a topic of interest of late

         THE BLACKBANDED SUNFISH (Enneacanthus chaetodon)
                        By Peter R. Rollo
                         2308 Cedar Lane
                            Secane Pa
            North American Native Fishes Association
In  their  native  habitat in South Central New Jersey,  spawning
generally  begins in May or when the water temperature approaches
70  F.   On  June  20,  1994 I collected  two  dozen  Blackbanded
Sunfish,  ranging  in size from juvenile to adult.   No  pregnant
females  were  caught so I assumed I missed spawning.   With  two
dozen  fish I was sure I had several pairs.  The water conditions
found  at the time of collection were no measurable hardness,  pH
of 6.0 and a temperature of 75 F.

>From  the  literature  the spawning process proceeds  in  typical
sunfish fashion.  The males construct a nest in the substrate and
await  a  ripe female.  With the approach of a female,  the  male
begins to display with fins fully extended.  The pair circle each
other  and after a short time the pair stops circling, the female
releases  her  eggs and the male simultaneously fertilizes  them.
The males then remain on their nests to fan and guard the eggs.

I  maintained  the  Blackbanded  Sunfish  for  the  summer  in  a
"community" style 29 gallon aquarium in the house.  The 29 gallon
tank  is equipped with a Whisper 1 power filter with a home  made
water  current  dissipator at the discharge.   In  their  natural
habitat there is virtually no water current present. I am able to
get  adequate  filtration  with  minimal  current.   Aeration  is
provided  by  a  bubble wand attached to the back  of  the  tank.
There is about two inches of gravel on the bottom and except  for
a  flower  pot turned on its side and a few rocks, the bottom  is
bare to facilitate cleaning and fry collection (I will cover this
later).  To help satisfy their requirement of lower light levels,
the light is attached to the back of the aquarium stand above the
tank  and  a  thick growth of Water Sprite is maintained  on  the
water  surface.   This  arrangement reduces the  light  intensity
significantly  while still providing enough  light  for  adequate

The adult Blackbanded Sunfish will be wintered outside in my shed
and  housed in a 20 gallon high aquarium.  Filtration is provided
by  an  adjustable flow Visi-Jet 100 internal power head attached
to a sponge filter  and an air driven sponge filter.  Lighting is
provided by a florescent tube suspended above of the tank.    The
light intensity can be lowered to appropriate levels by adjusting
the distance the light is above the tank.  An inch and a half  of
gravel  is  provided  along  with the  aquatic  plant  Elodea  or
Anacharis as it is sometimes called.  This plant grows especially
well during the winter when the water temperature is below 50  F.
Minimal heating is provided using a submersible heater set  on  a
timer.   This  arrangement prevents freezing or  major  drops  in
temperature.  The heat is manually controlled and used only  when
excessively  cold.   In the summer this tank  is  attached  to  a
chiller  and  maintained at an optimal temperature of  70  F  for
spawning  and  raising  of  fry during  the  hot  summer  months.
Filtration is provided by a sponge filter attached to the chiller
intake line and by a power head attached to a sponge filter.  The
shed  is also equipped with a thermostatically controlled exhaust
fan to prevent heat buildups.

Initially I tried to acclimate the Blackbanded Sunfish to my  tap
water, which is hard and has a pH of about 6.8.  They started off
doing  well but within two weeks their health started to decline.
Their appetites decreased and the most noticeable change was that
they lost most of their color.  Since it was clear they would not
thrive on my terms I went to work turning their tank water into a
close  duplicate of their natural habitat.  On July  8,  1994  my
efforts began.  The first problem to solve was how to soften  the
water with the least effort.  I decided to use a rechargeable ion
exchange  softening pillow, which is placed in  the  filter  box.
Using  a  five  gallon  container and an extra  power  filter,  I
softened  the  water to levels that could not be measured  by  my
test kit.  I also added Blackwater Extract to the softened water.
The softening process takes about one and a half to two hours per
five  gallons.   Prepared water is stored in five gallon  bottled
water containers with lids.  When I had prepared enough water,  I
changed the water and observed any changes.  Within 48 hours  the
fishes  natural color returned and they became active and  hungry
again.  Softening the water appears to be a very important factor
for maintenance of healthy fish.

The  next  problem was how to acidify the water.  While softening
the  water, I added pH Down to the water till I reached a  pH  of
6.0  to  6.2.  The fish were slowly acclimated to this new water.
Once  completely acclimated I sampled the tank water pH and found
it to be 6.8 instead of 6.0.  I had neglected to consider that my
tap  water has a high buffering capacity and the pH will  rebound
to higher levels unless you exhaust the buffering capacity of the
water.  The next time I made water and adjusted the pH to  6.0  I
waited  several hours and checked the pH again.  It had rebounded
as  it had in the tank.  The pH was adjusted again and let to sit
overnight.  This time the pH remained the same.  As an aid to the
acidification and conditioning process, I also filter  the  water
through peat prior to storage or use.  The completed water is tea
colored,  as it is in their native habitat, and takes  a  day  to
make five gallons of water, but with the results I have gotten it
is worth the trouble.

In  the summer the sunfish in the house are fed moderately  every
other day, and in the winter, when they are in the shed, they are
fed  sparingly  every  three  or four  days  whenever  the  water
temperature  rises  above 50 F. Below 50  F  the  food  in  their
stomachs  digests  so  slowly that it can actually  spoil  before
digestion is complete, killing the fish.  Besides, I am trying to
recreate their natural environment, and minimal feedings  in  the
winter  is  part of it.  The foods offered in the summer  include
fresh  hatched brine shrimp, frozen and freeze dried  bloodworms,
frozen  glassworms, small live crickets, small live cut up garden
worms,  live   daphnia, frozen shrimp, live mosquito larva,  live
cyclops, live black worms and any other small insect I can catch.
The  winter diet for these fish will be the same as that  in  the
summer  except for some of the live foods that cannot be cultured
indoors, caught or bought.

As  with  my  experiences with breeding Green Sunfish,  the  fish
endured an average summer temperature (in the house and shed)  of
about  80  F  and will experience average winter temperatures  of
about  40 F in the shed.  Thirty-three percent water changes  are
made  once  a week spring, summer and fall.  Twenty-five  percent
water  changes  are made about once a month in the  winter  (when
water  temperatures are consistently below 55 F).  Don't  be  lax
with  water changes.  These fish may be small but they  have  big
appetites and produce
large  amounts of waste. It is extremely important that all water
added   to  the  aquarium  during  water  changes  be  the   same
temperature, pH and hardness as the water in the aquarium or  you
run the risk of stressing or killing the fish.

It is now  early August and all is going well.  On August 8, 1994
I  noticed  that  two of the Blackbanded Sunfish appeared  to  be
fanning  eggs  and were chasing the other fish  away  from  their
designated territory.  No nests were formally constructed.   They
simply  chose natural depressions already existing in the gravel.
I  immediately began to consider the possibility that  they  were
spawning  but  had to be sure.  The next night I noticed  several
fish  approach  the guarded territories slowly and  deliberately.
Some  were immediately chased away and some were not.  It appears
rival  males and unripe females are chased away immediately while
ripe  females  are allowed to approach.  To all approaching  fish
the  guarding fish, or the male, reacts by extending his fins and
then  seems to look over the approaching fish.  If the male  does
not chase away that fish the odds are very good that it is a ripe
female.  The  male then starts nudging her belly  area  with  his
mouth and body while swimming in a circular path, with fins fully
extended,  around  the female at a 45 degree angle.   The  female
stays  mostly upright in a normal swimming position  during  this
process.   The  male was devoid of color, but the females'  color
was  intense.   After  a few moments of this behavior  they  stop
swimming,   the   female   quivers,   eggs   are   released   and
simultaneously fertilized.  The male then chases the female away.
Even  during the spawning process, sex determination is virtually
impossible.    Granted,  there  are  color   differences   during
spawning, but immediately after spawning the colors of  the  male
and  female  return  to normal and the sexes  can  no  longer  be
distinguished.  During spawning when I briefly knew who  was  who
it  appeared  the  female, when viewed from  above,  was  broader
across  the top of her body than the male.  This is by  no  means
very  accurate  but  does serve as a guide in  approximating  the
sexes,  especially when spawning is near.  This spawning  process
continued  till  the next day.  The eggs are  amber  colored  and
extremely  small (no larger than 1/32 of an inch)  and  adhesive.
Close  examination of the nesting areas showed eggs covering  the
nearby rocks.  The rocks were removed and placed into the rearing

I  now anxiously waited for the eggs to hatch.  No chemicals were
added for egg protection.  Clean, well filtered and aerated water
is sufficient.  Based on my reference books the eggs of this type
of  sunfish  hatch  in  3-5 days depending on  temperature.   The
Blackbanded Sunfish eggs hatched in two days on August  11,  1994
at  a  water  temperature of 76 F and a pH of 6.2.  The  wigglers
were  entirely  clear  and  no visible markings  could  be  seen.
Within  24  hours  eye  spots became apparent  and  the  wigglers
started  to  take the form of fish 24 hours after that.   Twenty-
five percent water changes are made every week and so far all  is

With  regard to how long it takes for the wigglers to become free
swimming,  my  references estimate a few days to about  one  week
depending  on water temperature.  By August 15, four  days  after
hatching,  all  wigglers were free swimming.  I  offered  a  very
small  quantity of brine shrimp but none were taken.  I fed  them
infusoria for the next two days.  Three days after all were  free
swimming  brine shrimp were again offered and accepted.   Further
experience has shown that infusoria is not necessary.  One to two
days  after  the  fish are free swimming they will  accept  newly
hatched  brine shrimp.  Feedings began twice a day, once  in  the
morning  and once in the evening.  The feedings require that  the
aeration  and  filtration  be turned down  to  a  minimum.   This
prevents the shrimp from being sucked into the filtration  system
and  aids the somewhat uncoordinated fry in catching their  food.
The  young  fry cannot successfully capture the moving shrimp  in
moving  water.   With still water it takes them several  attempts
before  they can capture the shrimp.  This will quickly  pass  as
the  fish  grow and become proficient swimmers.  It  is  easy  to
determine  which fry are feeding.  Since their bodies  are  still
transparent,  consumed shrimp give the fry orange  bellies.   For
variety the fry are also given
fresh  hatched  mosquito larva, live cyclops and  microworms.   I
estimate I have about 100 to 150 Blackbanded Sunfish fry.

The  Blackbanded  Sunfish  have continued  to  spawn  every  week
through  the first week of September,  stopped spawning  for  the
remainder  of September and have spawned twice in the first  week
of  October.  The last few spawnings occurred in the  flower  pot
and  in  one  case they spawned in the root mass of the  floating
water sprite due to the fact that the flower pot was occupied  by
a  male guarding eggs.  He was not about to let any others  spawn
anywhere  on  the  bottom  of  the tank.   It  appears  that  the
Blackbanded Sunfish are adaptable and not particular about  where
spawning  takes  place.  In all Blackbanded Sunfish  spawnings  I
removed as many of the eggs and/or wigglers as possible to ensure
that none would be eaten but on one occasion I decided to let the
male guard the eggs and fry to see what would happen.  He did  as
good  a  job as devoted cichlid parents.  He continuously  fanned
the  eggs  and chased away any fish that came close to his  area.
Any  wigglers that strayed to far were picked up in his mouth and
spit  back  into the nest.  Once the fry were free swimming  they
both went their separate ways.

Once  the  fish are transferred to their winter quarters spawning
will quickly stop as the water temperature drops.  This will be a
welcome relief because all my available tank space is devoted  to
the  rearing of the Blackbanded Sunfish fry at various stages  of
development.    This  spawning  behavior  is  contrary   to   the
literature which states that "The Blackbanded Sunfish has a  non-
protracted   spawning   season  and  low  lifetime   reproductive
potential."1   The spawns have been small to moderate,  averaging
about 15 to 75 eggs, and have hatched in two to three days.  When
I notice a spawn area it is covered with sheer material supported
by  a plastic frame (6" long x 5" wide x 4" deep) to prevent  the
eggs  from  being  eaten.  The males can still  see  through  it,
continue to guard the eggs and in one case spawned again  on  top
of  the egg guard.  The wigglers adhere to the inner walls of the
material  and  the  entire egg guard with wigglers  is  carefully
removed and placed in the rearing tank.  So far this is the  best
method I have devised to collect fry from the Blackbanded Sunfish
Community tank.

Several  months have passed and a few of the fry are now  between
1/4  to 1/2 inch, but most are about 1/4 inch.  The fry are still
dependent  on  brine  shrimp,  live cyclops  and  microworms  and
attempts  will be made to wean these fish off the live  foods  as
soon  as  they are large enough.  I was successful in doing  this
with  the  Green Sunfish and hope I will be able to succeed  with
these fish.

As  they  have  aged,  the young sunfish are  beginning  to  show
physical attributes of adult fish.  The Blackbanded Sunfish  have
developed  a horizontal black spot on the caudal peduncle  and  a
vertical  dark  band  through the  caudal  fin.   They  also  are
developing  black  vertical stripes and the two  tone  black  and
salmon  colors  on  their first dorsal spines  (The  first  three
dorsal  spines  are black and the fourth is salmon  colored)  and
front edge of their ventral fins.  Their overall background  body
color is gold-silver.

>From  my experiences with breeding Green Sunfish, cannibalism  of
the  smaller fry by the larger fry began at about this time.   So
far  the larger fry have not attacked the smaller fry, as did the
Green Sunfish.  My feeling is that their mouths are too small  to
cause  any  damage at this age, let alone swallow  their  smaller
tankmates.   The  Green  Sunfish were much  more  aggressive  and
equipped  with  large mouths capable of easily  swallowing  their
smaller tankmates.

This  group of fish will be overwintered as naturally as possible
in  my  shed as described earlier, and I look forward  to  spring
when   I   hope  to  experience  additional  spawnings   of   the
Blackbanded Sunfish.


1.   Wujtewicz,  Donald.  1982.  The  Feasibility  of   Utilizing
     Minnows as Forage in Farm Ponds. IV. A Life History  of  the
     Blackbanded  Sunfish Enneacanthus chaetodon in Hudson  Pond,
     Delaware.   Natural Resources Report No.3. 12  pp.  Delaware
     State College, Dover, DE.

2.   Thompson,   Peter.  1985.  Thompson's  Guide  to  Freshwater
     Fishes. Houghton Mifflin Company. 205 pp.

3.   Quinn,  John  R.  1990.  Our  Native  Fishes.  The  Aquarium
     Hobbyist's Guide to Observing, Collecting and Keeping  Them.
     Countryman Press. 242 pp.

4.   Raasch,  Maynard  S. & Altemus, Vaughn L.  1991.  Delaware's
     Freshwater  and  Brackish Water Fishes. A  Popular  Account.
     Claude E. Phillips Herbarium. Delaware State College. Dover,
     DE. and Society of Natural History of Delaware. 166 pp.