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NFC: $ sunnies

Dollar Sunfish: Spawning Two Varieties of Lepomis marginatus by: R. W.

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I have spawned two varieties of the three marginatus that I know of. The
first is from North Carolina, and the second is from Louisiana. I will
describe the differences in the two populations and the methods I used to
spawn them. 

Distinguishing the two strains: The two distinct strains, or distinct
variations, of the dollar sunfish are unique, as even the females are
distinguishable. The North Carolina, or eastern variety is a pastel fish
with larger than average fins and a golden orange background color. The
Louisiana variety has dark blue markings and a dark orange-red background
color. The fins are of typical size for Lepomis. Both males have extended
ventral fins rays of the front. The other difference, rather than being
color orientated is the feeding habits and construction of the mouth. The
eastern variety has a more down slung, or subterminal, mouth. It prefers
to feed in the mid-water areas, where as the Western variety has a
superior mouth, and will more willingly feed off the surface than the
bottom. Both strains enjoy the same foods, and adapt to commercial
prepared foods readily. 

Feeding for proper breeding conditioning: Prepared foods are not to be
used except for filler. Proper feeding must include a variety of live
foods. The best foods for this are earthworms from rich soil, but not
manure piles, tiny fish, small crustaceans or pieces of larger ones, and
crickets dusted with a vitamin powder. Fish must be fed heavily at least
once a day. I like to feed non- aquatic foods in the morning, and aquatic
ones late in the day. The reason is during the day the fish will pick up
some of the uneaten foods. The aquatic foods will be alive the next
morning for the fish to eat. 

Other considerations to preparing fish for spawning: I do no other things
other than start a feeding program to get dollar sunfish to spawn. I'm
sure a cooling period, coinciding with a shorter photoperiod would help
the process along, but this was never an option in my set-ups in the past
due to other inhabitants of the fish room requiring heat. So this being
the hardest part of inducing spawning, and being able to forgo it, that
makes dollars that much nicer for breeding. 

Three methods outlined: I have spawned dollar sunfish in three different
ways. The first is what I refer to as cheating (although there is nothing
at all wrong with this method) is conditioning the pair or group to spawn
with the feeding regimen above. Then move the fish outside to a pool. The
pool should consist of two depths, a shallow gravel covered area,
protected by gnarled roots and some floating weeds. The deep area should
be heavily vegetated. The second method is in a larger 3-4 foot tank, set
up in a natural way with weeds and roots etc. The third method is in a
ten gallon. You will need two ten gallons side by side, or a sturdy
divider in the one tank. The breeding pair should not be raised together
in the ten gallon, but in the tank from option two. The ten-gallon should
have a nice layer of gravel and a floating mass of plants. I used no
filtration in the pond, and foam filters in the aquariums. Two 40-watt
bulbs, one warm white and one cool white in the fixture do lighting the

Pool spawning method detailed: Having set up the pool as mentioned above
and having water temperatures of the mid to upper seventies you can add
fish, if they are not already in the pool. Keep feeding the fish as you
would in an aquarium, but be careful none of the live foods are something
that will consider your fish fry to be food for them. The male should set
up a nest in the shallow part of the pool, maybe underneath roots or
weeds. You may not notice the nest, but if he stays in his spot when
disturbed, he most likely has a nest fanned out. Sunfish will spawn at
any time in the day, so you will have to watch for eggs. As soon as the
male is guarding eggs you will want to remove the female(s). The easiest
way to do this is to actually fish them out with hook and line from the
deeper part of the pool. You don't want to catch the male off his nest,
although he should not quit guarding it if this happens. After fry are
noticed not staying in the nest area, the male should be removed too. You
can supplement the fry's diet with baby brine shrimp, or daphnia, but
there should be plenty of this naturally. 

Large aquarium spawning: Set up a 30 to 75 gallon aquarium as a natural
set-up. Make sure the plant and driftwood cover is very thick. One or two
males and two to four females can be added. Males should start defending
areas and fanning nests. Heavy feeding is important, as are water
changes. The females should start to fill up with eggs. If this all works
as planned, spawning will commence. Remove any males that are not
nesting. After spawning remove females as soon as possible, as the male
dollar sunfish will kill them. Eggs will hatch in three days
approximately. Continue to let the male guard the fry. He should not eat
them, but may clean fry with his mouth, and catch any "early nest
leavers" and put them back in the safety of the nest. It is important
that the plant growth is thick, this will stimulate small infusoria to
grow. The fry will feed off this when the yolk sack is depleted. Once the
yolk sack is depleted, the fry should be free swimming and taking baby
brine shrimp. Remove the male at this time, and any possible remaining
adults. Continue to raise the fry in the tank. Feed as many times as
possible, but make sure all food is eaten. It is very hard to clean a
tank full of fry. The fry should grow quickly and begin to accept other
small live foods, what ever you may have available. Keep trying to feed
the fry larger food items as they can handle them, this seems to increase
growth speed. Once the young fish reach quarter size they may accept
prepared foods. I have not had dollar sunfish accept prepared foods until
they were almost tow inches in length. Why this is I'm not certain, as
most other species will take prepared foods from the start. 

Ten-gallon spawning method: This method is the first method I employed.
It is nice for someone with limited space. It is more time consuming and
is more work. Have two ten-gallon aquariums set up side by side. Put the
same gravel in each, some thick mass of floating plants, and a foam
filter. Have a divider cut for one of the ten gallons. Condition the male
and a female in each tank. If the male is to busy watching the female,
slip a piece of paper between the tanks. When the male has fanned the
nest, and the female is ripe with eggs ( this is a full looking belly,
even long after feeding), place the divider in the tank with the male,
then add the female. Flip the divider up to let the female in with the
male, and watch carefully. The male will continue the courtship dance,
which consists of a display, by a blinding dash around the perimeter of
the tank. If the female wants to spawn with this male, she will take on
female spawning coloration. This consists of dark and light bars
alternating down the side, gray and black looking. The transformation is
so different from the original coloration, she looks like a different
fish. If this happens you are likely going to end up with eggs that are
fertilized. The two fish will go to the nest, the female will lie on her
side, the male will stay upright, and they will circle the nest, stopping
every so often to drop a few eggs and fertilize them. Usually when the
male is done, he will drive the female from the nest. It is important to
remove her, or put her on the other side of the divider , or she will be
killed quickly. This is one of the functions of the floating weeds, to
provide refuge for the female once spawning is complete. The other is it
provides food for the fry when they hatch. Once the fry are free
swimming, remove the male or both parents. Then the cycle can be repeated
in another set up, while the fry begin growing in this tank. 

The fry: Now, out of the three methods mentioned, I hope you have more
fry then you thought possible. Within a little over a year, these fish
should be able to spawn themselves. Be sure to pass the extras along to
other Aquarists that may be interested. It is also nice to have a garden
pond to put them into. Dollar sunfish show off nice colors when the sun
shines on them as they swim through a garden pond. Dollar sunfish are not
usually aggressive to non-sunfish type fish, granted these are not small
enough to be a meal. You could have a nice natural set-up with some of
the killifish or other small fish that are found in its habitat. 

Other important notes: Do not mix strains of dollar sunfish, unless this
is to be carefully documented, and none of the F1s passed unwittingly to
other Aquarists. Due to the uniqueness of this, as well as other species
of fish throughout their range it, would be near to hybridization to mix
them. The way I keep my fish straight is to add a location name onto
there Latin name on the tank label. I borrowed this from the killifish
keepers, because it works for these fish, why not our native species. You
never know, after more study is done, you might have a new species in
your tank already at home.