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Hybrid Sunfish

February 14, 2012

I've been thinking about hybrid sunfish and wondered why I don't catch them very often. Since most sunfish species can interbreed, why aren't there more hybrids out there? For example, below is a picture of a hybrid sunfish (Bluegill & Pumpkinseed). Notice that it really looks a lot like a Pumpkinseed but the ear flap is solid blue. On a Pumpkinseed it would be black with some red on the edge.

Bluegill/Pumpkinseed hybrid sunfish
Image used with permission from Freshwater Fishing News.

There are a few reasons why we don't see as many hybrids. Hybrid sunfish are fertile so they can mate (which makes me wonder if I'm using the term species correctly). Most often when sunfish interbreed the majority of the offspring are male. For example, according to the folks at Logan Hollow Fish Farm, a male bluegill and a green sunfish will produce 95% male hybrids. Fish farms take advantage of this to prevent overpopulation of ponds. If there are mostly males, not as many eggs are laid, competition for food is lower, and sunfish get bigger.

I don't know how this works out in the wild. Since I don't catch many hybrids my guess is that sunfish tend to mate with their own species. When they do hybridize mostly male hybrids result and perhaps these also have a more difficult time mating since they look different. But this is all conjecture. All I know is that I don't catch many hybrids.

I'm also not sure what happens when hybrids mate with other sunfish. If a Bluegill/Pumpkinseed mates with a Pumpkinseed what do you get? I know when I buy hybrid seeds for the garden the descendents of the hybridized plants seem to revert. I'm a bit out of my depth here.

Any geneticists out there? Drop me a line.

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