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NFC: Re: $ sunfish

Do you have a key for sunfish that can be put on the NFC site?  I'm finding regional guides are useless with all of the non-native introductions.  Hybridization doesn't make it any easier (and I realize a key probably won't help there anyway).
My immediate concern is telling for sure if I'm finding dollar sunfishes or something else.  A year ago you and some others "guessed" from photographs that they were PROBABLY dollars but I want to be able to tell conclusively.  I'm also finding another kind of sunfish that does really well in my tanks but don't know what it is.

Chris Hedemark - Hillsborough, NC
----- Original Message -----
From: robertrice at juno_com
To: nfc at actwin_com
Sent: Thursday, January 18, 2001 7:14 PM
Subject: NFC: $ sunfish


The Dollar Sunfish (Lepomis marginatus) as an Aquarium Species

Robert Rice

Hiding in the back waters, swamps and small ponds of the Southeast is a seldom seen gem that is so beautiful , so pleasant to keep that it puts many tropicals to shame. It's behavior in captivity and ease of care are worthy of an entire book not just an article. It's life colors and habit remain basically ignored by the various professionals who have come across this shining star. It's size or lack of it (under 5 inches) relegate it to bait status and thus it is totally forgotten by the local sportsmen. With this ignorance comes apathy and sadly it is, quietly disappearing from it's traditional homes. The victim of our increasing pressure on the environment.

Who is this you wonder, some unusual fringe species ? Some really cool orchid ? A hard to please environmental elitist? Nope this fella is the Dollar Sunfish one of the hardiest guys you will ever come across! I have yet to find a true species definition, the standard definition is see Longear description as they are so similar in appearance. My observations are as follows, the Male Dollar sunfish is a bluish hue with light colored vermiculations across the face, gill plates, and lips. The eyes can be encircled with colors ranging from red to white. Maximum size 5 inches typical size 4 or less. They display sexual dimorphism in the typical Sunfish manner. The males being more colorful and aggressive than the females. They are predacious feeding on insects and small fish. There is an extreme amount of color variation from location to location which leads me to suspect that the species possesses plastic genes. For the aquarist this is a terrific bonus, the chance to develop new color strains is always exciting!

Collecting this species is the most time consuming and difficult problem that the Aquarist must tackle. For those outside of it's native range ( Eastern Texas east to the Atlantic and South of Central Oklahoma) I recommend trading with Aquarist who already possess and are breeding the species. For starters I'd recommend that you check into the North American Native Fish Association which regularly posts a trading post section in it's publications or the North American Native Fish Echo (NANFE) on the fido net which has become an electronic gathering place for those of us who keep and enjoy Native Fish. NANFE has become the quickest place for people to negotiate their trades. Which ever is convenient for you I recommend you check them out first.

For those of you within the Dollar Sunfishes Range who are bound and determined to collect a local strain, get a dip net, a fishing license and some waders because this little guy hides in some of the murkiest , weediest off the beaten path places you will ever collect in. I've found them commonly in back washes, ox bows and swamps. You might as well accept the fact that you are gonna get sweaty , muddy and bitten by something before it is all done. Of course for me , that is the major part of the fun, for you it may not be. After I collect sunfish specimens there is a small problem with field identification. In areas where the Dollar Sunfish and the Longear Sunfish overlap you sometimes find juveniles of both species very hard to tell apart. I have found the simplest solution is to take home a few and study them at the house. You will find with a little time and effort proper identification will come to you. As the specimens grow the differences will become clearer. You can then release unwanted specimens back to their homes with no harm done.

Once in the Aquarium they are a joy to keep They take a variety of foods without a problem. I feed mine frozen crawfish, raw oysters and a mix of worms and other live insects when available. They adapt very quickly to domestic life, they are not even a little shy as long as there is sufficient structure to make them comfortable.. Within a week you can expect to see typical Dollar Sunfish behaviors. The males will begin to establish a hierarchy for everything from feeding to breeding. The females will float between territories with little ill effects. One of the most pleasant things about the Dollar Sunfish is that it's small mouth allows you to keep a variety of darters, shiners and Madtoms in a community atmosphere. So instead of relegating your sunfish to single species tank in a back room you can put them up front in the main display tank and not worry about your latest catch becoming a sushi bar!

For the Aquarist serious about breeding these fella's I have a tip, get an outdoor pond! I know many people who have successfully bred the Dollar Sunfish in an outdoor pond , but only a handful who have had similar success in an aquarium. They seem to be the perfect species for a small outdoor pond. They are aggressive insectivores, very tolerant of water conditions and extremely tolerant of temperature extremes. I have been fortunate enough to have observed a successful spawn in one of my tanks and can add the following observations. The Dollar Sunfish needs a chilling period to induce a spawn, like many temperate species without a season of cold (-60 F) the females just don't become gravid. They seem to be continual spawners when finally induced to spawn, at a temperature of 74 F my specimens spawned regularly for over a month until the tank temperature reached 80 F. Then suddenly the spawning ceased. During that time they ate HUGE amounts of foods of all types with relish.

If there ever was the classic example of a species that needs the Aquarist help the Dollar Sunfish is that species. He has no advocate anywhere except a few of us collectors. We have collected and kept him for generations trying to learn as much as we can about this little jewel, with the hope we can contribute to it's continued survival. Those same collectors are many times not taken seriously by either our local Department of Natural Resources personnel or the local Aquarist we meet. We who know the species best are allowed to contribute the least. I believe that now is a time for change, a time for action. Imagine if a local Southeastern Aquarium Club in Atlanta for example, decided they were going to get involved in keeping, rearing, and studying the Dollar Sunfish. Keeping detailed notes on collection sites and breeding behaviors. With the sheer number of members and the added influx of time and resources they would make huge impact ! Detailed collection and breeding data would prove invaluable and even more the public awareness could be priceless. When someone said habitat for Dollar Sunfish was threatened people would care, people would react.