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NFC: pygmys

The Pygmy Sunfish

by Bill Duzen

Some of the Jewels of the aquarium hobby in Europe are not collected from some pool in Zaire or netted from some rock out cropping in Lake Tanganyika. They are not found in the black waters of the Rio Negro or the steamy jungle streams of New Guinea. Many of the prizes of fish rooms across the "pond" are from our neck of the woods. The colors of some of our darters, particularly in the Genus Etheostoma will more than hold their own with any of the Tropicals. Fundulus and some of the pygmy killifish such as Leptolucania ommata and Lucania goodei and even the Florida Flag fish Jordanella floridae command a Kings ransom over there. One of the favorites of the pygmy sunfishes is the Everglades Sunfish Elassoma evergladei.

The Everglades sunfish can be collected not only from the northern edge of the Everglade swamps of Florida but also from coastal plain drainages from Mobile Bay, Alabama to Cape Fear in North Carolina. They can be found in swamp areas with heavy vegetation and usually over a mud bottom. They have been a staple in the aquarium hobby in Europe since 1925, but only occasionally available here and usually from a private breeder, unless you are lucky enough to be able to collect they your self.

Elassoma evergladei is a fish that is hard pressed to grow to more than 1 1/4 inches in length with the females being slightly smaller. the males have a rather smokey charcoal coloration with bright sky-blue spots on the body. At breeding time the male turns a deep black but retains the blue spots. The males also have much larger fins with a dorsal spot on the back edge of the dorsal fin.

The females are a overall greenish brown and the blue body spots are very faint. When not in breeding condition the males also have a vertical barred pattern.

Unlike other native sunfish which breed very much like many New World cichlids of the Genus Cichlasoma with depositing their eggs in a "nest" either in a pit dug for spawning or directly on the substrate, the Pygmy sunfish will lay its eggs amongst fine leaf plants. It is best to set the Pygmy Sunfish up in a species tank of about ten gallons for a single pair and at least a twenty gallon "long" for up to three pairs. The tank should be set up with well aged water at about 75 degrees and have a mulm type bottom with fibrous peat or even Java moss. The use of rain water seems to help the spawning process. A couple of rocks and plant stands completes the decorations. The water should be filtered but little water movement is a must. The male will stake out a territory of about 100 square inches and defend this against all other males. Mock battles will occur but little damage has been observed. The male will try to entice the female or females into his territory. Once there, the male will dance around the female with his head in a downward mode. The female will be gently guided into a plant thicket in which 40 to 60 eggs will be laid. And unlike other sunfish, the Pygmy shows no parental care and will not eat the eggs or the fry. Many generations can be raised in the same tank if it is large enough. If you wish to remove the fry be sure the water is taken from the spawning tank for the fry tank because the fry do not tolerate water changes well. The only drawback I have found in this species seems to be the reluctance of the fish to eat any thing other than live food. The will nibble at frozen brine but only if they are really hungry. But, every cloud has a silver lining, because of their small size and small mouth, they relish baby brine shrimp and micro worms, two foods that are easily obtainable. Vinegar eels go unnoticed because the eels tend to stay near the surface of the water and both the fry and adults tend to hug the bottom of the tank. Daphnia of all sizes are also taken by the adults.

These fish have a rather strange way of swimming. They will seem to "walk" slowly on the substrate and seemingly drift with the current but will literally disappear before your eyes if you try to net them. Your eyes can not follow the quick escape movement, but they do not seem to swim far and can be located a few inches away. These fish also do very well outdoors when the water temperature remains constantly above 50 degrees and doesn't get warmer than 86 degrees, but they can stand temperatures of 95 degrees for short periods.

So, if your looking for something new to add to your fish room try something native and give the Everglade Pygmy Sunfish a try.


Dr. Rudiger Riehl & Hans A. Baensch Aquarium Atlas I Baensch 1987