State Symbol: Illinois State Fish — Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)

painting of blue gill

The bluegill is a very common fish throughout Illinois. It is the most common member of the sunfish family and is recognized by its stripy olive to yellow colors and its distinctive black spot behind the gills. It grows to about nine inches (24 cm) in length. A typical bluegill weighs about twelve ounces (.3kg). Bluegills are carnivorous. They mainly eat aquatic insects and insect larvae. They also eat smaller fish, crayfish, and snails, and algae when food supplies are low.

Bluegill are most abundant in clear lakes with large amounts of aquatic vegetation, but it also occurs in a variety of habitats, such as pools, overflow ponds, oxbows, swamps, and man-made impoundments. In the summer bluegills build nests in water less than about two feet (60 cm) deep. These nests are shallow, circular depressions and are frequently in areas with gravel bottoms. Often many males build nests in one small area. Females lay eggs in the nests and the males guard the eggs until they hatch.

The Symbol

Illinois school children selected the blue gill as the state fish in 1986.


W.L. Pfflieger, 1975. The Fishes of Missouri, Jefferson City, MO: Missouri Department of Conservation, 343pp
P.W. Smith, 1979, The Fishes of Illinois, Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 314pp. distribution map of bluegill in Illinois before and after 1979.
Illinois Department of Natural Resources Kid's Stuff Nature Quest