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Sunfish vs. Moonfish: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Updated on October 10, 2023
Sunfish are a group of freshwater and marine fish, while Moonfish typically refers to certain marine fish with round, thin bodies.

Key Differences

Sunfish encompasses various species, some of which are freshwater dwellers like the bluegill, while others inhabit marine environments. Moonfish, on the other hand, commonly pertains to the opah, a deep-sea creature with a distinctive silver and reddish-orange appearance.
*In freshwater environments, especially in North America, the term Sunfish often relates to panfish species known for their vibrant colors and spiky dorsal fins. Meanwhile, Moonfish don't share the freshwater habitat and are more recognized for their unique round shape, reminiscent of a moon.
*Anglers often seek Sunfish for sport and food, particularly in freshwater lakes and ponds. Comparatively, Moonfish are less commonly pursued by anglers due to their deep-sea dwelling nature.
*Regarding size, many Sunfish species, especially freshwater ones, tend to be smaller, making them popular among recreational fishers. Moonfish, specifically the opah, can grow much larger, with some reaching several feet in length.
*In terms of culinary use, both Sunfish and Moonfish can be consumed. However, the flavor, texture, and preparation can vary considerably between them, reflecting their diverse habitats and biological characteristics.

Comparison Chart


Both freshwater and marine environments
Primarily marine

Typical Examples

Bluegill, Mola mola


Range from small to large depending on species
Typically large

Popularity in Fishing

Frequently targeted, especially in freshwater
Less commonly pursued due to deep-sea habitat


Varies, with some having distinct dorsal fins
Generally round and thin

Sunfish and Moonfish Definitions


Popular among anglers for sport and food.
We caught a sizable sunfish during our fishing trip.


Marine fish known for their round, moon-like shape.
The silver sheen of the moonfish glistened under the water.


Some species can grow exceptionally large.
The ocean sunfish, or Mola mola, is the heaviest bony fish in the world.


Can be consumed and is found in some culinary dishes.
The moonfish steak was grilled to perfection.


A varied group of fish found in freshwater and marine environments.
The lake was teeming with colorful sunfish.


Has a thin, discoid body with vibrant colors.
The moonfish's reddish-orange hue contrasted beautifully with the blue sea.


Any of various North American freshwater fishes of the family Centrarchidae, having laterally compressed, often brightly colored bodies and including the crappies, black bass, bluegill, and pumpkinseed.


Not typically the primary target for recreational anglers.
It's rare for anglers to come across a moonfish during their expeditions.


Any of several large marine fishes of the family Molidae, especially the ocean sunfish.


Any of several carangid fishes chiefly of the genus Selene, found in warm coastal waters of North and South America and having a short silvery compressed body.


Any of various small freshwater fishes of the family Centrarchidae, often with iridescent colours and having a laterally compressed body.


See opah.


Any of various large marine fishes of the family Molidae that have an oval compressed body.


Any of various flat, oval marine fish species.


(intransitive) Of an animal such as a bull or a horse: to twist the body into a crescent shape and roll back and forth.


Family Monodactylidae (pl=es, pl=es)


A very large oceanic plectognath fish (Mola mola, Mola rotunda, or Orthagoriscus mola) having a broad body and a truncated tail.


Mene maculata, of tropical coastal waters of the Indo-Pacific


The lean flesh of any of numerous American perch-like fishes of the family Centrarchidae


Most species of genus Selene


Among the largest bony fish; pelagic fish having an oval compressed body with high dorsal and anal fins and caudal fin reduced to a rudder-like lobe; worldwide in warm waters


(Chaetodipterus faber)


Small carnivorous freshwater percoid fishes of North America usually having a laterally compressed body and metallic luster: crappies; black bass; bluegills; pumpkinseed


Family Molidae (ocean sunfish)


Known for their vibrant colors and distinctive fins.
The sunfish's bright hues made it stand out in the water.


The opahs in the family Lamprididae.


They belong to different families, including Centrarchidae and Molidae.
The bluegill sunfish belongs to the Centrarchidae family.


The cusk (Brosme brosme), a North Atlantic cod-like fish in the ling family Lotidae, the only species in its genus.


The southern platyfish (Xiphophorus maculatus)


An American marine fish (Vomer setipennis); - called also bluntnosed shiner, horsefish, and sunfish.


Any of several silvery marine fishes with very flat bodies


Large elliptical brightly colored deep-sea fish of Atlantic and Pacific and Mediterranean


Commonly refers to the opah, a deep-sea fish.
The moonfish, or opah, is unique due to its warm-blooded nature.


Are moonfish only found deep in the ocean?

Typically, yes. Moonfish like the opah are deep-sea dwellers.

Are sunfish and moonfish related species?

No, they belong to different families and have distinct characteristics.

Where can sunfish typically be found?

Sunfish can be found in both freshwater environments like lakes and ponds and marine environments.

Can both sunfish and moonfish be eaten?

Yes, both are edible and can be found in various cuisines.

What's the most recognized type of sunfish?

The ocean sunfish, or Mola mola, is among the most recognized due to its size and appearance.

Are sunfish popular among freshwater anglers?

Yes, many sunfish species are popular targets for freshwater fishing.

Why are moonfish named so?

Their round, thin bodies are reminiscent of the shape of a moon.

What do moonfish eat?

Moonfish diet can include squid, smaller fish, and crustaceans.

How big can moonfish grow?

Some species, like the opah, can grow several feet in length.

Are all sunfish safe to consume?

Most sunfish species are safe to consume, but as with all fish, one should be aware of local advisories about contaminants.

Can moonfish be found near coastlines?

Moonfish, especially opah, are more common in open ocean and deeper waters.

Is the sunfish's name derived from its appearance?

Yes, some species have bright colors and patterns reminiscent of the sun's rays.

How do moonfish adapt to deep-sea environments?

Features like their round body and strong muscles aid in deep-sea navigation and hunting.

Are there conservation efforts for sunfish?

Yes, some species or populations have conservation programs due to threats like overfishing.

Are sunfish active predators?

Some sunfish are active hunters, while others might be more opportunistic.

Do moonfish have any unique biological features?

Yes, for example, the opah is one of the few warm-blooded fish species.

Do moonfish have predators?

Yes, larger fish and marine mammals can prey on moonfish.

Can sunfish be kept in home aquariums?

Some smaller species can, but larger ones like the Mola mola require vast spaces and are unsuitable for home aquariums.

Is the moonfish's meat distinct in flavor?

Yes, moonfish or opah has a unique, rich flavor that is often prized in certain cuisines.

Are sunfish found worldwide?

Yes, different sunfish species can be found in various parts of the world.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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