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Orange spot sunnies..............

Pass on to the list.....................

  The Orangespot Sunfish ( Lepomis Humilus ) as a aquarium

                         Robert Rice
                    2213 Prytania Circle
                    Navarre Florida 32566
Lately in the aquarium trade a little guy from North America
has begun to make a big splash. This fellow has nabbed the
interest of cichlid fans and coldwater purists alike. His
color , durability and ease of care have made him a big hit
in Europe. Meanwhile in his home land he is relegated to
bait species status. Virtually ignored by those who should
know him best. What's the problem? Did this guy commit some
horrible crime? Is he unsuitable for American aquarists? The
answer is of course no. This fellow is the Orangespot
Sunfish. This prophets crime is having no honor at home.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Orangespot sunfish let
me take a moment to fill you in. The Orangespot is a small
(less than six inches maximum, usually less than four)
sunfish who inhabits a great deal of the country. It's
tolerance to poor conditions and breeding colors are famous
with those of us who collect regularly. He can be found
thriving in the most unpleasant of ponds living on less
oxygen (1.7 PPM) than most fish could even dream of. The
thing that fascinates aquarium buffs is his look. His
breeding colors are beautiful beyond definition and he adds
to this  some fascinating territorial behaviors year round.
So for the sake of objectivity I'll give you the description
Plieger gives in his "Fishes of Missouri"
pg.267...............Life Colors : back and sides greenish
with silver-blue reflections, belly white or yellow. Lower
sides marked by numerous reddish-brown spots. Ear flap black
with a broad whitish margin. Fins plain, without prominent
spots or blotches. Breeding males are among the most
brilliantly colored of Missouri Fishes.: the spots on the
lower side are red or reddish-orange; the belly and fins
mostly reddish-orange; and the pelvic and anal

In there native range (most of the eastern half of the
country) they are often the most common sunfish available.
They will colonize new waters at a surprising rate and can
stand up to temperature extremes that would kill most other
fish. They are voracious mosquito larvae eaters and most
likely beat the gambusia in that role. I have found many
local strains with a high amount of blue vermiculations in
their gill flaps. Which makes them all the more beautiful as
an aquarium species . They are without a doubt one of the
nicest fish you can own bar none.
In the aquarium they are hardy and make an excellent single
species tank. As a community fish they are good but not
excellent as they either become to aggressive or to shy
depending on conditions and tank mates. They will eat all
types of food and lots of it. They are easy to rear and to
spawn in a captive environment. When the temperature hits 75
degrees F  these fellas are usually trying to spawn. I have
seen them spawn in set ups as strange as 2 gallon tanks and
5 gallon buckets. Research shows a reproductive rate of 2.9
kg/ha (Whiteside and Carter 1973) which is very high and
lends to their credibility to their role as a pond raised
species for research or the aquarium. George Becker in his
"Fishes of Wisconsin" notes on page 842....a 69 mm female
held 1.159 eggs...The transparent amber eggs are 0.5 mm in
diameter and slightly adhesive and cling to stones ,pebbles
and sand grains on the floor nest where they are constantly
fanned by the male....
Dr. Becker also notes that the Orange spot sunfish produce
courtship sounds that are species specific (as per pers.
com). I find them to be one of the most fascinating of our
Native Sunfish. To see males display in all their color with
their gill flaps flared is an exciting sight that one does
not soon forget. Since they are usually classified as a bait
fish they are easy collect with suitable seine or dipnet. If
you come across a spawning bed and pull up a spawning
aggregation in a seine the intensity of color is literally
As you can see I strongly believe the Orangespot Sunfish is
very well suited for the Aquarium and it's popularity in
Europe supports My position. Yet somehow we here at home
have not given them a second look (or in many cases not even
a first look). I find it ironic that every year I get calls
from overseas asking me if I know someone who can get them
Orangespot sunfish in large numbers. I usually send them to
friends of mine who breed Orangespots as a forage fish for
Bass ponds. Meanwhile totally ignoring the more lucrative
pet market here in the States.
So with all that going for them why the cold shoulder? I
believe the main reason is as American aquarist we have been
conditioned to believe that anything from somewhere  is
better than everything from here. Unfourtunatly that is as
far away from the truth as a statement could be. In a
practical sense is their any difference between Cichlids,
Discus or American Sunfish for the aquarist .They have many
things in common. They differ morphologically but they do
have  similar niches in their native environments. They also
share similar strengths that make them excellent aquarium
species. Last but not least all are species that are
generally considered at best as food fish  in their
countries of origin but are prized as aquarium species by
the rest of the world.
Take a moment and consider what role the aquarist should
play in the preservation of native species. What if local
aquarist would get involved. What if they took the time and
effort to know just a few species from a few bodies of water
from their area. Imagine 500 aquarist in a mid size city ,
each of them aware of the local bodies of water and their
inhabitants. Who would notice a problem first, the 10
Department of Natural Resources Employees or an aquarist out
looking for shiners ?  With the sheer numbers of aquarist
out there they could be a strong voice for what I call
"Rational Naturalism". "Rational Naturalism" is simply the
understanding that there is nothing wrong with hunting,
fishing ,or development or any of the other wonderful uses
our Natural resources provide. However when our stewardship
of those resources is so bad that we threaten the existence
of species or the environment necessary to support that
species then we have a problem. We must, in those
circumstances act quickly and decisively to fix the problem
or that problem will overwhelm us .
There are many types of sunfish,darters and shiners that
make excellent aquarium species. So next time you consider
setting up a  new tank or just get tired of the same old
same old try something new, something native. Instead of a
trip to local fish shop you could make a quick trip to
Europe or the pond down the street wichever one is easier
and pick up some Orangespot Sunfish you won't be
The author is involved with NANFA ( North American Native
Fish Association) and speaks regularly about native fish. He
can be reached at Robertrice at juno_com or 2213 Prytania
Circle Navarre Florida 32566