The Bluegill species is fun to catch on your favorite lake, river, or stream. Bluegills are widely distributed across the U.S. and most commonly found in weed beds, creek channels, and off deep points, where they put their gill rakers and small teeth to good use.
Here’s what we’ve discovered about bluegills and how they use their jaws and teeth to their advantage.
Do Bluegills Have Teeth?
Bluegills do have teeth, but they are smaller than other popular freshwater fish such as walleye, pike, or trout.
It makes sense considering these fish only weigh a couple of pounds, and are actually prey for some species with larger, sharper teeth, such as largemouth bass and muskie.
Bluegills have bands of small, sharp teeth toward the front of their mouth with no teeth on their tongue. They use these teeth with their gill rakers on the inside of the gill arch to digest food, mainly small marine insects and zooplankton.
Bluegills are sometimes compared to piranhas, but any connection is a myth. While there have been reports of anglers catching fish that look similar to bluegills with razor-like teeth, rest assured those aren’t really bluegills.
Bluegills and piranhas aren’t related, and bluegills are some of the safest and least threatening fish you can catch.
Bluegills don’t have sharp teeth coming out of their mouths, and they lack canine teeth that pierce through food. They have to rely on their small teeth instead.
Bluegills Teeth Function
Bluegills use their teeth for eating in shallow water primarily during dawn and dusk. They feed on aquatic and terrestrial insects, as well as microscopic animals, snails, fish eggs, small crayfish, and feeder fish.
Baby bluegills will eat zooplankton while they wait for their adult teeth to develop.
While their small teeth and gill rakers are used to secure, chew, and swallow food, bluegills and other sunfish rely primarily on suction feeding. Their internal suction system allows them to open their mouths and accelerate water and prey inside.
Given the small size of their mouths, bluegills can only suction a small amount of water at a time, so they need to be less than 2 cm from their prey for successful suction.
Once the prey is inside, bluegills use their teeth to chew on the small insects, eggs, or fish. They may consume up to 3.2 percent of their body weight daily throughout the summer, so they can use their suction feeding abilities multiple times a day.
Do Bluegills Have Jaws?
Bluegills do have jaws, but they are very small like the rest of their bodies. Their jaws are no more than a few inches long, and their tiny mouths slant down into the jawbone.
The mouth and jaw don’t reach as far back as the eyes, and with limited space to work with, their suction feeding habits are even more important.
Once a bluegill moves its jaws and opens its mouth, a small amount of water will be sucked in, and hopefully some of its prey is inside, too.
Are Bluegills Teeth the Same as Sunfish?
Bluegills are part of the sunfish family, but they have different teeth compared to some other types of sunfish. Bluegill teeth are smaller and they don’t have teeth on the roof of their mouths like the redbreast sunfish.
Bluegills are also not as fierce of predators compared to the larger pumpkinseed sunfish. Although the two species have a small mouth in common, pumpkinseed sunfish have pharyngeal teeth shaped like molars in the throat.
Pharyngeal teeth allow fish to quickly swallow their food without much digestion. Bluegills have to make do with teeth only in their jaws, not on the top of their mouths or their throats.
Can You Lip Bluegill?
It’s not recommended to hold bluegills by the lip. That’s because these fish are so small, and holding them in the air with your only grip on their tiny mouths can do more harm than good.
Bluegills are only 6-10 inches long on average, and even if you get a slightly larger one around a foot long, they still aren’t strong enough for lipping.
Here’s the best way to hold a bluegill while protecting the small mouth, teeth, and body.
- Get your hands wet for a better grip.
- Start at the mouth and move down slowly toward the belly.
- Have your fingers on top and your thumb under the bluegill to push the fins downward.
- Stop in the middle of the fish and be careful not to overgrip or use too much pressure.
Also be careful when removing the hook from a bluegill, as their small mouths could be damaged by strong fingers and force.
Do Bluegills Bite Humans?
While bluegill teeth work well for eating zooplankton, they are thin like sandpaper, so a bluegill bite won’t do much to humans – it’s the larger species that eat bluegills you need to worry about.
Bluegills generally don’t bite humans and will usually swim away from anything that seems larger than them, so swimmers are safe and so are fly fishers.
Even when you reel in a bluegill and take it off the hook, it’s practically impossible for the fish to get the right grip to bite, even if they wanted to. Their mouths and teeth are just too small.
When handling a bluegill, you can get a closer look inside its mouth and see the small teeth for yourself.
Their mouths are smaller than the width of an adult finger, so the only thing you have to think about them biting is your bait. It’s the same for most other sunfish, as their small mouths are used for suction feeding, not biting humans.
Bluegill fishing is fun in lakes, rivers, and streams, especially because you don’t need to worry about big, sharp teeth when handling these little fish.
Unlike some larger freshwater species, bluegills have bands of small teeth not much thicker than sandpaper. Their small teeth and gill rakers are used to capture and digest zooplankton, snails, crayfish, and fish eggs, but they aren’t big enough to bite humans.