Although commonly lumped together in many circumstances under the handle bream, bluegill and redear sunfish have distinctly different characteristics, especially when targeting one species or the other.
Both are members of the sunfish family and range statewide across Mississippi. In addition, both are frequently stocked in state lakes and farm ponds, along with largemouth bass, as a means of creating a balanced ecosystem in smaller bodies of water.
The species differ slightly in physical characteristics. Bluegill have an orange/yellow sheen and an olive coloration, while redear, aka chinquapin or shellcracker, have a more gold/green coloration. The tip of the gill cover, or operculum, is deep blue to black in bluegill and black, lined with red or orange in chinquapins. This characteristic lends to the name redear.
Both species have small mouths with no teeth on the tongue, however redear do have pharyngeal teeth in the throat area that are used to crush the shells of snails and mussels. While both species are highly opportunistic feeders, the ability to crush prey with these teeth tends to separate the habitats of the two species and produces the nickname shellcracker.
Bluegill feed primarily on insects, invertebrates and small fish, mostly near the surface. Redear feed on the bottom and prefer crayfish, mussels, snails and insect larvae.
Both species have similar, if not exact, habitat preferences. They may be found in a variety of habitat types, including ponds, lakes, reservoirs, swamps, streams and small rivers. Shellcrackers exhibit a preference for slow-moving, sluggish or non-flowing waters and are often found in or near areas of vegetation and over a mud or sand bottom.