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NFC: pygmy sunnies


The Everglades Pygmy Sunfish (Elassoma evergladei)
Hard To Find But Easy To Maintain and Spawn
Peter R. Rollo
Delaware County Aquarium Society

Not long ago, a friend and fellow NFC(Native Fish Conservancy) member Robert Rice sent me a few Elassoma evergladei at my request. I was always interested in these little fish and thought I would give them a try. The fish I received were just approaching maturity and would be ready to spawn soon. The breeding group consisted of eight females and three males. This ratio is approximate, since some of the fish were immature and could not be accurately sexed.

From my research I found that typically these fish prefer soft, acid water, however, they are extremely adaptable and I know some who have kept and bred them in harder, more alkaline water. The wild fish are typically found in shallow road side ditches and small mud puddles with water quality, in some cases, not much better than sewage. If they were not able to adapt to high temperatures and poor water quality these fish would no longer exist.

Since I already had Blackbanded Sunfish and was set up for soft, acid water, I decided to house them in a similar manner. The water has a hardness of near zero and a pH of approximately 6.0. To aid in breeding I also add Blackwater Extract and filter the water through peat. A more detailed discussion of how I make this water can be found in my article on Blackbanded and Bluespotted Sunfish appearing in the October, 1995 issue of Tropical Fish Hobbyist. These fish prefer still water with heavy plant growth and do not require alot of room. To accomplish some of these criteria, I utilized a one gallon size fish bowl connected to a larger tank by a siphon filter unit (see figures 1 & 2). Keeping them in filtered water is best, but when I was pressed to find more space for these fish I found that they do very well in one gallon jars filled with fine leaved plants and no aeration or filtration. With requirements like this they are ideal for virtually everyone, even beginners. However, you must perform 25% to 50% water changes every week paying special attention to removing as much bottom debris as possible. Siphon the water into white or clear containers. Young fish like to hide in the bottom debris and you will no doubt find small fish in your container if the adults are spawning. White or clear containers make it easier to find the small fish. Use an eye dropper or pipette to remove the young fish. Carefully feed the fish only what they will eat. In a small container without aeration and filtration over feeding could cause an ammonia spike and easily kill all the fish.

The siphon filter has been around for some time. The only real difficulty with the siphon filter is that the water levels in the main tank and the bowl must be the same. The bowl needs a platform to raise its water level to match the water level in the main tank. As shown in the figures the siphon unit is air driven. The greater the volume of air the greater the water flow. I found that by attaching a small "Pre-filter" sponge to the intake side of the siphon unit, I created a small sponge filter that would supplement the main tank filtration and effectively prevent young fish from being sucked into the unit. To complete the siphon filter another siphon tube is required. This tube will discharge water back into the bowl. By placing another sponge filter on the main tank side of the second siphon tube you can eliminate waste and debris entering the bowl from the main tank. By altering the air flow a mild current is created that will not disturb the fish.

The plants in the bowl and jars I use are filled with Java Moss. No special lighting is used, ambient natural light is all that is used. The java moss does not seem to mind as it stays green and continues to grow under these conditions. The eleven fish were placed in the bowl in April, 1995. One month later the first fry were spotted. Due to the dense plant growth, courtship displays were not observed. Eggs are randomly deposited in the plant mass with no further care given. Mature males in breeding condition turn almost black with blue iridescent spots along the sides of their bodies and on the fins. Females remain a pale yellowish- brown. A positive effect of the sponge filter and java moss is that they encourage the growth of infusoria. The fry are so tiny that they are unable to accept newly hatched brine shrimp when they become free swimming. They feed on the infusoria as their first food.

Green water is the ideal first food but microworms are good substitute. To ensure that the young get enough food I regularly add "green water" to the bowl. The wigglers are so small and transparent that they are invisible. They become easier to see when the eye spots become apparent. Undoubtedly the adult fish will eat the fry if given the opportunity, however, as evidenced by the number of small fish I was able to collect, they do not eat many. I figured that the ample feedings of live foods kept the number of fry eaten to a minimum.

As the number of visible fry increase they tend to congregate at the surface and on the bottom. Using a long glass pipette with a squeeze bulb I siphon the fry from the bottom and top and place them in a white dish. A small quantity of newly hatched brine shrimp are placed in the dish with the fish and they are left undisturbed for about a half hour. The fry with pink bellies have obviously eaten the shrimp and are removed and placed in a small grow-out jar or tank. These fry are fed mainly baby brine shrimp supplemented with baby mosquito larva and very small daphnia when in season until they are large enough to accept larger foods. The remaining fry are carefully returned to another grow-out jar containing a large portion of green water. Keeping fish of approximately the same age together minimizes over feeding. Only small feedings of one food type are required as compared to multiple feedings of more than one food type to accommodate the various age levels and feeding capabilities of the fish.

On a diet of baby brine shrimp and other live foods when available the fry grow fast. They are young adults in about three months and will start spawning at about six months. Spawning is continuous until the temperature in the bowl reaches about 85 F. At this point spawning continues but at a slower rate. Seventy-five to eighty F seems to be optimal. Since these fish are from Florida I am sure they experience much higher temperatures from time to time.

The diet of the adult fish consists of live mosquito larva, blackworms, white worms, baby brine shrimp and daphnia. Since they can be obtained year round, baby brine shrimp are the staple food. The other foods are used when available. Mosquito larva and daphnia can easily be cultured in outdoor tubs during the summer in the North East U.S. Small white worm cultures do very well in a warmer area of the refrigerator. Unfortunately, only live foods are accepted by these fish. The adults are fed twice a day. Once in the morning and once in the evening. When fry are noticed, it is safe to assume that there are more than you can see and they are in various stages of development. In other words, there will always be some baby fish requiring green water. At the same time the adults are fed, I add one pipette full of green water. As long as the adults are spawning, always add green water twice a day.

Green water can easily be made. Fill two one gallon jars with good quality aquarium water and add about six to twelve pond snails to each jar. Place the jars in a warm window that receives natural light but not direct sunlight. Place a small piece of boiled lettuce in the water. The snails will consume the lettuce and the waste from the snails provides food for the infusoria. During the feeding cycles the snails will freely reproduce. If there are too many remove the excess snails. The snails are the key to making green water. I tried to make green water without them and was not successful. As soon as the water begins to turn green (one to two weeks), stop feeding. At this point the pale green water is ready for use and should have no odor. Draw green water from one jar at a time, replace with good quality aquarium water and feed sparingly once a week. Do not feed the other jar during this time. Every week or two switch jars. I have kept two cultures going for over a year using this method and have had no problems. Over feeding will cause the water to become too rich, leading to a massive die off of microorganisms. The water will turn yellow, have a foul odor and need to be discarded. Should any jar develop an odor, even if it is green, discard the water and make a fresh batch. It is a good idea to have several jars going so that if a culture or two goes bad, you will still have good cultures available.

If all conditions seem optimal, but spawning activity decreases, I have found that removing the plants and fish, cleaning the bowl and returning everything back to the bowl will stimulate renewed interest in spawning. You will also be surprised at the number of baby, half grown and new adult fish you will find once the plants are removed. All young fish except those not eating brine shrimp are removed from the bowl and placed in the grow out tank. The first time I did this, I found six more adult fish than I started with, six more half grown and about two dozen baby fish. I figured that the population density became so great that it inhibited spawning. Regardless if it needs it or not, I clean the bowl every three to six months. It will give a good indication of the health of the fish as well as spawning activity. If after a year spawning stops or is minimal, it may be time to put the old fish out to pasture and replace the spawning group with younger, more vigorous individuals. These fish generally live for only a year or two in their natural state, so regular replacement of older fish with younger fish will maintain spawning activity at a high level.

The Delaware County Aquarium Society (DCAS) serves the greater Philadelphia area. Membership consists of various backgrounds and interests including Marine, Tropical and North American Native fish. We have a monthly publication, meetings, speakers, raffles, auctions and more. Annual dues are $15.00 for family, $10.00 for single junior and $12.00 for single senior. All are welcome.

I also recomend the Native Fish Conservency (NFC at actwin_com) as an excellent resource for Native Fish enthusiast.website http://nativefish.interspeed.net/.