybridization occurs frequently.  However, green sunfish are a pioneer species that quickly invade new habitats or habitats that for some reason do not support healthy populations of more popular sport fish.  Green sunfish X bluegill hybridization is most common in new reservoirs and ponds.  Although green sunfish may persist over time in those waters, their numbers tend to decline as bluegills tend to dominate.  Likewise, the occurrence of the hybrids tend to decline over time as well.  The abundance of the hybrids can increase again if there is some disturbance to the system that again favors green sunfish.


Pumpkinseed sunfish are another Lepomid sunfish found in Nebraska.  Unlike green sunfish, pumpkinseeds are far less common.  Pumpkinseeds are more common in waters to the north of Nebraska and in our state are found mostly in northern and northwestern waters.

Again, pumpkinseed sunfish are often found in waters with bluegills and the species are related closely enough that hybridization does occur.  My fishing partners and I have caught a few pumpkinseeds in Nebraska and we have caught a few fish that we suspect were hybrids.


Once more, I did the best I could with the photos I had.  Believe that the illustration again shows the intermediate/combination of characteristics between the parent species.

I must also mention that there can be differences in other body parts that can be determined by closer examination.  In some cases that might even require examination of internal anatomy.  Did not go there because I wanted to keep this simple, and know that most of us are going to look at the fish in hand and make an identification.

You will have to hunt to find pumpkinseeds to catch in Nebraska.  But, it can be done!  I have not caught any where I also did not catch bluegills, so you certainly can catch a hybrid as well.

Lastly, let me say one more time, fish identification is important.  If nothing else, it is interesting to note the variety of fish being caught, and it will increase your appreciation for all of those fish!

About daryl bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

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